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1. Mortal Kombat Freaks Out Congress
Idiot parents and concerned groups have been claiming video games are corrupting the youth since the 1970s. But things didn’t really come to a head until Mortal Kombat.
That game’s claim to fame was buckets of blood and gory fatalities. And this game, along with the hilariously harmless Night Trap, helped inspire Congressional hearings about video games in the early 1990s.
When the smoke cleared, the main result of this hearing was that we got the video game ratings system. This was intended to keep violent games out of the hands of young children. But the rating system was not enough to keep games from being blamed for future violent acts.
2. Doom and the Columbine Massacre
The Columbine Massacre was not the first school shooting in America. However, it served to usher in the new era of school shootings. And, depressingly, these shootings eventually became the norm for Americans.
As the media peered into the shooters’ backgrounds, they quickly discovered the two of them were fans of Doom. And because Doom is a first-person shooter where players kill their enemies, the game was soon blamed for corrupting their young minds.
Of course, Doom was about killing demons and not other human beings. But blood was in the air now, and games would serve as the scapegoat for violent shootings over the next decades.
3. Jack Thompson And the Grand Theft Auto Freakouts
Older gamers are likely to remember notorious lawyer Jack Thompson. A hack lawyer in search of an angle, Thompson eventually positioned himself as an advocate against video game violence.
He had already been doing this for a couple of years before Columbine, but that shooting’s association with Doom helped push him into the mainstream. And once Grand Theft Auto III came out, Thompson went whole hog on suing Sony, Rockstar, and Take-Two over claims that the GTA series had inspired various violent acts.
In a poignant metaphor for Thompson’s whole career, all of these lawsuits were dismissed and withdrawn. And with the failure of these lawsuits, Thompson mostly faded into obscured and got disbarred from practicing law in Florida back in 2008.
4. Norway Mass Shooting and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
When it comes to shootings, the Norwegian shooter Anders Breivik is pretty infamous. He ended up killing a total of 77 people, and, weirdly enough, he ended up bringing video games into the discussion as part of his defense.
Specifically, he mentioned playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as a way of practicing his shooting skills. But this strategy ended up backfiring on him as reporters quickly learned that he also played other games, including the less realistic and less violent World of Warcraft.
Brevik’s trial helped underscore that his violence was likely more due to his racism, xenophobia, and the influence of far-right extremist groups. The fact that he was a gamer is incidental, but this wouldn’t be the last time games were blamed for major violence.
5. FPS Games and Sandy Hook
All school shootings are tragedies. But the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook was particularly shocking because of the 26 victims, 20 of them were young children.
The shooter was a 20-year-old named Adam Lanza. Investigators later discovered his love of video games, including titles like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. And this opened up all the old debates about whether video games were desensitizing people to the point of murderous violence.
Of course, he also played quite a bit of Dead or Alive 3 and Lego Star Wars. Focusing only on certain games after the fact is part of the selective outrage over these shootings.
6. The NRA Gets Involved
One of the more surprising moments in the “video games getting blamed for violence” saga was when the NRA stepped in. Rather than have guns and gun access blamed for these shootings, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre decided to turn the focus to video games.
However, he mostly focused on a free, decade-old Flash game that hardly anybody had heard of called Kindergarten Killers. This was meant to tie into the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, but his reference of an obscure and unpopular game just ended up making most people roll their eyes.
7. Donald Trump Chimes In
Donald Trump remains the face of the Republican party. This is why some of his comments about guns were so surprising. For example, he reacted to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida by saying “Take the guns first. Go through due process second, I like taking the guns early.”
He ended up walking that back pretty quickly in favor of other tactics, including using games as scapegoats for violence. This included assembling industrial reps to come up with some kind of solution to games and violence, though nothing ever came of this.
A year later, Trump was still blaming video games, responding to two shootings by saying “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace."
8. Live-streamed Synagogue Shooting
Video games sometimes get blamed for violence even when there is no connection to a specific game. And that’s exactly what happened with the Halle synagogue shooting in 2019.
During that shooting, attacker Stephan Balliet actually streamed the violence on both Facebook and Twitch. Thanks to Twitch being associated with gamers, the German Minister of the Interior went on to cast blame by saying "many of the perpetrators or the potential perpetrators come from the gaming scene."
While Balliet did shout "Subscribe to PewDiePie" before going on his rampage, there were never any connections made between Baillet and any specific video games, or community. Yet ultimately that didn’t matter: like other world leaders, people just wanted a scapegoat for what was happening.
9. Here Comes the Judge
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died back in 2016. However, when he was still alive, he actually issued what would be the definitive word on whether video games lead to violent behavior.
In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court had to weigh in on whether California could require a more stringent rating system beyond the ESRB. Ultimately, the court ended up ruling in favor of the current system because video games were protected under the First Amendment.
In addition to pointing out that nobody had successfully linked violent video games to violent behavior, Scalia also pointed out that the violent content of games is not that dissimilar from the violence in classic literature such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. “But what’s next after violence? Drinking? Smoking? Movies that show smoking can’t be shown to children?”
Under this scrutiny, the case against video games completely fell apart.