Donald Trump’s comments obscure the real problem with video game culture


First-person shooter video game Battlefield.

Electronic Arts

Over the weekend, in Ohio and Texas, there were two deadly mass shootings. Over 30 people lost their lives, reigniting debates about gun control and the uncurtailed rise of white supremacy. In 2019, there have been 250 mass shootings in the US to date. This time, though, it feels different.

The El Paso incident, in particular, was a racially motivated shooting occurring weeks after US President Donald Trump suggested recently elected Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar should “go back” and “fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Both are US citizens. Weeks after “send them back” chants began to ring around Trump rallies. These shootings reflect years of divisive political discourse and a disturbing growth of online racist rhetoric that, increasingly, is beginning to have terrifying, tragic, real world consequences.

It is in this context that Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to blame video games.

On Aug. 5, Trump called for regulation of “gruesome and grisly” video games that he argued contributed to the “glorification of violence in our society.” McCarthy said that “video games that dehumanize individuals” were partly to blame for America’s very real problem with mass shootings.

We reached out to the White House, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Let’s state the obvious from the outset: video games are not the reason two mass shooters tragically took the lives of 30 plus individuals last weekend. Research indicates that video games don’t cause violent crimes and almost certainly have no connection to mass shootings.

It’s almost a waste of oxygen to give credence to these claims (or defend them) and, in 2019, completely bizarre that anyone, let alone the president of the United States, would try and make those arguments.

It feels like an anachronism. A strange parody. A harmless, toothless relic from a bygone age we can reliably point and raise our eyebrows at. Remember when we used to think smoking had health benefits? Good times. Glad we’re past all that.

Wait. We’re not past that? What?


I’ve been writing about video games for over 15 years. For at least five of those years, it felt like video games were something I needed to defend. Video games were under attack from politicians, opportunistic lawyers, or lobby groups with an agenda. Back then we defended video games as a group collective, with a rigorous self-righteous rage. Defence felt like the correct posture and we did so effectively. We pushed back.

But right now it feels almost bizarre to defend video games. An act out of time. We sit comfortably at the end of this particular history. The decision has been made collectively: we don’t blame video games for this stuff anymore. Everyone’s fine. If there’s a problem, maybe we should be looking elsewhere.

Comments like Trump’s used to make me angry. Now I find them bewildering, beyond parody. A message from an alternate dimension.

I’m a 38-year-old man. Most research concludes the average age of a “gamer” is 34. We’re parents, often grandparents. I regularly police the video game use of my children whilst also playing video games, like a vast majority of people. Playing video games is just another thing we do and singling them out seems baffling.

Worst of all it puts gamers instinctively into a position of defence. A position which damages everyone’s ability to be healthily critical of a hobby that often deserves criticism. 

Right now the hashtag #videogamesarenottoblame is trending. Over 100,000 plus tweets defending the sacred cow. Once again it feels like we’re travelling back to a different age. Gamers, backs pinned against the wall, feeling like the victim of a smear campaign, fighting back, preaching the gospel, completely ignoring the fact that if video games have the power to positively change behaviours, they also have the power to negatively impact behaviours. And that’s fine. That’s totally fine. 

But in times of absolute defence it’s difficult to honestly reflect on that. 

We live in a post-Gamergate age. We live in an age of angry gamers. Video games have a long-standing, extremely complicated commercial relationship with gun manufacturers.  8chan, the place where the El Paso shooter posted a hate-filled manifesto, has long been a hub for organised harassment campaigns of female video game figures. Many believe Gamergate provided a playbook alt-right activists are following to this day

Problems with video games and the people who play them exist. They are real. But that’s not what’s being addressed here. 

And the longer we are forced to defend our hobby from accusations that make little sense, the more difficult it becomes for gamers to address the real issues.