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Jourdan Vian

Jourdan Vian

Oh, good. We’re back to blaming video games for violence.

I know those who ignore history are supposedly doomed to repeat it, but why did no one warn me that learning history is by no means a shield against hearing the same stupid argument again and again?

Twenty years ago, disbarred attorney Jack Thompson filed a lawsuit that laid the blame for the deaths of three children at a Kentucky high school at the feet of none other than video games. The Heath High School shooting, which took place Dec. 1, 2007, has largely faded from the public memory, but what happened was a 14-year-old packed his school bag with guns and opened fire when he got there, killing Nicole Hadley, Jessica James and Kayce Steger and injuring five others.

Thompson, who represented the parents of the three children, discovered the perpetrator played various video games, including Doom, Castle Wolfenstein and Resident Evil ... and developed a lifelong obsession with blaming video games for all violence.

He saw a pattern of violent perpetrators playing video games and decided the correlation was a causation and starting filing lawsuit after lawsuit, few if any of which were successful (I couldn’t find any).

To be clear, Thompson wasn’t the only one to make this argument, although he is the most persistent.

He was joined by the president last week, when Donald Trump said, “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” during a meeting on school safety after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

I didn’t think much of it last week, figuring something else would come along and distract Trump before he could really launch an anti-video game crusade. However, Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Trump would be meeting with “members of the video game industry” to talk about it.

I use quotation marks because it’s not really clear who exactly those members are. Like apparently every industry imaginable, video games have a lobbyist group, called Entertainment Software Association. The ESA would be the logical group to talk to should the president want to talk to members of the video game industry about whether its turning people into mass murderers. However, the ESA told the Gizmodo Media site Kotaku that it had no idea who the president was planning to talk to.

“ESA and our member companies have not received an invitation to meet with President Trump,” read an issued statement.

But the idea that video games inherently make people violent is ridiculous because so many people play them. My mother plays video games. My 7-year-old cousin plays video games. I’ve literally been playing various versions of Super Mario since I was 5 (Super Nintendo fan for life!) and have never in my life physically harmed another human being (pinching my brother as a kid doesn’t count — he punched me first). So sure, you can say all these violent men played video games, but that’s like saying all these violent men showered. Just about everyone does.

Now, I really don’t recommend doing this on a regular basis, because lobbyist groups aren’t exactly unbiased, but let’s revisit ESA’s statement.

After confirming it wasn’t meeting with Trump, ESA wrote, “Numerous authorities have examined the scientific record and found there is no link between media content and real-life violence.”

In fact, the lobbyists are right. After people first started pointing to video game violence as a possible cause, U.S. researchers got on it. While some studies have connected video games with aggression, researchers at the University of York found no evidence that video games make players physically violent during a series of experiments with more than 3,000 participants.

As someone who absolutely loves video games, including ones where your character shoots the bad guys or the zombies or the aliens to save the day, it irks me when people equate video game violence with real life violence.

Real violence makes me ill. Seeing someone actually bleeding makes me feel faint. Literally killing a bug makes me squeamish. I just don’t buy it that fake shooting some pixels in the shape of a person makes me more likely to be able to harm someone.


La Crosse city government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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