In the week since two mass shootings in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and a nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio, left 31 people dead and a nation reeling once again, any actual progress on gun control has been nonexistent, guns continue to be sold at Walmart, and the threat of domestic terrorism and President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric and policies have been downplayed or outright excused.
It’s not like policymakers and corporate executives have been twiddling their collective thumbs this whole time, though. They have made significant progress on one front: The war against video games.
Despite the fact that studies over a period of decades have debunked the myth that video games inspire violence, this week, ESPN canceled the broadcast of an eSports event and Walmart — a store that still sells shotguns and sporting rifles — ordered its stores to take down displays that feature violent video game imagery.
What you are witnessing is not to be confused with progress. Video games are being used as a scapegoat, a surface-level distraction from the real problem. But it’s also not surprising. Less than 24 hours after the two mass shootings, GOP politicians were already on television pivoting the blame to video games, and away from white supremacy and guns.
“The idea that these video games that dehumanize individuals to have a game of shooting individuals — I’ve always felt that it’s a problem for future generations and others,” House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said on Fox News. “We’ve watched studies show what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others.”
Trump echoed that sentiment when he addressed the nation on Monday.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence,” Trump said on Monday in an address to the nation.
Soon after Trump’s speech, ESPN and ABC decided not to broadcast the XGames Apex Legends EXP Invitational this weekend, “out of respect for the victims and all those impacted by the recent shootings.”
ESPN hosted this event on August 2 and 3, but the coverage was supposed to air on Sunday. Now the broadcast has been delayed to October. Rod Breslau, an eSports consultant, broke the news on Twitter earlier this week, and his report was confirmed by Bloomberg.
Apex Legends is a violent game that hinges on shooting, but not one that is notable for its realism.
“Apex Legends is a first-person shooter, battle royale game from EA and Respawn Entertainment. It pits teams of three against one another in an ever-shrinking map until one one team survives,” reported The Hollywood Reporter.
“Unlike more realistic shooters such as Call of Duty, Apex Legends is marked by a more cartoonish art style and does not feature blood or gore. It is rated T, for teen, by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.”
And, even if it were realistic, it’s crucial to remember: there is no proof that violent video games are in any way related to mass shootings. If you don’t believe the research on the subject, common sense should be enough to prove this false — the United States is far from the only wealthy country with a video game obsession. It is, however, the only one with a mass shooting epidemic.
But those in charge are showing no signs that they’re willing to take meaningful action. In fact, on Friday morning, Trump reiterated his support for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Second Amendment, and he has continued to fan the flames of racism and division in the United States all week long, including during a visit to the El Paso hospital where many of the victims were treated.
Taking down “violent” imagery and canceling an eSports broadcast won’t save any lives, and the meaningless actions certainly aren’t respectful to the lives that were lost last weekend. This isn’t progress, it’s a performative charade designed to protect those in power. And, so far, it’s working exactly as designed.