I was fortunate to grow up on a healthy diet of video games. When I was younger, I played games like Tetris and Super Mario Bros. and impossibly-hard Batman games. As I got older, my tastes drifted toward the macabre, violent worlds of the more action-packed, gratuitously violent video games. Where a lot of people find comfort in books, I turned to video games; similarly, where many children find their best friends on the football field or basketball court, my friends and I spent days and nights beating each other up in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat or Call of Duty.
My love of video games – and of heavy metal music, another blessing of my upbringing – came with a cost of accepting the stigma that surrounded them. Gamers have always had to live with the perception that they’re lazier than the common person, as if pressing buttons on a controller and reading scrolling text on the television is somehow less physically exerting than reading a book in a hammock. There’s the perception that gamers lack social and team-building skills, despite the massive online games that rely heavily on socializing and team-building. As a fan of heavy music, I’ve heard similarly silly arguments – that heavy metal music signifies some sort of spiritual corruption and/or loneliness and depression.
The worst of the stigmas, though, is that video games and heavy metal music are responsible for violence, namely the murders of innocent people. I saw this first after the Columbine shooting, and knew then that my interests would come with a lot of weird looks. That stigma hasn’t gone away, as evident by certain politicians and news pundits trying to place the blame of last weekend’s acts of terrorism on the feet of the video game industry (and in the case of 24-year-old Connor Betts, who killed nine in Dayton, I’ve seen many posts blaming heavy metal music).
It’s a tired argument, one that I would have hoped faded away with the complete lack of evidence to support it in the last couple of decades. Sure, the occasional mosh pit at a metal show may see some person get their lights knocked out (it is an occupational hazard of going to a metal concert), and many video games do specialize in the grotesque and gory. But I’ve always found more unity in both of those things than division.
The blame for shootings – such as the ones that have splintered the communities in El Paso and Dayton – rest at the feet of politicians who are more willing to take money than action, a culture that continues to permeate bigotry and racism, and the figureheads to bask in it. It rests on the legislators who refuse to hear any discussion on gun reform so that they and their campaigns may continue profiting from the National Rifle Association (there’s a reason you don’t see Nintendo funneling millions of dollars into Washington), and those who paint minorities and immigrants as threats to our country and our way of life.
These problems didn’t begin with our current administration, but the problems also aren’t getting better with it, either (arguably, they’re much worse). It’s past time for our leaders to have the uncomfortable conversations and put lives before dollars and the American people before the NRA. It’s time for action.