A colleague IM'd me earlier today, asking if I was ready for video games to take the blame for this morning's awful shooting rampage in Aurora, Colorado. I don't know if I was ready, but I kept an eye out for the blamers and the blame-watchers, unsure of whose excitement to be more unsettled by.
Games often come up as a topic of scapegoating during mass shootings. It goes back to Columbine, where the shooters' motivations to kill their high school classmates were supposedly partially explainable by their interest in the first-person shooter DooM. It came up last year, when a mass-murderer in Norway — a lunatic out to purge his country of people who didn't look or think like him — claimed to train by playing Call of Duty and favoured the excuse that he was playing World of Warcraft to explain to people what he was doing when he was really just planning to do evil.
Today, no one serious blamed video games. Some un-serious people tried to draw minor connections. The AP informed us, for example, that a Batman video game involves a scene in a movie theater. And this morning, a criminal profiler named Pat Brown was lambasted for scapegoating games, though, technically, she did not. Sure, she blew some hot air about how, she speculated, the killer maybe played video games while planning his shooting spree. She also explicitly said games didn't deserve the blame. That a statement as time-filling as her others, but it was also one inconsistent with the narrative that she and her hosts at CNN were just stupidly pegging games as a motivation for the horror in Aurora.
TMZ blurted in crimson that the Colorado killer was obsessed with a non-violent video game, Guitar Hero, having their own bizarre dog-bites-man fun with an inversion of the more cliched killer-loved-violent-games narrative. Of course, just about everyone was obsessed with Guitar Hero back in the day, which would win TMZ irony points, if that's what TMZ's thing is these days.
Over at E Online, someone asked if violent video games could be blamed for the killings. Not really, they said, even as they reached out to one of gaming's more notorious critics, psychiatrist Carole Lieberman. You just can't know.
Video games didn't get blamed today. That's a victory, I guess, but only if you were keeping score — only if you were someone who waits for games to get blamed, who carried that persecution complex that so many gamers have as they (we?) await the next ignorant assault. Spoiling for a fight, were we? It didn't come. It wasn't the point. It didn't matter.
No serious person thinks about the actions of James Holmes, the alleged murderer of at least a dozen people in a movie theatre and draws the conclusion that any action that is enjoyed by millions — playing video games, watching TV, listening to music — could cause a person to do the things that were done this morning. If those things caused this horror, we'd all be mass-killers. Even those who enjoy the use of firearms for hunting and target practice, vilified as they often are in days like this, do not commit the evils of today with the frequency that would define their chosen past-time as a motivating cause for violence. The gun debate, of course, involves access to things that, unlike video games, literally can kill.
But most of the speculation about what caused this — or even what enabled this kind of disgusting disregard for human life — is just a search for answers where no satisfying ones will be found. The search for a cause is the desperate search for a "why" that would explain life's evils and would, hopefully, stop this from happening again. Video games are barely a part of that, I think, but wouldn't it be strangely comforting if they were? As much as I love playing games, if I knew they made people killers, then, screw it, ban them all. My pleasure is not worth that kind of pain.
To today's victims, rest in peace.
And thank you, smart people and stupid people alike, for pretty much saving your breath today. Mostly. Life's too precious to be an idiot about this kind of thing.
Top: A woman hugs her daughter's friend, who survived the shooting - Barry Guiterrez / AP