With the uptick of serial killings by demented murderers and its migration to the young and innocent comes a flurry of activity within the Beltway. The targets: guns and violent video games.

To be fair, mental health is also in the crosshairs, but if history is a guide, the ruling class will go for the low-lying fruit, efficacy be damned. I’ve discussed the mixed data regarding increasing gun regulations before, so let’s focus on video games.

Like many others, I assumed that violent computer games would take a toll on civilized behavior in the at-risk segment of society. The general consensus, which I bought into, is that they are “desensitizing.” In fact, a few years ago I wrote a speculative short fiction piece I’ve posted here that takes place in the near future to drive home the point. It just makes sense. Unfortunately, we often learn that intuition, when subjected to empiric scrutiny, is just plain wrong. I’ve read reports that FBI data show a decline in gun violence by about 15% since 2002. If this is true, then it’s hard to reconcile with the hypothesis that these games stimulate violent impulses in those so inclined. In fact, one could argue that they provide a safe outlet to vent aggressive behavior. Perhaps some of the billions of dollars we waste every year in useless programs might be better spent studying this in state and local venues before implementing “feel-good” legislation on a national scale. Just saying.

Don’t expect scientific scrutiny to be applied vigorously to social issues in advance of legislation any time soon. Elected officials don’t need to be right; they only need to appear to be doing something that seems useful and altruistic. By the time the failures or unintended consequences of (perhaps) well-intentioned but misguided legislation surface, the authors are either on to their next gig or fertilizing the planet. With our short memories and the reams of new, increasingly complex laws creeping into every aspect of our lives, we rarely assign responsibility to the offending individuals after the fact. So the standard that’s evolved is: If it feels good, and looks great, legislate.

It’s called playing the game.


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