As Republican politicians once again point a finger at violent video games as a potential cause of recent mass shootings, former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joe Biden offered a bit of a mixed message regarding his feelings on the issue.
In an interview aired on CNN Monday night, host Anderson Cooper brought up President Trump’s previous statements on video games as a potential cause of real violence, noting that Biden had “kind of rolled [his] eyes” at the notion.
“I’ve talked about it [violent games] too,” Biden responded. “It is not healthy to have these games teaching the kids the dispassionate notion that you can shoot somebody and kind of blow their brains out.”
When Cooper pointed out that video games are popular in Japan, a country with extremely low levels of violent crime, Biden jumped in. “That’s my point… It’s not in and of itself the reason we have this carnage on our streets.”
The video game question was a small part of a wide-ranging interview on gun violence in which Biden proposed a gun buyback program and said directly, “We have two problems: the NRA and the gun manufacturers.” Biden also took President Trump to task for “using the language of the kind of things that they [white nationalists] say… his rhetoric contributes to this notion, it almost legitimizes these people coming out from under the rocks. This is white nationalism. It’s terrorism of a different sort, but it’s still terrorism.”
Not the first time
Biden has directly addressed the supposed problem of video game violence in the past. In 2013, under President Obama’s direction, the vice president hosted a White House forum on the issue with members of the game industry and academia.
As former White House senior policy advisor for digital media Constance Steinkuehler told Ars last year, Biden went from referring to industry members as “scumbags” before the meeting to acknowledging that “we have quite a bit of data that shows that this is not a substantive relationship” between video game violence and real violence after viewing the data. “[Biden] tends to be a person who says, ‘We should not be afraid of facts. Facts are our friends, and you’re on the wrong side of history if you’re on the wrong side of facts,’” Steinkuehler added.
That said, Biden was not willing to completely let the industry “off the hook” in 2013, according to Steinkuehler. “Yes, we get that the science doesn’t show a relationship, and, yes, you have a Supreme Court case that concludes the same thing,” she said, summing up Biden’s views at the time. “But you’re here as industry leaders to help us talk about how you’re portraying this type of thing in the media that you produce. You don’t have to have been part of the problem in order to be part of the solution… at some point there’s this question of civic leadership…”
In light of this latest round of video game blame, other Democratic presidential candidates have also weighed in. Yesterday, Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren retweeted a message saying, “ACCESS TO GUNS IS THE PROBLEM. Not mental health. Not video games. Not social media. These are dangerous and misguided distractions.”
In a 2018 video posted by his campaign, Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders pointed out that “the NRA’s president blames violent video games for gun violence, yet consulted on and promoted a violent video game. The truth is that the NRA will do everything it can to stop commonsense gun safety legislation which the overwhelming majority of Americans want.”
In an April speech, California Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris offered a plan for combating gun violence that included taking on gun manufacturers that “violat[e] unfair business practices statutes by marketing assault weapons to children in video games.” Harris served as Attorney General for California in a landmark 2011 Supreme Court case where the state unsuccessfully argued in favor of restrictions on the sale of violent games to minors.