Over the weekend, Steve Stephens filmed his own shooting of 74-year-old father and grandfather Robert Godwin Sr. Media outlets extensively covered the shooting and videos of Stephens discussing his alleged killing of a dozen other people.
CNN’s senior media correspondent and “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter brought video games into the mix. While participating in a CNN roundtable with “Newsroom” host Ana Cabrera, Stelter described a video posted by the shooter as looking “like a video game.” The video shows Stephens walking up to Godwin, telling him to say the name of a woman, claiming the woman is the reason for the shooting, then pointing his gun at Godwin and pulling the trigger.
“Because if you think about video games, they’re first-person shooters,” Stelter commented. “People in a game, they have a controller, the gun is in front of them and they’re firing. That is how a lot of young people experience weapons; they experience guns. That’s video games.”
“Unfortunately, a video like this, it has that same perspective, and yet, it is so real. The blood is so real,” Stelter continued. “And I’ve seen people online comparing it to a video game; people online commenting, saying: ‘This looks like a game.’ Very disturbing.”
Stelter’s job involves talking about what people are discussing on social media, and in a response to me via email, he said that’s all he was doing on CNN.
“No one ‘blamed’ video games or said games motivated the suspect,” Stelter wrote. “During the segment, the anchor and I discussed the graphic, in-your-face nature of the shooting video. We discussed how smartphones create close-up, intimate images. I pointed out that some people on social media were comparing the perspective of the shooting video to a video game, which is true.”
Blaming Video Games Is a Common Response
Prior to Stelter’s response on CNN, Cabrera was discussing the shooting with Cedric Alexander, who spoke about the manhunt for the shooter. Cabrera mentioned the use of social media to broadcast Stephens’ murder and his comments about his motives. Stelter then brought up video games, but says he only did so because some people on social media were discussing what the shooting looked like.
Stelter may not have intended to blame video games for the shooting, as people who posted a clip of his remarks on Twitter and YouTube suggested, but bringing up video games in this context at all, when the discussion never called for them, raises harsh memories of other members of the media blaming video games for past shootings. Because of this, there tends to be a knee-jerk reaction when it comes to video games being mentioned in discussions of shootings.
Millions of people (including Stelter) play video games, yet few are actually murderers. I play violent video games semi-regularly, but am one of those millions who don’t have the urge to reenact those games in real life.
Stelter didn’t intend to suggest video games caused the shooting, which is apparent from his remarks, but that’s how it came across to some gamers, who have seen their chosen pastime linked time and again to violent behavior.
Studies Find Links Are Inconclusive
CNN also has a history of making such links. In 2016, the news outlet featured a story asking whether video games lead to violence. The article begins by quoting the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics as pushing the questionable studies linking video games to violent behavior, before pointing to other research that suggests no link or an “insignificant” link between the two.
Going a little further back, in 2013 CNN host Erin Burnett continually asked psychologist William Pollack if video games caused violence. Each time, Pollack said it wasn’t true, yet Burnett kept insisting. In 2012, CNN brought on criminal profiler Pat Brown to claim, without evidence, that video games put people “in the mood” to kill.
Live TV also doesn’t give viewers a full picture of what a commenter is saying. TV guests only get a few seconds, maybe a minute if they’re lucky, to make a point. That doesn’t give a lot of time for one to accurately describe his full position. We can debate what Stelter should have said, but that’s pointless, because in the end, he didn’t actually blame video games for the shooting.
I’d be one of the first people to knock anyone for linking video games to violence, but that simply isn’t what happened here. Gamers get enough negativity from the media; we don’t need to invent more.