updated 01:23 pm EST, Sat December 15, 2012
Despite error, video games frequent scapegoat for violent acts
Following the school shooting in Newtown, CT, early media reports mistakenly pinned the rampage on 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, the brother of the actual shooter. Facebook users rapidly found a profile belonging to a Ryan Lanza, scavenged his profile, and discovered that he was a fan of Bioware's space opera Mass Effect. A hundred-page comment stream deriding the game, and its creators began -- without any of the people making the comments having confirmed the accuracy of the information or that the Ryan Lanza they were attacking was the right one, even hours after the real perpetrator was identified. Ryan Lanza, the police later clarified, wasn't the perpetrator of the crime.
Despite arguments and volumes of scholarly study both supporting the idea of video games inducing violence, along with others finding no causation between the two, the majority of the commenters blamed the game for the killings either directly or indirectly. One Facebook comment from "Stanley Esposito" said that "how about they drop their weapons and teach kids the value of life? [In] the game the lives are unlimited in reality we only get one." "Rohan Medhekar" wanted a game ban, and "Mario Lee" declared that the game was "motivation to go and shoot up malls, schools, jobs, movie theaters" and demanded the Mass Effect page be taken down.
Mainstream media was quick to pick up on a video game connection after the false identification of Ryan Lanza as the shooter. Both Fox News and NBC noted the gaming connection, and according to Kotaku, Fox News also ironically blamed Facebook for the tragedy. Eventually, Reddit users deduced what was going on, and joined the fray on Facebook. The battle continues on the page, although somewhat lessened now that Ryan Lanza was identified as not being the gunman.
The game Mass Effect actually centers on a familiar plotline of a space commander who is pitted against alien enemies intent on wiping out humanity: essentially the same plot that was at the heart of Marathon, Doom, Quake, and most other space-set first- and third-person shooter games over the past three decades. Though Mass Effect is violent, it is not considered an exceptional title in this regard, with a number of other games (including Postal and the Grand Theft Auto) focusing more on a central character that shoots and kills human beings.
It's not yet known if the actual killer, Adam Lanza, was also into video games, though he was a member of the school's Technology Club when he was a student there. Later reports indicate that Lanza was mentally ill and had easy access to weapons. The rampage may have been sparked through an argument with his mother, whom he also killed in the shooting spree and who was the owner of the weapons used. An actual motive for the killings is currently unknown.