As Vice President Joe Biden meets with members of the video game industry, he's trying to reassure them that they're only one part of a wide initiative to curb gun violence — and perhaps unintentionally revealing how muddled the debate around games and violence actually is. In a statement recorded below, Biden spent a full quarter of his time listing the other sectors he was in talks with, from gun safety advocates to mental health experts to the Rotary Club. "I want you to know you have not been singled out for help," he said.
Besides a somewhat odd statement advocating guns that would only fire in the hands of their official owners, one of Biden's most topical statements referred to former Senator Daniel Moynihan's 1993 essay about desensitization towards violence, "Defining Deviancy Down." Comparing current gun violence to that era's crack cocaine epidemic, he asked "whether or not there's a coursening of our culture in a way that is not healthy. I don't know the answer to that question, and I'm not sure what impact it would have or wouldn't have on the kind of events." It was a heavily muted version of the desensitization argument common in critiques of gaming, which recently showed up in an NRA speech and a cancelled plan to collect and burn violent media.
Obviously, a searing critique of gaming wouldn't have been appropriate or helpful at a meeting in which Biden asked for the industry's help. But the statement also showcases how strange the debate around games and violence has been in the wake of Sandy Hook. While some people have singled out video games, the lack of an obvious narrative around Adam Lanza and the proliferation of other shootings with no single motivation have made arguments that they were caused by the media seem unhelpfully abstract. Biden didn't single out games for criticism, but neither did he seem to be doing more than turning over the usual stones for answers that don't seem to be forthcoming.