COMMENTARY | It seems like every few years, after a tragic string of high-profile violent crimes, politicians and advocacy groups want to turn their attention to video games despite a total lack of compelling evidence. To me, this seems about as logical as fighting your plumber because the price of groceries went up, but then I guess that’s why I don’t have a job as a lobbyist and/or “advocate.”
My problem is this: the “gaming equals gun violence” crowd is conveniently picking and choosing which video games are “suggestive” enough to incite violent crime. They ignore the fact that many of the most popular and most violent video games don’t include guns at all.
I would like to submit for evidence, to the court of public opinion, The Elder Scrolls.
The third (Morrowind), fourth (Oblivion), and fifth (Skyrim) installments of this medieval-themed fantasy roleplaying series each won Game of the Year honors in their respective years. Which is to say, a ton of people played them, even obsessed over them. Typical weapons in The Elder Scrolls universe include swords, axes, bows, and magic spells. There are no guns.
Some background information: stabbing and cutting murders in the United States steadily decreased from 1980 (about 4,200 stabbings) to 1997, when they stabilized at just under 2,000 annually.
Now, if an obsession with violent games — and The Elder Scrolls titles are certainly violent — can be blamed for violent crime in America, we should see sharp spikes in blade-related deaths the years these titles are released, right? Morrowind was released in early 2002. There were 1,776 stabbing murders that year. Oblivion was released in early 2006, and there were 1,822 stabbings that year. There were no new Elder Scrolls games released in 2007 and 2008, and these years saw almost the exact same number of stabbing deaths (1,796 and 1,897 to be precise.)
Of course, you can do more than run around stabbing people in The Elder Scrolls . But the real-life numbers for murder by blunt object, hands/feet, and arson (loosely equivalent to casting a destruction spell in The Elder Scrolls ) were also unremarkable in the years Elder Scrolls titles were released.
For what it’s worth, 2002 — the year Morrowind revolutionized the RPG and introduced the younger, more casual console fanbase to Elder Scrolls addiction — actually saw significantly lower numbers of deaths in all of these categories than previous years.