Here’s a picture of the front page of UK tabloid The Mirror this morning. They’re trying to pin the blame for the horrific events in Washington on videogames. Well. Not trying. They are blaming videogames.
But let’s read some quotes from that story.
Let’s think a little bit about the treatment Aaron Alexis received for mental illness, highlighted by the Mirror. “Crazed Aaron Alexis was treated for mental illness after playing violent video games for up to 18 hours day and night,” and again “despite his psychiatric problems and arrests for violence, the IT contractor was never declared mentally unfit by the US Navy – a move that would have stripped him of the security pass that allowed him to drive unchallenged into the Washington base and carry out his murderous mission.”
Let’s talk about the fact he was actively seeking help for his decline in mental health: “Alexis went to the Veterans Administration last month seeking treatment for paranoia, insomnia and possible schizophrenia.”
Let’s talk about his heavy drinking: “Friend Nutpisit Suthamtewakul said ‘hard-core drinker’…”
Let’s talk about the fact that Alexis had already been arrested for shooting at a truck in “an anger fueled blackout” in 2004.
There are so many tragic details here: that a man seeking help for clear mental health problems was unable to receive the treatment he needed, but did have access to a range of firearms. That security on a Naval base was unable to protect workers from a raging gunman.
But deep seated mental health issues that can be traced back to a decade don’t sell papers.
What sells papers is a picture from this year’s version of the biggest videogame series on the planet, a ridiculous quote, and a specious attempt to link entertainment with a despicable act.
What happened in Washington is unbelievably tragic. But trying to pin the blame on videogames, however violent, is a disgusting act of spin.
But it’s just another example of a pattern of behaviour from the UK tabloids that’s been going on for decades.
Make no mistake: this isn’t about making the world a better, safer place. It’s purely about tabloid editors pulling every emotional lever they can think of to sell their papers. What it does is cloud the real issue, and makes it harder than ever to engage in a debate around improving mental healthcare provision.