Anger, sadness and disbelief gripped much of the nation as news of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., echoed across the country. By Friday night social media was buzzing with solemn, spiritual messages and also ones that, perhaps naturally, were looking for someone or something to blame. As a result, while the NRA was a popular target on Twitter, many Facebook users jumped at the chance to attack the creators of the “Mass Effect” video game franchise.
In the confusion that followed the shooting, the major news networks scrambled to find out as much information as they could. Initially it was reported that the shooter was Ryan Lanza, so CNN naturally took to Facebook to find out more about him. Well, it turned out that the shooter’s name was actually his brother Adam Lanza, and the Ryan Lanza who saw his Facebook images splashed all over the national news wasn’t pleased.
When CNN staffers saw that Ryan Lanza (again, not involved in the shooting) liked the “Mass Effect” video games on Facebook, it proved too tempting a story to pass up. Soon the Mass Effect Facebook promotional page was swamped with comments from angry users who seemed gripped with emotion.
“Good job, guys. You have blood on your hands that won’t wash off,” wrote Michael Cecere on the site.
“Ban this game and the people who created such sickness,” wrote in another.
Destructoid reported that Fox News took the ball from CNN’s miscue and ran with it. Anchor Megyn Kelly broached the topic with analyst Keith Ablow by saying, “You mentioned earlier how people lose themselves in online activities, gaming and what have you …”
“Reality TV is no friend of preventing such things,” Ablow responded. “Facebook is no friend of preventing such things. I guess you could add gaming to that, computer games.”
The online gaming community, never known for its silence, immediately began attacking the news networks for their assumptions. A Reddit discussion thread with the headline “Mob Mentality at its finest. How, exactly, is Mass Effect responsible for today’s shooting?” was posted Friday, and it quickly attracted thousands of comments.
One user explained the misunderstanding by discussing the generation gap between those without video games and younger people who have grown up with them.
“Almost all of the young generations dealing with computer games, including you, know how far from reality FPS (first-person shooter) games are,” wrote Reddit user RS-485. “You won't lose that understanding. But back when the people in their forties were born, video games were far less prevalent than now, and FPS’s weren't a thing, either. Most of them never learned about gaming, so now, they're paranoid and trusting in their (incorrect) knowledge.”
A number of commenters noted that as millions of people advocate the right to own automatic weapons, many of them want to censor video games at the same time.