Historian Richard Slotkin on Adam Lanza’s Influences

Cultural historian Richard Slotkin talks about Newtown shooter Adam Lanza in a rather lengthy interview with journalist Bill Moyers. The interview touches upon some other topics as well, but a fair bit of it is spent discussing Adam Lanza's behavior, his fascination with guns and violent video games, and his deep study of school shootings dating back to the late 1800's. At one point Slotkin says that Lanza used video games as "training films," where he used the knowledge in them on how to act while accomplishing a "mission." According to Slotkin an example of this "training" would be how Lanza loaded his guns during the shooting.

The interview can't be boiled down into sound bytes, because it's pretty complex and delves into a number of topics like the cultural influence of war, media, gun ownership, etc. You can check the video out to your left or you can visit Thruth Out for a transcript of the conversation. Here is one choice morsel that stood out:

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah, the state report has gone into the way in which he used videogames and obsessively played violent videogames. And apparently did research on massacres. And there's a way in which in the individual case you see something that also works on the cultural level. And that is that people will model their behavior on examples that they consider to be heroic.

And that's how mythology works in a culture. There are cultural myths that define what for us is a positive response to a crisis. And it's embodied in media. And we learn it through the media and we model our behavior on that of heroes. And apparently Lanza in the way he conducted the massacre was making the kind of moves that are the standard moves of a person playing a violent videogame.

You'd never enter a new room unless you've put a fresh clip in your gun. So he would shoot off half a clip and then change the clip anyway– because that's what you do when you're playing a videogame. And that image of playing out a script that's been written for you, that has some value for you as a way of gaining control or being a hero is what he's living out.

And what Lanza did was really to indoctrinate himself and train himself in a way analogous to the way we now use videogames to train the military.

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  1. 0
    mthiel says:

    If video games contributed to his motive in any significant way (I admit this is very hard to prove), I can see people blaming games.

    If he simply used video games to train on, I don't know how people can blame games.

  2. 0
    Atrayo says:

    Hi There,

    I also forgot to mention which was covered on this site's podcast episode #79 with co-host "Andrew Eisen" as the devil's advocate. Regarding that "Sandy Hook" freeware game created by an Australian fellow making the game a political statement against a gun totting society of America.

    This historian Richard Slotkin just took the game at face value and conducted zero of the research into it that Mr. Andrew Eisen did on his podcast.  Mr. Slotkin just jumped on the bandwagon, where they showed some footage of the game within a class room on "Bill Moyers" show. Just to miss the entire point and sensationalize it further as a poor excuse of a researcher of popular society.

    I'm not condoning that freeware game, it is tasteless, but I can understand it as a political statement.

  3. 0
    GrimCW says:

    It's hardly conditioning, its just excuses.

    These sorts of things have existed in some form as long as human beings have been around.

    Its all about scape goating and finding fault with something not the person. Making excuses rather than accepting that some people are just that way.


  4. 0
    Atrayo says:

    Hi Guys,

    I'm a frequent viewer of "Bill Moyers" on PBS. I consider Mr. Moyers to be a Number #1 Muckraker on Governance and American society as a whole. However in this case this cultural historian regarding video games totally missed the boat. Adam Lanza, even made an out dated reference to "Boom Boxes". Geez talk about being behind the times which was clearly self-evident on how he pigeon holed video games.

    To Bill Moyers credit he mentioned the cultural conditioning of violence in television as well. Like he stated when he was growing up as a child on Tv. It was about cowboys vs. indians, Marines in WWII and cops vs. robbers. Which Adam Lanza doesn't skip a beat and points the finger at "Grand Theft Auto" as an indicator.

    Basically its a generational gap on full display, which is unfortunate to not even get a mature discussion with non-gamers.

  5. 0
    GrimCW says:

    Wait.. he goes from hero worship to violent games.. Ignoring his negligence of the facts anyways let me look at this a moment.

    The two don't exactly blend well given there isn't a game out there tmk that has you graphically taking out school children.. sooo.. wheres the hero in this?

    Topping that, who would consider such an act "heroic" if they weren't already screwy up stairs?

    And where do they still come off assuming you wouldn't make sure your magazine is loaded before moving on in reality? would be kinda stupid to be caught off guard with only a few rounds left.. Thats not a VG thing, thats just common sense. Putting it to blades, It'd be like running into battle with your sword still in its sheath, and not pulling it out until after you've passed the line..

    And VG's still aren't used entirely for training.. In a few instances they are utilized to cover things that can't otherwise be done without risking lives, but hardly in the same extent as holding a gamepad, or sitting behind a keyboard.

    We're talking full out sim projectors and near full cockpits/cars… 

  6. 0
    Avalongod says:

    I'm referring specifically to Slotkin: "Yeah, the state report has gone into the way in which he used videogames and obsessively played violent videogames"  The report never said he obsessively played violent video games.  I think too the way Slotkin talks about switching mags you'd think the report make this link, which it never did to my recollection.

  7. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    It didn't help that the first person to speak up made a game connection before there was even an official body count AND before the shooter's name was mentioned.

  8. 0
    Avalongod says:

    This is one thing I find most frustrating about this debate.  Don't get the results you want from an official report?  Just make stuff up and pretend it said stuff it didn't.  Sigh.  And this isn't the only example…Virginia Tech STILL gets mentioned as supporting links with video games despite the official report. 

  9. 0
    faefrost says:

    According to the actual report, the "violent videogame" that he obsessively played was…


    Now admit it. We have all long suspected, and covered up for the evil tendancyies toward violence that are found in the typical DDR fans.

  10. 0
    Sleaker says:

    Nope, you didn't miss anything, the actual report which iirc included psychologist backed findings was put forth indicating motive.  However now we have a Cultural historian attempting to explain away the psychological representation of what they actually found by making correlations into hero worship.  Awesome.  

    What the historian is forgetting is that reloading early is a tactic, not just in video games.  If you have a pause in combat you equipment check, it doesn't take playing a video game to figure out that if you walk into a new situation with 3/4th of your resources gone and you had a chance to fill them up.. well lest just skip that and keep going… No.  You fill up especially if it's a quick procedure, then continue on.  It's pure logic at that point. Low? Yes -> Then refill.

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