Trump and Republicans blame video games for El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, but science says there is no link
Multiple studies have said that there is no evidence to support the theory that video games trigger violent behavior
After the two mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, which killed 31 people and injured dozens in less than 24 hours, President Donald Trump blamed an old and familiar monster: video games.
In his address to the nation, Trump said: “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society.” He said this includes the “gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.” “It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately,” he stated in his address.
Meanwhile, Trump is not alone. Other politicians including Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and lieutenant governor of Texas Dan Patrick have also made video games the scapegoat for the recent violent crimes.
However, despite the politicians’ eagerness to pin the blame on video games, multiple studies have debunked this theory and established that there is no causal link between video games and real-world violence.
In February 2019, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, stated in a study that they found no relationship between aggressive behavior in teenagers and the amount of time spent playing violent video games.
The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it has not tested very well over time, said the researchers, who concluded that despite interest in the topic by parents and policymakers, the study has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern.
“We argue that this study speaks to the key question of whether adolescents’ violent video gameplay has a measurable effect on real-world aggressive behavior. On the basis of our evidence, the answer is no. There was no evidence for a critical tipping point relating violent game engagement to aggressive behavior,” the findings involving 2,008 participants stated.
The study, published in Royal Society Open Science, is one of the most definitive to date, and it used a combination of subjective and objective data to measure teen aggression and violence in games. Unlike previous research on the topic, which relied heavily on self-reported data from teenagers, the study used information from parents and carers to judge the level of aggressive behavior in their children. Additionally, the content of the video games was classified using the official Pan European Game Information (EU) and Entertainment Software Rating Board (US) rating system, rather than only player’s perceptions of the amount of violence in the game.
“Our findings suggest that researcher biases might have influenced previous studies on this topic, and have distorted our understanding of the effects of video games. Part of the problem in technology research is that there are many ways to analyze the same data, which will produce different results. A cherry-picked result can add undue weight to the moral panic surrounding video games. The registered study approach is a safeguard against this,” said the researchers.
However, this is not the first time that the US President has blamed video games. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, Trump had blamed video games for the massacre. Back then, he had said, “I am hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”
In a separate study, published in January this year in Entertainment Computing, researchers at the University of York said they found no evidence to support the theory that video games made players more violent.
In a series of experiments, with over 3,000 participants, the team demonstrated that video game concepts do not ‘prime’ players to behave in certain ways and that increasing the realism of violent video games does not necessarily increase aggression among game players.
According to experts, the dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in ‘real life.’ This is known as ‘priming’ and is thought to lead to changes in behavior.
Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had done before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether conclusive evidence could be found. The findings suggest that there is no link between realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.
“A common argument in the violent video game (VVG) literature is that the greater the realism of a game, the more it activates aggressive concepts, and the greater antisocial effects it will have on its players. However, while realism is often described as increasing the effects of violent video games, these results contradict this perspective,” says the study.
A statement by Division 46 (Society for Media Psychology and Technology) of the American Psychological Association, says that research evidence does not support links between violent video games or other violent media and societal violence. “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities,” it says.
Significantly, Trump administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety report, released on December 2018, also did not say that there is conclusive evidence to link video games to violent behavior.
“Dr. Christopher Ferguson, a Professor of Psychology at Stetson University, reported to the Commission that studies that purport to link video games and violence are often not replicable. Because research on the negative effects of violent entertainment has produced mixed results, he believes the debate about the possible role of violent entertainment after a mass shooting is a distraction from other factors,” says the 180-page report.
The chapter on - Violent Entertainment and Rating Systems - which also includes video games, further states, “One correlational study found that children who view more violent programs spend less time interacting with other children, which could be an indicator for social isolation. Others argue that exposure to media violence is not predictive of violent actions.”
The report says that a landmark Supreme Court case, “Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, established video games as protected speech under the First Amendment. As a result, the entertainment industry continues to establish voluntary rating systems in the US for motion pictures, software, television programs, and music.”
The Commission’s report does not make any specific recommendations regarding video games. It says that parents are best positioned to determine which forms of entertainment are appropriate for their children. “Parents can consider having direct discussions with their children about such common things as movies and television programs their children are watching, video games and apps their children are playing or using, and music their children are listening to,” says the report.