posted on: Thursday February 8, 2018
by Nicholas Moran ’19
As America wakes up to news of yet another senseless mass killing, an outraged media sets its sights on the killer’s video game shelves.
Glossing over complex issues like mental health treatment and gun culture, journalists like Fox and Friends anchor Steve Doocey condemn violent games like Grand Theft Auto V and Mortal Kombat. Gunning down innocents in the virtual streets of Los Santos is supposedly a dry run for violent crime in real life, intensifying gamers’ blood lust and aggression.
After all, the Sandy Hook shooter played violent video games into the early hours of the morning, as did the Aurora, Columbine, and Virginia Tech shooters. Surely there is a causal link, right?
While op-eds criticizing video games still litter America’s newspapers, there is little evidence causally linking violent video games to mass shootings. In reality, this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation.
Yes, journalists are correct in noticing that these heinous criminals often play violent games, but the American Psychological Association reports that 90 percent of American children play video games, and 85 percent of those games are violent. With the vast majority of America’s youth playing these games, is it surprising that violent youth play them too? After all, finding a copy of Grand Theft Auto in an American youth’s bedroom is just as ubiquitous as a pair of blue jeans or an iPhone.
Millions of peaceful and productive youth enjoy violent games, and numerous studies have failed to prove that these youths are damaging their mental health.
After Western Michigan University researcher Whitney DeCamp examined 6,587 Delaware schoolchildren, he concluded that that violent games, “no matter how bloody, did not predict violent behavior.” Rather, gender and family abuse issues were far better indicators of violence.
Similarly, researchers at the University of York failed to find a link between violent virtual acts and aggression in real life. After having test subjects play violent warfare games, the researchers quizzed the subjects with word association puzzles, expecting the violent gamers to choose “more violent word associations.”
This would show that virtual violence makes it “easier to use [violence] in real life,” as it becomes less taboo in the gamer’s mind. Instead, there was no difference between the control and test groups, even when the researchers exposed testees to more graphically violent games.
With a mounting body of research casting doubt on the popular theory, 238 scholars have urged the American Psychological Association to abandon “outdated and problematic statements on video game violence.”
Many of these researchers have noted that violent crime has fallen amongst America’s youth, despite the meteoric rise of the video game industry.
In fact, there is a measurable dip in real life crime after popular violent video games are released, as research in the Southern Economic Journal suggests. Ironically, Stetson University professor Christopher Ferguson argued that violent games “keep [youth] off the streets and out of trouble!”
Similarly problematic for the theory, other nations consume significantly more violent games than the United States while suffering much less violent crime.
According to the Washington Post, America’s video game spending per capita lags behind eight other nations, yet the U.S. leads in percentage of gun-deaths. While the world’s leader in video game consumption, the Netherlands, suffers less than .5 gun deaths per 100,000, the U.S. has six times more at three per 100,000. After years of debate over causation, these figures put even a correlation in doubt.
The next time a breaking news alert rumbles on your phone, be weary of the pundit who supposedly discovered the sole cause of any crisis.
Seeking a boost on social media, a pundit will lazily notice something that correlates with a crisis, and then rally anxious citizens into a frenzy against it. Instead of solving the problem, the frenzy only distracts from actual solutions, prolonging the nation’s pain and suffering.
Always look for evidence that something is actually causing the problem, not just happening at the same time!