(Photo by Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images)
El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, both saw horrific mass shootings over the weekend, prompting another round of “what’s causing this?”
Rather than acknowledge the political motivations of the El Paso shooter or the line of radicalization that led him toward reactionary white supremacy, a number of politicians are returning to a popular scapegoat: video games. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and President Donald Trump all cited violent video games as a factor in these shootings and other acts of violence in the US.
These complaints are a decades-old distraction and continue to be unsubstantiated. There is no significant evidence that video games are a contributing factor to mass shootings.
Video games are not unique to the United States, and are incredibly popular worldwide. According to NewZoo, the United States is the No. 2 video game market in the world, with 178.7 million players, or 57.4 percent of the population. Japan is No. 3 with 67.6 million players, or 53.2 percent, followed by South Korea, the UK, and Germany. China is No. 1.
That means, across five of the six biggest video game markets in the world, somewhere between 53 and 57 percent of the population plays video games. Video games are not unique to the US. What is unique here, however, is violence. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the US homicide rate was 5.3 for every 100,000 people in 2017. The UK was at 1.2, Germany was 1, South Korea was 0.6., and Japan sat at 0.2.
Forget about correlation not equalling causation. There isn’t even any correlation here. There is no through line from violent video games to actual violence, based on the data. And that’s just broad homicide rates. Mass shootings, defined as an incident where at least four people are shot and killed, make the US look even worse by several magnitudes. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 255 mass shootings in the United States this year so far. In the countries where video games are also popular, these shootings are effectively nonexistent.
Another argument is that violent video games desensitize people to violence, encourage violence, or otherwise promote real-life violent action.
A 2017 study from Frontiers in Psychology found no evidence that violent video games, even when played to excess, desensitize players to actual violence. Another paper published in Perspectives on Psychological Science this year found that violent video games increase aggressiveness, but only to a very small extent.
In 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) acknowledged a link between violent video games and aggression, based on a variety of other studies. Except even that resolution noted that there wasn’t sufficient research on the subject, including data across socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural differences. In fact, while the resolution says there is a clear link between violent video games and aggression, it recommends studying the subject more. I reached out to the APA to see if its stance has changed in the last four years, and will update this column if and when I get a response.
It’s pretty clear, based on the available data, that violent video games aren’t to blame for Dayton or El Paso, or Virginia Beach, Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, or Parkland. We can consider each of these shooters to be mentally ill and ignore their intentions. We can look at their personal, social, and political beliefs and try to glean some meaning from them. We can talk about the availability and cultural relevance of guns in this country and its effect on violence. We can do a lot of things to try to better understand why these shootings happen.
But there’s no evidence that violent video games are a factor, and making that connection is lazy, dishonest, and a deflection. Let’s stop even entertaining the idea until there is clear, correlative data to back it up.
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