Let’s be clear: Video games do not cause violence, and video games had nothing to do with Nikolas Cruz’s murderous spree in Florida.
Major media outlets and armchair scientists on Twitter and Facebook associated video games with violent behavior in passing — as if the concept was already accepted as fact and not worth closer scrutiny. Both hosts and panelists alleged a connection without any evidence, and the mildest skepticism was rarely shown in the admittance of not knowing enough to comment.
It didn’t go much beyond murmurs until Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin unleashed his rant Feb. 15 on “The Leland Conway Show.”
He starts by saying “we have a cultural problem in America.” That’s true, but where he goes after is not. Here’s part of what the governor had to say on video games:
“They celebrate the slaughtering of people. There are games that literally replicate and give people the ability to score points for doing the very same thing that these students are doing inside of schools, where you get extra points for finishing someone off who’s lying there begging for their life. These are quote-unquote video games, and they’re forced down our throats under the guise of protected speech. It’s garbage. It’s the same as pornography. They have desensitized people to the value of human life, to the dignity of women, to the dignity of human decency.”
It’s immediately apparent by the words the governor used that he and whoever prepared him for this interview didn’t bother to do even a cursory Google search on video games and violence. If they had, they would have come across studies like the University of York’s.
The study, published in January, “found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.”
“In a series of experiments, with more than 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 in game players,” the study continued.
The conclusion states more studies are necessary.
Potentially violent and emotionally or mentally disturbed individuals may play video games, but those games aren’t what make them violent and unstable.
If that were the case, there would be more tragedies like this across the world. Why? Because there are 2.2 billion gamers. Violent games are sold and consumed globally, yet America is the only country routinely plagued with school shootings.
Additionally, America’s decreasing rate of violent crime contradicts Bevin’s argument. The gaming industry is growing at a staggering rate while violent crime continues to decline nationally, according to the FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency overseen by the Department of Justice.
More households, more children, and more adults playing video games should translate to an increase in violent crime, by these theories. Yet, it has not.
There’s also this study from Frontiers, which showed “evidence against the desensitization hypothesis” and no long-term reduction in empathy from playing violent video games.
Often, video games and the broader entertainment industry are used as scapegoats in the pro- vs. anti-gun debate. One major problem that arises in this defense of the Second Amendment is a First Amendment problem.
Attempts to regulate, shut down and censor certain types of games are a violation of free speech. The Supreme Court decided this eight years ago when it voted 7-2 against a California law in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association.
Late Justice Antonin Scalia said this on the matter: “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.”
America does have a serious problem with school shootings. It’s a multi-faceted problem, and each is as complex as the next: Gun control, mental health and familial breakdown are just a few of the facets that require bipartisan cooperation to tackle.
So first, let’s stop blaming something that has nothing to do with the problem. Second, let’s take the wisdom both sides of the aisle have to offer and make sure schools are the safe institutions of learning and socialization they’re supposed to be.
Knee-jerk reactions to emotional situations are normal. Public figures, however, owe due diligence to their constituents, viewers and readers by taking the time to understand the arguments they’re making before presenting them as indisputable fact.
And the fact of the matter is that video games do not cause violence.
Katie Frates is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Walkthrough. Follow Katie on Twitter and Facebook, and signup for The Daily Walkthrough for the latest on gaming and esports.