The Real Link Between Video Games and Violence

Jeremiah Johnson, Op Ed Editor

Following the Parkland shooting, the White House released a statement relating recent gun violence to violent video games, posting a montage of violent video game scenes to their Youtube channel. This has led to many worried parents wondering; is this correlation or causation?

Violence has long been attributed to the rise in popularity of violent video games, such as Mortal Kombat or Call of Duty. Many of the mass shootings in the last 20 years have been attributed to those who play these war games. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter who killed 17 in Parkland, Florida was a known video game addict, apparently playing for up to 15 hours a day.

“It was kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day,” says one of Cruz’s neighbors, Paul Gold.

However, were these video games the reason for his actions? Or was he predisposed to the violence advertised in these games, using them as an outlet for his already-present rage?

The American Psychological Association lists violent video games as one of the lead risk factors for aggression, stating in a 2015 study that “violent video game use has an effect on aggression. This effect is manifested both as an increase in negative outcomes such as aggressive behavior, cognitions, and effect and as a decrease in positive outcomes such as prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity to aggression.”

In 2015, the Entertainment Software Association reported that over 150 million Americans play video games, and over 90% of video games portray violence, says research by Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. If there was even a 1% rate of gamers turning to real-life violence, this would mean about 1 million people would become murderers every year, far off the actual 17,000 murders committed in the U.S. in 2016.

It is likely rather that many people with a predisposition to violent thoughts are attracted to games, where they can act out the graphic scenes that appear in their thoughts. In fact, a 2016 study found that general violence had decreased in the weeks following the release of a major video game title.

“Basically, by keeping young males busy with things they like” –such as sports, hobbies like video games, or other extracurricular activities– “you keep them off the streets and out of trouble,” says Christopher Ferguson, associate professor and co-chairman of the Department of Psychology at Stetson University.

The Supreme Court agreed that the violence portrayed in video games had a trivial effect on those who viewed them, in relation to the other forms of media. In the case of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, Justice Antonin Scalia concluded that “Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.”

And when looking at other countries, any pattern seems to fade away. Almost 60% of adults in Japan play video games, according to game research center NewZoo, yet they’ve only reported a total of 6 gun deaths in 2014, compared to 33,000 in the U.S. Around half of the online population plays video games in Germany, yet there were only 820 deaths by gun.

Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, says that politicians are trying too hard to make this a one-issue topic.

“No one single thing causes it…we point around at different things such as mental health or violent video games or poverty or whatever. And none of them is it. What is it is when you put them all together.”

So, are video games being used as a scapegoat to avoid dealing with the real issues? Gentile seems to think so.

“I do think it’s flawed. I think the problem is that we’re seeking a simple solution to a complex problem…What we’re getting is just a very one-sided and very limited look into only one of the risk factors for aggression.”