Do Violent Video Games cause Gun Violence?

Do Violent Video Games cause Gun Violence?
Do Violent Video Games cause Gun Violence?

In has become tiresomely predictable that instead of actually addressing the issue of gun control, yet another incident results is the easy targets being attacked. “He was disturbed” and so mental illness gets the blame. “Violent video games instil a bloodlust within our society” is yet another familiar trope.

One thing is more or less guaranteed; when an incident happens, decisive meaningful action is never deployed. Instead, we will get the usual ill informed rhetoric wrapped up with promises to address the issue by cracking down on things that don’t help. For example, banning violent video games. Such plans are as meaningful as “thoughts and prayers”.

You really do not need to think too hard about this. The Video games we play circulate across every single nation state on the planet. Mental illness is also not unique to the US, but instead is common across every form of human society. Examine the statistics per 100,000 for the number of people that die by gun violence and you will find that US stands out as distinctly unique. The US rate of slaughter is greater than even Afghanistan, Iraq, or Yemen.

If we think about violent video games as a possible cause then we can also ask this question.

Have there been any serious definitive studies into the supposed connection between violent video games and teen aggression?

Yes there have, and so let’s take a look at one of the latest.

University Of Oxford: Violent video games found not to be associated with adolescent aggression

The paper titled “Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behaviour: evidence from a registered report” was published recently within The Royal Society for Open Science on 19th February 2019.

This is perhaps the most definitive study to date on this supposed connection between violent video games and real-world aggression.

What were they testing?

Recent violent game play is linearly and positively related to carer assessments of aggressive behaviour

What exactly did they do?

They investigated the extent to which adolescents who spend time playing violent video games exhibit higher levels of aggressive behaviour when compared with those who do not.

This involved measuring actual game play, the degree of violence within the games being played, and then comparing that to assessments of teen behaviour by those responsible for them.

Over 1,000 teens were involved.

What did they discover?

Their results did not support the hypothesis, nor did they support the idea that the relationship between these factors follows a nonlinear parabolic function. They found no evidence for a critical tipping point relating violent game engagement to aggressive behaviour. 

Study Observations

Unlike previous studies that used self-reported data from the teens involved, this study used information from parents and carers to judge the level of aggressive behaviour 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.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute…..

‘The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time, Despite interest in the topic by parents and policy-makers, the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern.’

Co-author Dr Netta Weinstein from Cardiff University …

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,

To address this specific concern, the researchers publically registered their hypothesis, methods and analysis technique prior to beginning the research.

Przybylski explained this as follows …

Part of the problem in technology research is that there are many ways to analyse 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 safe-guard against this

This itself is a great idea. Pre-registration is a good approach to combat the cherry picking of a hypothesis to fit the results they find. There are a lot of ideas out there like ‘social media drives depression’ and ‘technology addiction that lowers quality of life’ that simply have no supporting evidence. These topics and others that drive technological anxieties should be studied more rigorously – society needs solid evidence in order to make appropriate policy decisions.’

If policy makers simply shoot from the hip and deploy solutions to supposed causes on the basis of no viable robust evidence, then they are in effect most probably doing absolutely nothing except perhaps creating the illusion of action.

Evidence-based policy truly does matter. 

Targeting video games to solve the problem of gun violence is going to be as effective as banning ice cream sales to reduce the number of hot days. It really is as daft as that.

Further Reading

The Atlantic: Video-Game Violence Is Now a Partisan Issue

In the two decades since Columbine, video games have taken a lot of the blame for mass shootings. The evidence has never supported this conclusion, and researchers have become only more certain that media don’t cause violence, or even aggression. Nevertheless, the idea persists. Just hours after a horrifying shooting—including the one that left 20 people dead in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday—someone will blame video games.

But in the past two years, something has changed. Games have shifted from a broad cultural enemy—a gory medium that all types of people might hold responsible for social disgrace—to a political tool. Video-game violence was once a bipartisan worry. Now it’s a largely Republican talking point, deployed for tactical political gain to great effect.

Vox (Aug 5th): Video games don’t cause violent crime

Kevin McCarthy blamed violent video games for mass shootings over the weekend, and Donald Trump did the same at Monday’s press conference singling out “the gruesome video games that are now commonplace” to blame for creating “a culture that celebrates violence.”

This is a bit rich coming from a man who ran on a promise to “bomb the shit out of ’em” and has repeatedly floated the idea of pardons for accused war criminals.

It also flies in the face of the basic reality that the United States has a much higher murder rate than any other rich country, even though video games are widely available in Europe and Japan

Wikipedia Article: Video game controversies

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