Do Video Games Cause Violence? Shooting Down The Myth

Video games are back in the news for all the wrong reasons. This time around, the largest entertainment medium has earned the wrath of President Trump himself. That brings us to the million-dollar question: Do video games really cause violence, or has society found a convenient scapegoat to blame for its failings?

Not only games. Films, music, and books are being blamed for causing violence too

That is exactly what happened in the past. Back in the ‘50s, Americans were convinced that comics were making their children violent. The matter was treated with enough seriousness by the US Senate to hold hearings on the link between reading comics and the rise of juvenile delinquency. The music and film industry were also met with similar hostility. Contemporary music has been linked with literal murder in the past.

Video Game Violence Movies

Society eventually got accustomed to these mediums. Once the generation that grew up consuming these once vilified mediums assumed the levers of power, the criticism against them naturally fell by the wayside. The cycle of blame has merely been reset.

Exposing children to violence and adult content doesn't sound right.

Regulatory bodies such as ESRB and PEGI exist for this particular reason. Games made for a mature audience are appropriately rated. These aren't meant to be consumed by minors. This is a case of bad parenting being used to vilify a legitimate entertainment medium. Think of it as holding knife makers and auto companies responsible for a few bad parents letting their kids run amok with kitchen knives and SUVs.

Video Game Violence Insanity Defence

Video game developers aren't monsters who peddle ultra-violent video games to minors. Less than 29 percent of gamers are younger than 18. Video games have mature content because the majority of the target demographic consists of adults. These fine folks are only trying to make a living by catering to prevalent market forces.

What explains mass shooters citing video games as inspiration?

Short answer: The absolutely mental US legal system.

Long answer: The insanity defense allows serial killers and spree shooters alike to trade in the death penalty for time spent in a mental asylum. The idea is to blame their crimes on a momentary lapse of sanity. This may sound ludicrous, but fact is stranger than fiction. To put this into perspective, 60 percent of murderers who employed the insanity defense in the state of Colorado walked out of the mental asylums -- some as soon as three years since being committed. It's no surprise then why a vast majority of contemporary mass shooters choose to blame video games to get out of death row.

The operative word being "contemporary". This isn't a recent phenomenon by a long shot. Violent murderers and mass shooters have been blaming other entertainment mediums long before video games went mainstream.

Back in 2002, an Ohio resident Tonda Lynn Ansley was found not guilty despite shooting her landlady point blank in the head. The case went on to be known famously as the Matrix defense. It was named after the 1999 Hollywood blockbuster because Ansley's lawyers were able to prove that their client believed she was inside the virtual reality dubbed as the Matrix (yes, the famous Keanu Reeves blockbuster) and could therefore kill without any consequences.

Video Game Violence Matrix Defence

The jury agreed.

Violent criminals have since moved onto blaming video games. Lawmakers are less likely to give cold-blooded murderers a free pass after public outcry against patently false insanity defenses citing films as the murderous excuse.

What about the scientific studies linking violent behavior to video games?

Such studies are neither peer reviewed nor do they follow the stringent checks and balances subjected to credible scientific endeavors. These usually involve a test subjects playing video games for 15 minutes and answering vague questionnaires engineered to evoke the desired response. These researchers essentially work backwards to prove a preconceived notion. There's barely anything “scientific” about these studies.

However, peer reviewed studies that made genuine efforts to dig deeper into actual youth crime data came to an altogether different conclusion. One such comprehensive study conducted by Dr Christopher Ferguson for the Journal of Communication employed ESRB ratings to gauge the violent content of the most popular video games for the years 1996-2011 and compared them against US federal data on youth violence rates during the same years. It was revealed that violent video game consumption in society is inversely related to societal youth violence.

Video Game Violence Us Secret Service

This is also evident in the violent crime rates recorded in the US over a period of two decades. The crime figures observed in the year 2010 were just a fraction of the same recorded in 1994. In other words, the children who were exposed to violent video games in 1994 grew up into well-adjusted adults -- a fact that can be verified from the incredibly lower violent crime rates of 2010. Cold, hard empirical data proves that ever since the youth have been exposed to video games, violent criminality has significantly and consistently dwindled.

Well, that's just one researcher's word over another.

That's pretty much what the US government thought as well. This prompted the US Secret Service to step in and investigate. The federal study revealed that a mere 12 percent of those convicted of school shootings played video games.

Juxtapose that with the fact that 91 percent of the US youth play video games, and it wouldn't technically be a stretch to infer that non-gamers are more likely to become mass shooters. Furthermore, the US Secret Service also discovered that a substantial 37 percent of those criminals "exhibited an interest in violence in their own writings, such as poems". Poetry is more dangerous by that logic.

This revelation has also been corroborated by other scientific research, including a $1.5 million study funded by the US Department of Justice on the effects of video games on teenagers. Statistically speaking, you're more likely to kill if you don't play video games.

The only thing that ever makes gamers violent is lag, so blame the inept internet service providers instead. Do you think violent games can do harm? Let us know in the comment below.

Nachiket Mhatre

Growing up, Nachiket had a penchant for disassembling household electronics and appliances; most of which couldn’t be reassembled successfully. His parents didn’t approve. These days, he leverages his lifelong pursuit of dissecting gadgets to write about technology. His parents still don’t approve.

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