Video games aren’t the problem

Published 10:11 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The murders of 17 students, teachers and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14 have rekindled debate on preventing this sort of tragedy in the future. There are productive conversations happing on the national stage on issues such as gun control, mental health and recognizing blatant warning signs.

But of course, as has been the case after many mass shootings committed by teenagers in the United States in the past 20 years, politicians have an easier scapegoat that won’t create actual change.

Business Insider reported that in a White House meeting on school safety on Feb. 22, President Donald Trump made it clear that he thinks violent video games and movies are to blame.

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“The level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts, and then you go the further step, and that’s the movies,” Trump said, according to the report.

Trump’s sentiment was echoed by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin on the Leland Conway show on Feb. 15. Bevin said on the show that, while violent games are listed for mature audiences, children are still getting a hold of games that “celebrate the slaughtering of people.”

“These are quote-unquote video games, and they’re forced down our throats under the guise of protected speech,” Bevin said, according to an article by Forbes contributor Erik Kain. “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.”

This argument has been rehashed ever since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two who murdered 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999, were revealed to be fans of the first-person shooter video game “Doom.”

It’s been nearly two decades, and people still avoid harder topics like gun control in favor of simpler culprits like media influences.

Christopher Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Stetson University in Florida, responded to Bevin’s comments in an article he wrote for theconversation.com. He has studied the effects of violent video games for nearly 15 years and cited his 2015 meta-analysis.

“I examined 101 studies on the subject and found that violent video games had little impact on kids’ aggression, mood, helping behavior or grades,” he stated in his article.

He referred to the Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. 786, in 2011. The case struck down a 2005 California law banning the sale of certain violent video games to children without parental supervision.

“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,” according to the case syllabus on law.cornell.edu. “Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.”

Fergsuon’s argument was elaborated upon in the June 2017 statement by the Society for Media Psychology and Technology, a division of the American Psychological Association. Ferguson is the society’s chair.

“Journalists and policy makers do their constituencies a disservice in cases where they link acts of real-world violence with the perpetrators’ exposure to violent video games or other violent media,” according to the statement the statement. “There’s little scientific evidence to support the connection, and it may distract us from addressing those issues that we know contribute to real-world violence.”

It makes even less sense when you look at how these purported effects don’t exist where these games are played elsewhere in the world.

“The same video games played in the U.S. are played worldwide; however, the level of gun violence is exponentially higher in the U.S. than in other countries,” according to the Entertainment Software Association per Business Insider.

The group represents major video game industry stakeholders like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, so take that with a grain of salt. But the U.S. nevertheless had the 31st highest rate of deaths due to gun violence in 2016, eight times more than Canada and 27 times more than Denmark, according to npr.org.

Policymakers need to stop bringing up unsubstantiated concerns about these influences. Rather than talking about “Call of Duty,” talk about striking down the 1996 Dickey amendment, which forbade using federal dollars in the advocacy and promotion of gun control.

Discuss supporting research by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention that would shine new light on real factors behind these tragedies.