In his address to the nation following a weekend of two mass shootings, President Trump made a reference to violent video games, suggesting that these games may
have something to do with shootings such as the ones that took place in El Paso and Dayton.
He said, “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.”
The president isn’t the only politician drawing a link between violent video games and actual violence House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told Fox & Friends that they, too, believe there’s a link between playing violent games and committing violent acts.
Former vice president and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “It is not healthy to have these games teaching the kids the dispassionate notion that you can shoot somebody and just, you know, sort of blow their brains out,” but he added that “it’s not in and of itself the reason why we have this carnage on our streets.”
I can understand why politicians are worried about these games. There is some research that media can affect attitudes and The American Psychological Association did report that “research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior.” But the organization “identified a number of limitations in the research that require further study, and acknowledged that such aggression doesn’t typically lead to violence. The APA also said that further research needs to “look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors. For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?”
As it turns out, there is a lot of research on this issue and most of it found no meaningful link between playing violent video games and committing acts of violence. Sure, there are murderers who are among the roughly 90% of young men who had played violent video games, but the vast majority of those young men never act out. And there is no clear indication that those who do commit violent crimes were influenced by playing those games.
But even the APA’s limited findings, according to two leading researchers, Dr. Christopher Ferguson and Andrew K. Przybylski are subject to question.
In a 2019 research report in the journal Royal Society Open Science Przybylski found that “Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behavior.” In an email interview he elaborated, “We didn’t find evidence that supported the idea that especially high levels of violent video game had different effects than moderate play. Instead we found that both simple and more complex correlations between violent gaming and aggressive behavior did not exist.”
Christopher J. Ferguson and C. K. John Wang reached similar conclusions in their study, “Aggressive Video Games are Not a Risk Factor for Future Aggression in Youth: A Longitudinal Study.”
In an interview, Chris Ferguson, who is a professor of psychology at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, said that “We’ve done a number of studies looking at long-term outcomes with kids, including one with over 3,000 youth in Singapore. “From these long-term outcome studies, it’s very clear that playing violent video games is not a risk factor for assaultive behavior, lack of helpingness, lack of empathy.” He said that playing video games is not a predictor of crime. He said there could be cases where playing violent video games could lead to “aggression,” but that it’s typically very mild aggression – more like pranks than anything dangerous. He joked that watching Full House “actually makes me very angry because I just hate that show.”
Given the vast number of young men who have played violent video games there is, of course,a correlation between playing those games and violence, just as there is a correlation between drinking milk as a child and violence. Most people who commit violence drank milk but most people who drank milk didn’t commit violence.
As per attitudes toward violent games, a 2016 study by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein found that “controlling for participant age and gender, direct game experience was linked to lower negative attitudes,” adding that direct experience with video game mitigates the belief that it contributes to mass-shootings.
Having said this, I still think parents should pay attention to the games their children play and only allow them to play games that are age appropriate.
Even if a violent game won’t turn an otherwise law-abiding citizen into a mass murderer, it can still be upsetting and inappropriate depending on the age and maturity of the child.
Parents can find game ratings from the Entertainment Rating Software Board. Categories include Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen, Mature 17+ and Adults Only 18+. I also recommend reading reviews, including the excellent reviews by Common Sense Media and, whenever possible, playing the game with your child or teen or at least observing them playing the game.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.
Published at Thu, 08 Aug 2019 11:00:55 +0000