Following yet another appalling mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month, US President Donald Trump has fallen back on one of the favourite excuses for gun violence: video games. Popular forms of entertainment have often been blamed for violent crimes committed by ‘degenerate youths’ – in the past it’s been rock music, comics, horror films, even Dungeons & Dragons - and now video games are contributing to a wide variety of societal ills. At least, that’s according to some psychologists, politicians, and journalists eager to capitalise over the latest moral panic.
Do these claims actually stand up to rigorous scrutiny though? Studies regarding the connection between video games and gun violence haven’t reached any definitive conclusions - while some researchers have mistakenly stated that there’s “no division in the scientific community” there is considerable disagreement. In 2015 the American Psychological Association officially backed the claims that video games are linked to increased aggression and decreased empathy, though many people who are convinced that video games are at fault for school shootings are guilty of indulging in confirmation bias.
Millions of people enjoy Call of Duty, Manhunt and DOOM without becoming the perpetrators of violent crimes
Following the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012 it was reported that shooter Adam Lanza had been unhealthily ‘obsessed’ with video games – however, many of the articles which condemned video games for their violence ignored the millions of people who enjoyed Call of Duty, Manhunt and DOOM without becoming the perpetrators of violent crimes.
The fact that mass shooters and gamers are demographically similar has been misunderstood – young white men commit the majority of US school shootings, but their casual enjoyment of video games doesn’t mean the hobby is in any terms responsible for their actions. Instead we should be discussing toxic masculinity and the problem with worshipping the (catastrophically outdated) Second Amendment.
This week IGN reported on the Entertainment Software Association’s desire to have a ‘fact-based conversation’ with the Trump administration about video games being used as a scapegoat: “Like all Americans, we are deeply concerned about the level of gun violence in the United States. Video games are plainly not the issue: entertainment is distributed and consumed globally, but the US has an exponentially higher level of gun violence than any other nation.”
American politicians who have blamed video games are fully aware of the inconclusive evidence on the subject, no matter how much money they spend on studies looking for a decisive connection – their dishonesty is a smokescreen for the fact that they are desperately seeking an excuse to avoid a conversation about sensible, urgently needed gun reform. While activists campaign for lifesaving legislation that would restrict the sale of firearms Trump announced that he wants to meet with industry executives – IGN reported that Nintendo, Microsoft, Ubisoft, and Sony have not confirmed whether they have received invitations.
Video games are plainly not the issue: Entertainment is distributed and consumed globally
The Trump administration’s unwillingness to consider explanations beyond violent video games and mental illness ensures that the contributions they receive from the NRA aren’t endangered, and they continue to receive support from gun loving members of the voting public. It’s disgraceful that the gaming industry has to yet again defend itself from these spurious claims because elected officials in the US are unwilling to protect the lives of children and the wider population.