It’s Time To End The Debate About Games And Violence

It’s Time To End The Debate About Games And Violence

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Broward County, Florida high school, a familiar trope re-emerged.

Often, when a young man is the shooter, people try to blame the tragedy on violent video games and other forms of media. Florida lawmaker Jared Moskowitz made the connection the day after the shooting, saying the gunman “was prepared to pick off students like it’s a video game.”

In January, after two students were killed and many others wounded by a 15-year-old shooter in Benton, Kentucky, the state’s governor criticised popular culture, telling reporters, “We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen.”

But, speaking as a researcher who has studied violent video games for almost 15 years, I can state that there is no evidence to support these claims that violent media and real-world violence are connected. As far back as 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that research did not find a clear connection between violent video games and aggressive behaviour.

Criminologists who study mass shootings specifically refer to those sorts of connections as a “myth.” And in 2017, the Media Psychology and Technology division of the American Psychological Association released a statement I helped craft, suggesting reporters and policymakers cease linking mass shootings to violent media, given the lack of evidence for a link.

A history of a moral panic

So why are so many policymakers inclined to blame violent video games for violence? There are two main reasons.

The first is the psychological research community’s efforts to market itself as strictly scientific. This led to a replication crisis instead, with researchers often unable to repeat the results of their studies.

Now, psychology researchers are reassessing their analyses of a wide range of issues – not just violent video games, but implicit racism, power poses and more.

The other part of the answer lies in the troubled history of violent video game research specifically. Beginning in the early 2000s, some scholars, anti-media advocates and professional groups like the APA began working to connect a methodologically messy and often contradictory set of results to public health concerns about violence. This echoed historical patterns of moral panic, such as 1950s concerns about comic books and Tipper Gore’s efforts to blame pop and rock music in the 1980s for violence, sex and satanism.

Particularly in the early 2000s, dubious evidence regarding violent video games was uncritically promoted. But over the years, confidence among scholars that violent video games influence aggression or violence has crumbled.

Reviewing all the scholarly literature

My own research has examined the degree to which violent video games can – or can’t – predict youth aggression and violence. In a 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.

Two years later, I found evidence that scholarly journals’ editorial biases had distorted the scientific record on violent video games.

Experimental studies that found effects were more likely to be published than studies that had found none. This was consistent with others’ findings. As the Supreme Court noted, any impacts due to video games are nearly impossible to distinguish from the effects of other media, like cartoons and movies.

Any claims that there is consistent evidence that violent video games encourage aggression are simply false.

Spikes in violent video games’ popularity are well-known to correlate with substantial declines in youth violence – not increases.

These correlations are very strong, stronger than most seen in behavioral research. More recent research suggests that the releases of highly popular violent video games are associated with immediate declines in violent crime, hinting that the releases may cause the drop-off.

The role of professional groups

With so little evidence, why are people like Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin still trying to blame violent video games for mass shootings by young men? Can groups like the National Rifle Association seriously blame imaginary guns for gun violence?

A key element of that problem is the willingness of professional guild organizations such as the APA to promote false beliefs about violent video games. (I’m a fellow of the APA.) These groups mainly exist to promote a profession among news media, the public and policymakers, influencing licensing and insurance laws.

They also make it easier to get grants and newspaper headlines. Psychologists and psychology researchers like myself pay them yearly dues to increase the public profile of psychology. But there is a risk the general public may mistake promotional positions for objective science.

In 2005 the APA released its first policy statement linking violent video games to aggression. However, my recent analysis of internal APA documents with criminologist Allen Copenhaver found that the APA ignored inconsistencies and methodological problems in the research data.

The APA updated its statement in 2015, but that sparked controversy immediately: More than 230 scholars wrote to the group asking it to stop releasing policy statements altogether.

I and others objected to perceived conflicts of interest and lack of transparency tainting the process.

The ConversationIt’s bad enough that these statements misrepresent the actual scholarly research and misinform the public.

But it’s worse when those falsehoods give advocacy groups like the NRA cover to shift blame for violence onto non-issues like video games. The resulting misunderstandings delay efforts to address mental illness and other issues that are actually related to gun violence.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • One crucial piece is missing; that being that the people in control of the message (media and politicians) are from a generation where they do not and don’t want to understand things like video games. They constantly ignore and dismiss research time and time again that proves video games do not cause gun violence because it scores them opinion poll points and ratings with the other ignorant and close minded people of their generation.

    Media that is an escape from the terrible issues of the real world have been the misdirected blame for violence since such things were created.

    Before video games, it was TV and movies
    Before TV and movies, it was rock/metal music
    Before rock/metal music, it was books

    Media that allows people to escape this real world has and always will be the scapegoat for violence of any kind. People, especially American people, do not want to see the real and stupid reason these things keep occurring: Their unwillingness to let go of their “run for profits” medical systems, which keep people with serious mental issues from affording the help they need. And the second amendment and all the stupid laws that go with it (open carry for one) needs to be abolished or at minimum changed so that weapons like automatic rifles are removed from sale… But again, Americans will not do that.

    So the cycle of what to blame will continue.

      • The “America is not the greasiest country in the world” one? Cause I love that speech!

        But Daniels did so many good speeches on that show that it’s hard to know which one you are referring to.

    • I’ll get the ball rolling.

      Last Jedi’s reliance on social commentary made me want to hurt people.

  • Sorry kids but I got some real data points and discussion for you.

    First off games are violent but so is other media. I’m not a real gamer and I’m not a real gun nut but I do hunt and support the 2nd amendment here in the USA…just don’t don’t know why my peers needs military assault rifles to hunt white tales (our roos?), but I digress…

    I manage a ski resort and employee 100 young men every year from 16-20 years of ago. They know more now about very advanced military guns…from where? Yep…video games. Knowledge is key. Could be movies, could be TV…but we’ve had those for decades will no mass shootings with assault rifles in schools. But for the last 10-15 years the games are so realistic and very technical.

    I don’t hear 17 year old boys talking about their first hunting riffle now. I now here the desire for AR15s and they know more then I did about then when I was in the service…not from watching Rambo, or such…from video games. Very educated. Very glorified…very effective.

    It doesn’t help their fathers (x & y generation) have been programmed by the NRA to think we are under attack if we don’t get our bazooka and tanks (for personal use) but this is the reality of life.

    Kids, young men overly educated and desiring highly effective military grade guns…and knowing more about them the we did in the service. Yes internet (education) is to blame but the games support the glory.

    Facts. Data points. Changing society. Accept it.

    • Knowledge of guns does not equal a tendency to commit violent acts against people.

      I understand you are worried that the games have glorified killing, but games are just as easily an outlet for aggressive tendencies that previously could have resulted in physical violence and is now released in an imaginary world.

      These games are imaginary and gamers know that. I think these games teach just how easy a life can be lost from just one stray bullet.

  • It’s Time To End The Debate About Games And Violence

    Time to end?

    Time to end?

    I don’t mean to be overly snark but the debate has been long finished and is now historical.

    What we have to deal with now is select individuals who keep hoping that in running the same false narrative a study will eventually emerge to retroactively validate their claims.

  • In 1999 they blamed the columbine shootings on the two guys listening to Marylin Manson. It was proven they didn’t even own any of his albums. The American media and Government can’t man up and blame gun control so they look for something else. People say we’ve had mass shootings in this country since banning guns and it it’s true nowhere near the frequency America has.

  • Maybe stopped hiding behind the ‘second amendment rights’ bullshit and stopped blaming anything and anyone else for their inability to deal with social dysfunctions-which pretty much the root cause of most of these massacres…

  • This article is about two months late, although I noticed the original post on “The Conversation” was from February 16th so I guess I should say this re-post is about two months late.

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