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Violent video games don’t cause mass shootings.

CULTURE

Violent Video Games Don’t Cause Mass Shootings.

Trump, McCarthy, and the rest of the media should stop spreading this falsehood.

President Donald Trump’s remarks about the causes of mass violence in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings sparked furor among video game enthusiasts. In his speech on Monday, Trump warned of the “perils of social media” and the “gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace,” which he claims contributed to these incidents.

His statement was widely derided in the press as baseless – scapegoating video games to draw attention away from the gun control debate. But here’s the thing: Trump’s condemnation of video games wasn’t generated in a vacuum. It has been the de facto narrative of the press for the past several decades.

IT’S ABOUT ETHICS IN JOURNALISM ON GAMING

While some members of the press appropriately defended video games from attacks by Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman, who both blamed violent media for the rise in violent crime in the mid-2000s, the mainstream media remains a major proponent of the specious claim that exposure to violence in video games contributes to real-world violence.

If the problem isn’t framed as video games specifically – it’s the community around them.

Though The New York Times now decries Trump’s statements on video games as ignorant, the paper has, on numerous occasions, endorsed the argument he now espouses. In a piece published in 1999, the Times promoted the barely investigated “conclusion” that “there is at least some demonstrable link between watching violent acts in movies and television shows and acting aggressively in life.” Citing the Surgeon General’s office and brief overviews of studies from the early 70s, the paper boldly proclaimed that violent media is a contributing factor to increases in violent crime and antisocial behavior.

If the problem isn’t framed as video games specifically – it’s the community around them.

In 2018, the Times all but attacked video game culture. “Video games do have a big problem, but it is not stylized virtual violence. Rather, it is the bigotry, social abuse, sexism and other toxic behavior to which players too often subject one another when gaming together online,” wrote Seth Schiesel.

Just this week, the Washington Post ran an article by Democratic congressional candidate Brianna Wu who made a similar argument against “gamer culture,” which she blamed for “encouraging hate.”

Mother Jones chimed in with a piece arguing that “toxic elements in the gaming community” helped foster an environment that cultivates “white nationalist killers.” The article claimed that Gamergate, described as a series of “vicious harassment campaigns targeting women in the gaming industry” led to the formulation of the 8chan imageboard, where the El Paso shooter allegedly posted his manifesto.

The article ultimately canceled itself by drawing on online extremism scholar Whitney Phillips, who pointed out that targeting gaming culture is as misguided as blaming the actual video games.

“The internet doesn’t amplify anything, it amplifies the worst things,” said Phillips, who argued that the problems are structural. “The problems of hate and white supremacy are enormous. You’re basically dealing with the history of the entire United States.”

Cyberpunk 2077. CD Projekt Red.

Cyberpunk 2077. CD Projekt Red.

AN ANSWER THAT IS CLEAR, SIMPLE, AND WRONG

Studies on video games and their connection to violence ultimately lay the blame at the feet of video game enthusiasts. They are condemned and criminalized as anti-social, aggressive, and inherently dangerous – either for their consumption of violent media, or for belonging to the community surrounding video games.

The evidence does not support either indictment.

“The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time.”

Psychologist Patrick Markey conducted a longitudinal study on the relationship between mass shooters and violent video games, finding that 80 percent of shooters had no interest whatsoever in video games.

“It seems like something that should make us safer, so it’s a totally understandable reaction,” Markey said in an interview with CBS News. “The problem is just the science, the data, does not back up that they actually have an effect.”

A comprehensive study at the Oxford Internet Institute found that the link between aggression and violent video games is broadly overstated. “The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time,” says lead researcher Andrew Przybylski.

Similar research conducted by Henry Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California, found that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing crimes. “The overwhelming majority of kids who play do not commit antisocial acts,” Jenkins argues.

DOOM Eternal. Id Software.

DOOM Eternal. Id Software.

The most damning evidence comes from Japan, where upwards of 60 percent of the population says they play video games. The country has exceptionally low levels of crime, violent or otherwise. When there is an instance of mass violence, like the recent arson attack on Japan’s KyoAni animation studio, the news coverage lasts for weeks.

But these facts have done little to stop the relentless condemnation of video games and the gamers who play them.

But these facts have done little stop the relentless condemnation of video games and the gamers who play them.

The media’s outlandish claims have led many – including the President and politicians like Kevin McCarthy – to the unsubstantiated conclusion that those “gruesome and grisly video games” are a catalyst for mass shootings.

But the evidence is not on their side. It’s time they focused on the broader crisis facing young men in this country – alienation, isolation, and a lack of meaning. These young men are not robots, unquestioningly mimicking what they see on the screen. Nor are we justified in criminalizing and punishing them for their media consumption. They are, frightening as it may be to recognize, only human.

Ian Miles Cheong is the managing editor of Human Events.

Written By

Ian Miles Cheong is the managing editor of Human Events.

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