Monday, September 16, 2019

Politicians blame video games for violence — but the data doesn’t back them up

After two mass shootings that killed 31 people and wounded dozens more, the New York Times reported that powerful Republicans, including the president, blamed an old bogeyman: video games.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” President Trump said in a White House address on the shootings. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”
Mr. Trump’s words echoed those of Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, and Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader. In an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Sunday morning, Mr. Patrick implored the federal government to “do something about the video game industry.”
“We’ve watched from studies, shown before, what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others,” added Mr. McCarthy on a different Fox show.
Armed with little and often unconvincing evidence, politicians have blamed violence on video games for decades. Their rhetoric quickly ramped up in the 1990s, after games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom popularized the genre of violent first-person shooting games. Since then, video games have been blamed for shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and many others in between.
Researchers have extensively studied whether there is a causal link between video games and violent behavior, and while there isn’t quite a consensus, there is broad agreement that no such link exists.
According to a policy statement from the media psychology division of the American Psychological Association, “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.”
Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University, led the committee that developed the policy statement. In an interview, he said the evidence was clear that violent video games are not a risk factor for serious acts of aggression. Neither are violent movies, nor other forms of media. 
 “The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive,” said Dr. Ferguson. “Literally. The numbers work out about the same.”
The Supreme Court has also rejected the idea. In striking down a California law that banned the sale of some violent video games to children in 2011, the court savaged the evidence California mustered in support of its law.
“These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively,” Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion. He added: “They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.”
Shortly after Mr. Trump’s address, the hashtag #VideogamesAreNotToBlame began trending nationally on Twitter, with most tweets mocking the idea that video games were to blame for either of the shootings.
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