Video Games Are Still Blamed For Gun Violence Despite Studies Showing No Connection

Aug 5, 2019
Originally published on August 5, 2019 7:16 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When President Trump spoke today about the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, he said this.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.

CORNISH: Trump is not the only politician to bring up the supposed connection between video games and mass shootings, but researchers have never proven that one leads to the other. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more on how this myth has been perpetuated.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: There is no evidence so far that either shooter this weekend was a fan of video games, violent or otherwise, but that didn't stop Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from saying this on Fox News yesterday.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: The idea of these video games to dehumanize individuals, to have a game of shooting individuals and others - I've always felt that it's a problem for future generations.

LIMBONG: A few hours earlier on the same channel, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick referenced the El Paso shooter's alleged manifesto, glossing over the paragraphs about immigration, Hispanics, interracial relationships, and instead taking a small reference to the game "Call Of Duty" out of context.

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DAN PATRICK: This manifesto - he talks about living out his super soldier fantasy on "Call Of Duty."

LIMBONG: In fact, what the alleged murderer wrote was that he was doing just the opposite - hitting a soft target. Andrew Przybylski is an experimental psychologist and director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute in England. Last February, he released a study looking at the links between video games and aggressive behavior among teens.

ANDREW PRZYBYLSKI: Mainly, we found a whole bunch of nothing, so we found pretty convincing evidence that it didn't really matter what kinds of games teenagers played. Boys and girls, violent games, nonviolent games - that wasn't really a useful piece of information about whether or not a parent saw aggressive behaviors in their young person.

LIMBONG: The question itself - do video games cause violent acts? - has been asked for as long as video games have been around, but it grew in popularity right after the Columbine shooting.

PATRICK MARKEY: Because the shooters played "Doom," they became this link.

LIMBONG: Patrick Markey is a research psychologist at Villanova University and author of the book "Moral Combat: Why The War On Violent Video Games Is Wrong."

MARKEY: We actually see in the research world this explosion of studies examining violent video games and acts of aggression.

LIMBONG: What these studies found is a slight increase in annoying behavior immediately after playing a violent video game but no actual violence. Markey says it's also historically a bipartisan distraction used by politicians who know video gamers aren't necessarily as vocal a voting block as, say, gun owners.

MARKEY: If you're going to go after kind of a boogeyman, it makes sense to go after a boogeyman that doesn't have a lot of political power behind it. So if you're a politician and you want to look like you're doing something, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, it's easier to go against video games because, again, they don't have that political backing like things like the NRA that might be much more difficult to take on.

LIMBONG: Markey also says there's research out there that suggests the race of the suspect plays a part, too.

MARKEY: When a minority commits crimes, some people assume, oh, it's because they're a minority. That must be why they did it. But when a nice white kid from the suburbs commit these crimes, they look for these causes. And they say, oh, it must be video games. It can't be because they were this good child. There's something that must be evil that infected them.

LIMBONG: Whatever that something evil was, the science is firm that it wasn't video games. But researchers say in asking the same question over and over again, we're stopping ourselves from learning much else about video games and the 21st century of play.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.