Dear Politicians: Stop Trying to Make Video Games Your Scapegoat


In the wake of the tragic, Valentine's Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. politicians are trying to pin scapegoat video games. This is the 18th school shooting in the U.S. so far this year and it's only February. Media pundits, politicians, and some psychologists often link violence in video games to increased violent tendencies, bullying, school shootings and violence toward women. Critics like to suggest that video games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty are leading to the increase in violence in the United States and increased aggression in children. There is a problem with that theory, however. Millions of people across the globe play the same video games yet do not share the same epidemic of violence that exists in the United States. Perhaps, violence in video games is not the problem.

When talking about the Valentine's Day shooting, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) told Leland Conway during an interview on WHAS News Radio that video games promoted a "culture of death." He insisted that video games "celebrate the slaughtering of people." Florida Congressman, Brian Mast also blamed video game violence and Hollywood films in an interview with NPR:

“What do we do with the biggest pusher of violence?” Mast said in the interview. “The biggest pusher of violence is, hands down, Hollywood movies [and] hands down, the video game market. When you look at Call of Duty — when you look at movies like John Wickthe societal impact of people being desensitized to killing in ways that are different than how someone on the battlefield is desensitized is troubling, and very different.”

Both Bevin and Mast are backed by and receive generous donations from the National Rifle Association.

"Psychologists and politicians have continuously associated mass shootings with video game violence while ignoring other possible and more likely influences. "In 2005 the American Psychological Association (APA) released a resolution on violence in video games suggesting a link between violent video games and aggression may surpass that for television." Immediately after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2005, Philip (Dr. Phil) McGraw and Jack Thompson rushed to accuse violent video games as the reason behind Seung-Hui Cho's shooting spree.

But it was discovered that the Cho did not play violent video games at all. In fact, the school had Cho admitted Carilion St. Albans, a private psychiatric hospital, though he was free to leave the next day. After his evaluation, Cho was allowed back into school and two of his instructors including poet-laureate Nikki Giovanni reported incidents of Cho's sexual harassment and mental instability to the school. On September 16, 2013, Aaron Alexis carried out a deadly shooting spree inside The Naval Sea Systems Command at The Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 people and injuring 3. Although his father explained that Alexis suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anger issues and had complained of being a victim of discrimination while in the US Navy, the media focused on Alexis' love for FPS games.

There are many other factors to consider when evaluating the perceived rise in violence in the United States that critics like to mention when preparing to name a culprit for violence. We can start by addressing the fact that, while there is a rise the sale of video games that feature violence, "violent crime has been declining since 1993". We can address the horrible state of the American mental health care system and the increase in mental health illnesses. We can also talk about the increase in poverty which forces more parents to take (minimum) wage jobs with long and odd hours and spend more hours working and less with their children, which increases depression rates in children. We can address children being victims of abuse and trauma and not having access to counselors who are equipped to help them deal with that trauma. While these ignored variables are more logical factors in American violence, video games especially violent games are a source of stress relief and coping mechanism for many people.

In 2010, Dr. Christopher Ferguson conducted a study of the effects of violent video games on 103 young men and women. His findings concluded that men and women who played video games long-term were able to handle stress better and were less depressed and hostile when put into real life stressful situations than their counterparts who did not play video games. Research by University College in London  found a "correlation between playing first person shooters and post-work recovery". More and more research is revealing the cognitive benefits of playing video games with shooting. The APA published research of the positive effects of gaming, finding that "playing video games, including violent shooter games, may boost children’s learning, health and social skills."

It's time that we stop scapegoating video games and address the hard-to-admit issues that contribute to violence in the US: government representatives who work for or are terrified of the NRA and refuse to even discuss sensible gun control legislation. Instead, any discussion of gun control is equated to a ban on guns and an assault on the 2nd Amendment. The Obama Administration enacted a law that made it difficult for guns to get into the hands of those with mental and mood disorders. The law also allowed for the ease of sharing information between various agencies for background checks. The Trump Administration repealed it as well as stripped away funding for mental health care. Video games are not our problem. Our representatives are.