In the wake of the horrific Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand, media outlets have been scrambling to find a scapegoat upon which to hinge their reporting and narratives. Reports have already begun to circulate blaming the attack on popular YouTuber PewDiePie and pop-culture disagreements, and now, as is inevitable, violent video games are once again being vilified in the spotlight.
Violent video games are not being held responsible for the attack by one figure, but rather by multiple persons ranging from reporters to politicians. An anonymous contributor for Scoop New Zealand outright states that “video games create terrorists” and takes ironic statements made in the terrorist’s manifesto referring to Fortnite as proof that the gunman was influenced by video games.
In an interview with Medieval scholar David Perry, published in a Vice article attempting to parse the terrorist’s motives, Perry blamed the video game Crusader Kings because “It offers a narrative reinforcement of the idea of Europe filled with white people, in a patriarchal society,” and that “Most people playing ‘Crusader Kings’ are not about to go and shoot up a mosque, but it’s a movement within this culture, and it catches people who are already on their way to being radicalized.”
During an interview with ABC Radio National, Australian Liberal Party MP Peter Dutton stated that video games may need to be looked at for their role in the attacks:
“I think there is a further debate, I might say, in relation to the use of computer games and graphic videos, and the way in which that is accessed online.”
The role video games, particularly violent ones, play in encouraging violence is a cyclical debate which appears after any and every episode of mass violence. However, it has been proven time and time again that there are no links between violent video games and real world acts of violence.
In the United States, the Supreme Court previously noted in a syllabus attached to the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn in 2011 that video games cause no more violence than ‘Saturday morning cartoons”:
Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly underinclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint.
The Royal Society Open Science, an English-based scientific journal, published a research article in 2016 which found that even the use of guns in a violent game did not result in changes towards gun ownership:
Although much attention has been paid to the question of whether violent video games increase aggressive behaviour, little attention has been paid to how such games might encourage antecedents of gun violence. In this study, we examined how product placement, the attractive in-game presentation of certain real-world firearm brands, might encourage gun ownership, a necessary antecedent of gun violence. We sought to study how the virtual portrayal of a real-world firearm (the Bushmaster AR-15) could influence players’ attitudes towards the AR-15 specifically and gun ownership in general. College undergraduates (N = 176) played one of four modified video games in a 2 (gun: AR-15 or science-fiction control) × 2 (gun power: strong or weak) between-subjects design. Despite collecting many outcomes and examining many potential covariates and moderators, experimental assignment did little to influence outcomes of product evaluations or purchasing intentions with regard to the AR-15. Attitudes towards public policy and estimation of gun safety were also not influenced by experimental condition, although these might have been better tested by comparison against a no-violence control condition. By contrast, gender and political party had dramatic associations with all outcomes. We conclude that, if product placement shapes attitudes towards firearms, such effects will need to be studied with stronger manipulations or more sensitive measures.
In 2017, the News Media, Public Education and Public Policy Committee of the American Psychological Association published a report denying a link between video games and violence whilst simultaneously warning that focusing on this specific issue may distract others from true issues:
Journalists and policy makers do their constituencies a disservice in cases where they link acts of real-world violence with the perpetrators’ exposure to violent video games or other violent media. There’s little scientific evidence to support the connection, and it may distract us from addressing those issues that we know contribute to real-world violence.
Criminologists who study mass homicides, in their analyses of such crimes, have either excluded the issue of video games (Lankford, 2013), or explicitly referred to links between violent games and mass homicides as a “myth” (Fox & DeLateur, 2014). Yet, very commonly, after young males commit high-profile acts of violence, politicians and news media may speculatively “link” such crimes to violent video games or other violent media. Such claims which are not based on research evidence may distract society from more substantive causes of violence as poverty, lack of treatment options for mental health as well as crime victimization among the mentally ill, and educational and employment disparities. With this statement, Division 46 (the American Psychological Association’s division for Media Psychology and Technology) advises policy makers, community officials, and news media not to attribute or insinuate blame for acts of violence on video games or other fictional media.
While these are only a few examples of academic pushback, numerous articles and research findings have been published denying a link between violent video games and violent actions. Yet scapegoating video games continues in a cyclical fashion, as the public attempts to placate their fear in the wake of tragedy.
The cycle is perpetuated not only by hysterical reporting, but also academic institutions who continue to espouse their belief in a link despite numerous academics pushing back and providing updated research. The link between video games and violence is so commonly debated that a masterpost of resources and studies was created in 2018 on the popular subreddit /r/KotakuInAction to allow for users to quickly access and reference proper information which combats the popular narrative.