In the wake of the domestic terror attacks in El Paso, Texas and Dayton Ohio, President Trump rehashed the tired argument that violent video games are to blame for real-life incidents of violence.
On the morning of August 5th, President Trump appeared before the media to make a statement regarding the horrific back-to-back terror attacks that occurred in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. In his statement, Trump asks Americans to “condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy” while proposing preventative measures such as doing “a better job at identifying and acting on early warning signs” and reforming “our mental health laws.”
During his statement, President Trump also cited “the glorification of violence in our society,” with a specific nod to violent video games, as a major contributing factor to the rise of domestic terror incidents:
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately.”
Trump’s sentiment was echoed by other Republicans, including Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick:
“How long are we going to ignore — at the federal level particularly — where they can do something about the video game industry. In this manifesto that we believe is from the shooter, this manifesto where he talks about living out his super soldier fantasy on Call of Duty. We know the video game industry is bigger than the movie and music industry combined.”
“But the idea of these video games that dehumanize individuals to have a game of shooting individuals and others, I’ve always felt that is a problem for future generations and others. We’ve watched from studies shown before of what it does to individuals. When you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others.”
Violent video games have long been a go-to-scapegoat for politicians attempting to skirt around the real issues and causes of real world violence despite the fact that research into the subject overwhelmingly shows that there is no correlation between violent video games and actions. In 2004, the United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education published a study which found that only one-eighth of school “attackers [students who specifically chose their school as the location for an attack using lethal means] exhibited an interest in violent video games. In January of this year, Oxford University concluded that “violent video game engagement, on balance, is not associated with observable variability in adolescents’ aggressive behaviour.” In December 2018, Trump’s own administration published a report which observed that “most studies in this area find only weak correlational results and not causal results of the potentially negative effects of violent entertainment.”
The lack of compelling evidence proving a link between violent video games and behavior has even been noted by the Supreme Court. In the landmark case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia found that evidence provided by the state of California attempting to link violent media to real world aggression was “not compelling.”
“The State’s evidence is not compelling. California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. 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 (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, “[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.” 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.
Even taking for granted Dr. Anderson’s conclusions that violent video games produce some effect on children’s feelings of aggression, those effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. In his testimony in a similar lawsuit, Dr. Anderson admitted that the “effect sizes” of children’s exposure to violent video games are “about the same” as that produced by their exposure to violence on television. And he admits that the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, id., at 1304, or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated “E” (appropriate for all ages), or even when they “vie[w] a picture of a gun.””
In a statement to Vox, Dan Hewitt, the President of the Entertainment Software Association, decried the trend of blaming violent video games for real world tragedies:
“Study after study has established that there is no casual link between video games and real world violence. Violent crime has been decreasing in our country at the very time that video games have been increasing in popularity. And other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the US. Pointing fingers at video games should not be allowed to obscure other factors that likely contribute to such incidents.”
What do you make of President Donald Trump’s response to the shootings in regards to video games?