Gaming

Another mass shooting, another wave of politicians pointing at video games

A killer in training?
Enlarge / A killer in training?

In the wake of a horrific mass shooting in El Paso that the suspected shooter wrote was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” high-ranking Republican politicians are including video games in the list of potential causes they’re concerned about.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), speaking with Fox News over the weekend, said, “the idea that these video games that dehumanize individuals, to have a game of shooting individuals, I’ve always felt that it’s a problem for future generations and others. We’ve watched 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.”

“But what I’d like to do is get all the facts. Are there indications?” McCarthy continued. “There are times before that we have found this.”

McCarthy’s statement on video games came in response to a direct question from Fox News host Maria Bartiromo, who asked what’s to be done “when we’re looking at video games where they’re using videos of characters with these weapons.” Bartiromo was in turn echoing statements made earlier on the same program by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who placed the blame for this shooting much more squarely on the game industry.

“How long are we going to let, for example, and ignore at the federal level, where we can do something about it, the video game industry?” Patrick asked. “In this manifesto, that we believe is from the shooter… he talks about living out his super-soldier fantasy on Call of Duty.”

The suspected shooter’s manifesto does make one passing reference to “COD.” Far from saying that he was “living out” such a fantasy, though, he writes that “it is not cowardly to pick low hanging fruit. AKA Don’t attack heavily guarded areas to fulfill your super soldier COD fantasy. Attack low security targets.”

At the same time, the suspected shooter’s writing makes multiple direct references to “defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement,” and he includes the idea that “immigration can only be detrimental to the future of America.”

“Video games aren’t causing mass shootings, white supremacy is,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted in response to a clip of McCarthy. “Sadly the GOP refuse to acknowledge that, [because] their strategy relies on rallying a white supremacist base. That‘s why the President hosts stadiums of people chanting ‘send her back’ & targets Congress-members of color.”

While Patrick said that “there have been studies that say it [playing video games] impacts people and studies that say it does not,” he went on to say that he “look[s] at the common denominators, as a 60-some-year-old father and grandfather myself. What’s changed in this country? We’ve always had guns, we’ve always had evil, but what’s changed where we’ve seen this rash of shootings? And I see a video game industry that teaches young people to kill.”

When it comes to common denominators, 2012 data actually showed a negative correlation between per-capita video game spending and gun-related murders across many industrialized countries, with the United States serving as a massive outlier. China, for example, has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world despite the fact that a violent game like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds attracted over 70 million players in the country at its height.

Same as it ever was

Multiple metaanalyses have found no link between violent gameplay and likelihood of committing violent crimes in real life. At most, such studies are able to show that exposure to violent games can increase short-term measures of generalized aggression in laboratory settings.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cemented those findings in the landmark 2011 Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association ruling, saying, “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.”

But video games have remained a popular talking point for many politicians in the wake of mass shootings ever since the Columbine High School shooters were found to be fans of Doom back in 1999 (as were tens of millions of other people at the time). Republican politicians including Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) all pointed a finger at violent games in the wake of the Parkland High School shooting in early 2018.

President Trump also repeatedly brought up violent games as a potential cause of youth violence in Parkland’s wake. That in turn led to a White House summit between Trump and representatives of the game industry and an accompanying White House-produced montage of violent gaming imagery designed to prompt discussion of whether “games that graphically simulate killing… desensitize our community to violence.” Since that meeting, there has been no public action on that question from any side of the political spectrum.

“I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link [between game violence and real violence],” Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) told The Washington Post after attending that White House summit. “As a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of a violent nature would desensitize a young person.”

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the biggest game publishers in the US, responded to a request for comment on this latest round of accusations from politicians  shortly after our story first published.

“As we shared at the White House video game meeting in March 2018, numerous scientific studies have established that there is no causal connection between video games and violence. More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide. Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the US,” wrote Kara Kelber, the ESA’s Director for Communications and Industry Affairs, in a statement to Ars. “Video games contribute to society, from new medical therapies and advancements, educational tools, business innovation, and more.”

Kelber encouraged any concerned parents to check out the ESA’s resources for them at ParentTools.org. And previously, the organization has issued a four-page “Essential Facts” sheet when pushing back against the most common arguments trying to link violent games and real-world violence.

“Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s,” the fact sheet reads, in part. “During the same period of time, video games have steadily increased in popularity and use, exactly the opposite of what one would expect if there were a causal link.”

Update, 12:50p ET: During his formal remarks today to address the El Paso shooting and the shooting in Dayton, Ohio, President Trump once again directly cited video games as one of the forces fueling violence in the US.

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Gaming & Culture – Ars Technica

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