Skip to main content

We've been blaming violence on video games for 20 years — and it's still bullshit

Stadia
Stadia (Image credit: Windows Central)

Thirty-two people were murdered this past weekend, as two shooters in two states with different motivations decided it was their right to end the lives of other human beings. As a citizen of the United States, what happened next could basically have been read from a script. Talking heads on television dug into the background of these individuals to figure out what motivated them towards violence, and politicians spent half a breath offering condolences and the other half of that same breath pushing whatever agenda they support.

Because both of these shooters are white men and U.S.-born citizens, instead of shouting about immigration reform or domestic terrorism at the hands of white supremacists, we get to hear about the violence in their media diets, and how being exposed to those movies, TV shows or video games negatively affected their mental states. Instead of blaming the people and ideologies that directly and intentionally led at least one of these monsters to act, we're once again talking about whether violent video games and movies are to blame.

But there's no conversation to be had here, and there hasn't been for the more than twenty years we've been debating and researching this. Violent acts don't come from video games, and anyone trying to have this conversation in 2019 shouldn't be taken seriously.

We have the data, we know it's not the games

When I was young, my friends and I loved playing Mortal Kombat. There was an arcade cabinet in the little shop down the street, and all the neighborhood kids would go there on the weekends to hold little tournaments. When we weren't at that shop, we'd talk about which character we wish we were, and could faithfully recite the attack phrases from every character. It was the first thing that really pulled us together as friends, and we stayed that way for years.

Kids surrounded by hate and violence in their real lives are infinitely more likely to become violent than anyone playing any video game.

One Saturday, as we gathered once again in the shop, someone's mom was standing in front of the cabinet with a deeply unhappy look on her face. She demanded to know if our parents knew what we were doing, and proceeded to try explaining to each of our parents how evil the game was. She tried for months to get the arcade cabinet removed from the shop, or to have a warning label put on it. A few parents stopped their kids from playing, but largely nothing changed and we kept enjoying Mortal Kombat.

What I was too young to know then was what spurred this woman to action. A research paper titled Seeing the world through Mortal Kombat-colored glasses: Violent video games and the development of a short-term Hostile Attribution Bias had caught the attention of the local news, and was discussed at length the night before she approached us.

For many of us, this was the start of a 21-year conversation about violence in video games and how it impacted young minds. We've seen a new study released nearly every year since 1998 on this subject, and in the last couple of years, that number has increased dramatically. The general consensus? Violence in video games does not have a direct connection to violence in the lives of the people playing those games.

Going as far back as the Surgeon General's report back in 2001 it has been clear that violence in media is not the thing that pushes someone to violence. There have been studies that show it can have a small reduction in empathy, or can increase the chances someone would react aggressively, but alongside each of those reports remains clear data pointing to other environmental factors being significantly greater contributors to viewing violence as a solution. And in some cases, good old fashioned researcher bias has lead to poorly proven conclusions on the subject. Put simply, kids who are surrounded by hate and violence in their real lives are infinitely more likely to become violent than anyone playing any video game.

We've been having this conversation for 20 years and there's as little correlative evidence today as there was then.

As much as the gaming community would like this to be the last word on the subject, there are still plenty of things within the concept of gaming that need to be researched and addressed. A recent example of this is the rise of bullying and aggression in online gaming chats, which is frequently reported to have negative effects on players. The topic is being actively researched and continuously addressed by the chat platform creators, all of which now offer anti-abuse and harassment tools. But in general, the games themselves are being more widely accepted as a positive force in many lives. Which is probably why the guy who published that research paper back in 1998 has pivoted to publishing books on how to raise your kids in a world where the threat of zombies is a real thing. No, I'm not joking.

We all already knew this, right?

Researching the effects of all forms of stimulus on young minds is important, especially considering how much content is shoved in our collective faces is done on a daily basis, which is what makes the resurrection of this talking point so pathetic.

Video games are played all over the world, but the pervasive nature of mass shootings is a U.S.-only phenomenon. Conversations like the ones we're hearing, connecting video games to mass murder, don't happen outside of the U.S. because the kinds of mass murders we saw this past weekend don't often happen elsewhere.

Hundreds of mass shootings a year only happen in one place. Today is day 217 out of 365, and so far we've had 297 mass shootings in the U.S. We're winning the mass shooting race again this year, and second place isn't even close.

It's not the video games. It's not the internet. It's not gays getting married. It's not mental illness.

When you raise a child in violence and hatred, teach them to view other human beings as an enemy, and give them easy access to tools designed to kill many people very quickly, this is what you get.

And it's bullshit.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

91 Comments
  • I grew up playing violent video games, and I turned out fine.
  • Amen to this article
  • Don't think video games are to blame. America's love of guns and the unfathomable availability of assault rifles to the general public is mostly to blame here. Almost 300 mass shootings this year so far alone tells you all you need to know
  • That's not the problem at all. You can't blame all our weapons for the actions of a few nut jobs. Your more likely to be a victim of street crime or killed by a car than be involved in a mass shooting. The chance is extremely low.
  • I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle here. I certainly don't think firearm availability is the root cause of the problem. But widespread availability can increase the likelihood of these incidents, so that would definitely make it part of the present crisis. I grew up in a hunting family and gun ownership was the norm. But it was treated with responsibility and respect. So I see that side of it. That said, no one in my family would ever see the need for bump stocks or high capacity magazines, nor would they advocate for the "right" of others to have them. It would have been/is seen as ridiculous.
  • I agree with you here. You cannot blame the entire countries supposed love of guns as the reason why this happens. Drugs, gangs, lack of moral center, poor parenting, etc are all contributing factors to societal upticking and downfalls. Video games certainly don't generally encourage good wholesome thinking but they don't affect people on the level of wanting to go blow a store full of people away. Oh for others, please stop making it political and blaming Trump or conservatives. Trump has said his fair share of dumb stuff including that there were some good people on the extreme right side which is obviously silly. Bear in mind that Trump has put down white supremacy dozens of times on the last year. Let's not forget that violent words or rhetoric get spoken on both sides (not a few weeks back Cory Booker and Joe Biden both said they wanted to punch the president; that doesn't sound friendly to me). Let's also not forget that it was a mental wackjob leftist who shot up a baseball game where a republican was severely injured. This violence exists because of lots of reasons but it isn't video games or presidential rhetoric. It also isn't because guns are available, criminals tend to get those regardless of the laws. If they couldn't, they would use sitcks and stones. We going to outlaw those too?
  • Guns and their availability is absolutely a factor. We're the only 1st world nation that has gun laws this lax. We're also the only 1st world nation that has this problem. If you think that's a coincidence, I beg to differ. I've owned guns in the past. They're fun to shoot. I have zero problem with hunting rifles and shotguns, as they're sporting guns. Handguns and easily modified military rifles need to be restricted. Modifications like bump stocks and high capacity mags need to be banned. There's no political will for that, though. And that is entirely the fault of conservative politicians more terrified of the NRA than the electorate.
  • Not to mention conservative politicians should bear the blame for Reagan's terrible mental health policies since so many are convinced the mentally ill, video games, and everything else is at fault but guns.
  • now do the antifa member who molotov cocktailed the detention center
  • this guy gets it. this is not about the availability of the tool(s), but the lack of respect for each other that is the issue.
  • You don't get it. Lack of respect, or whatever else may be the root cause that drives people to do this, is one problem. The easy access to weapons of mass murder is another. Eventually, on a long enough time scale, everyone in this country will be directly impacted by mass murders, and something will be done to make it more difficult to obtain guns, to make it easier to trace guns, to tax guns and provide insurance that pays out victims and their families for unjustified injuries due to firearms. It's going to happen, though clearly it may take another two thousand years for Americans to evolve to that point.
  • 'weapons of mass murder' says more than enough to show your stance and knowledge of personal defence weaponry. a gun registry, which is what you are alluding to, will not happen in this nation due to our constitution. people will not submit to this due to history showing that no government can be trusted with such knowledge. not if we intend to remain a free people rather than subjects under an all powerful regime. it gets toted day in and day out that the cops are shooting the innocent. yet then turn around and say only the cops should be armed. you won't get a complete turnover of people's character to take advantage of the weak and vulnerable. and so long as they exist, you better hope that people with the strength to stand up to them exist with the tools(ie. a gun) to protect you.
  • So you would arm that nutcase in El Paso with a gun all over again?
  • Interesting how you only mention El Paso. How bout the leftist in Dayton? It's irrelevant the weapon. Something people give little attention to. Those with intent, will find a way. Demonizing the tool used does nothing.
  • You didn't answer the question... And sorry, but it is the weapon. Name another weapon that can harm that many people that quickly, without the ability to defend themselves (other than a bomb which takes more work and pre-planning) I'll wait...
  • Any semi auto handgun capable of holding 15 rounds and the practice to change a mag within a couple seconds. Not hard. Glock is famous for having a 30 round magazine. 1 in each hand would be more destructive than the semi auto rifle used this past weekend.
  • If you are a gun owner like myself, you know that isn't true. Can you honestly say that a Glock has the stopping power of an AK-47 variant? You can't and that is the problem When gun owners play dumb, it makes the rest of us look ignorant
  • Agreed. A Glock isn't going to do what an AR can. Not to mention that they are harder to aim when firing consecutively. What a terrible argument.
  • So um, did you think you had a good rebuttal? He said name a weapon that could cause such damage, and you literally mention another gun. The commenter said that the gun was the problem. That's a weird move to make.
  • How bout a car 🚗 running 🏃 into a crowd.
  • Not only didn't you answer the commenter's question, which to be honest is kinda leading, but regardless of the political leaning of the "leftist" in Dayton, the issue in discussion is the "easy access to weapons of mass murder". That sensationalist quote in regards to the two shootings that took place over the weekend, the description isn't inaccurate.
  • Gang activity also plays a large role in the mass shooting statistics. When you see a stat about daily mass shootings, many times they are gang war related. It's a sad reality we live in.
  • And we'd know more about that if the CDC could actually receive funding to better study the epidemic of gun violence.
  • You can't legislate the intent to do harm.. No mass shootings in the 50's before violent video games and rampant liberal policy
  • Don't other countries play the same video games? BB9000>Q10>Z10>Z30>Classic>Dtek50>Dtek60>Motion>S7active
  • Yes, I do believe you're right. But how many of those countries have such liberal gun laws and viciously fight to keep them in place? Also, cross-reference that with the number of countries that stigmatize mental health issues, causing many to feel worse, or avoid treatment.
  • "Instead of blaming the people and ideologies that directly and intentionally led at least one of these monsters to act" What you're suggesting here is disgusting. And if you're going to go there, don't act surprised when others want to blame video games.
  • There is no direct evidence that video games led to violence, seeing to it that violence existed prior to violent video games, and ummm, these same games are played in other nations.
    On the other hand, we have direct evidence on more than one occasion (remember Rep. Giffords, or the guy that shot up the Black church or hell, the shooting a few weeks ago?) that the extreme ideologies that are being spewed is leading to these types of attacks.
  • How is it disgusting to say that radical white supremacy is the cause of some of this violence? There are manifestos, direct video evidence, and social media trails all pointing to radicalized young men being encouraged to kill.
  • We can't say it's radical white supremacy only. It's radical ideology in general. The shooter in Dayton was an Antifa supporter, huge Elizabeth Warren fan, that wanted far left policies in place. Yes the Texas shooter was a racist White Supremacist, but that is NOT the only talking point from this weekend. It's the radicalization of ideologies.
  • The shooter in Ohio may have been a Warren fan, but that does not mean that was his political beliefs were his MOTIVE. A murderer who happens to be a conservative is different from a murderer who kills to advance conservative ideals. There is no evidence as of yet as to the Ohio shooter's motive.
  • I, and millions of others, play violent video games and not one of us has any desire to shoot up a bar full of patrons or a Walmart full of customers. Blaming video games and blaming mental illness is ignoring the real issue: easy access to guns plus Trump inciting violence on social media. Trump's white supremacist followers get all riled up over Trump's tweets and "campaign rallies" and decide to plan and kill their fellow Americans. Trump knows his white supremacist followers hate everyone but white people and he uses that to stoke fear and hatred. The FBI calls white supremacists the greatest threat to Americans, and the latest round of violence proves just that. Get your head out of your ass.
  • Your no better than the people blaming the shootings on Video games! Trump has zero to do with it, your just a never Trumper with Trump derangement syndrome. Times were getting bad before Trump...period. When Trump is out we will still have violence, until you realize that you are just as much a part of the problem then the solution posting 5 thousand times about your way or the highway. Take a chill pill and a break from politics!
  • Exactly this. It is hypocritical to say videogames are to blame but Trump is. So dumb.
  • Trump is a rich man, you shouldn't let him live in your head rent free.
  • Trump lol. Give me a ******* break man, that is a worse argument than people saying Videogames are to blame.
  • Also, how many of the shooters spread online callsigns, game quotes, ideologies/philosophies from CoD, Fortnight, Battlefield, Halo, GTA I-V weeks, days, or hours before killing another person? There is no connection to playing violent video games and being a violent person.
  • Android Central turned into Android Political.
    I came here looking for news about Android. If I wanted a political discussion, I would have went to CNN or Fox News. Lol
  • Sometimes tech and politics intersect. Almost nothing happens in a vacuum. Games are played on Android devices. Politicians are targeting games like the ones played on Android devices, as a reason for violence - bogus as that that rationale may be. Did that help make the connection for you?
  • Exactly. This is a completely pertinent article given the alleged causality between video games (i.e, tech) and mass violence. Reading it is in no way mandatory.
  • @starfleet Captain. Sure. Android news is also 2 degrees away from Kevin Bacon so technically anything can be "linked to" Android.
  • Do yourself a favor and don't ever go to CNN or Fox News lol
  • Agreed. My sarcastic sense of humor doesn't translate well in text.
  • Data and facts are the enemy of political speeches and rhetoric. Easier to blame games than shut down loopholes that allow lunatics to acquire guns.
  • give examples of what would have prevented the previous weekend tragedies? both were adults, so you can't use the age card. it's irrelevant the type of weapon used. to blame a specific weapon design over another is asinine. so what loopholes are you referring to?
  • No kidding because the worst mass shooting happened decades before any computer was even thought of, Wounded Knee, SD. A couple hundred civilians were shot by the military and were given medals for their work
  • I was in total agreement with you right up until "Hundreds of mass shootings a year only happen in one place." This is simply not the case. Mass shootings occur all over the world and the U.S. actually ranks 62nd among countries for per capita deaths due to mass shootings. (That figure does not include mass shootings as a part of war, genocide, or sponsored terrorism.)
    That error doesn't obviate the rest of the article though. It's still clear, from study after study, that exposure to violence in video games has no correlation to violence of any type in the real world. Likewise, the vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness are non-violent.
    It's a very human thing to seek an explanation for things that bother us. However, it is also a very human thing to jump to conclusions.
  • #1 for industrialized nations.
  • While it's true, lesser industrialized nations like Angola, Iraq, and Guyana top the list, it's not the case that the U.S. is first among industrialized nations unless you don't consider countries like Norway (14th), Finland (31st), Switzerland (45th), and Russia (51st) among industrialized nations.
  • It's not the games, it is the lack of parenting and care for human life that causes this. That "everyone gets a medal culture" doesn't prepare the kids to deal with adversity and not always getting what they want.
  • Russell maybe when you or your family is a victim, then you will change your bullshit story. Tough love for you who doesn't deserve it!!!
  • So, instead of providing any sort of discussion, you wish death upon him and his family. This is exactly what's wrong with the US.
  • Max and your solution is??? Thought so!
  • Since you brought it up so delicately, I actually have experienced loss in this form. Multiple times. I learned a lot from each event, for example it doesn't matter how many people you lose because each one hurts in its own unique way and requires its own grief path. What you are reading is the result of processing that loss. Thanks for checking in though.
  • Thank you for this article this is right video games has nothing to do with these incidents I'm tired of the video game card being pulled for these situations.
  • I think video games provide an outlet that actually keeps people from being more violent in everyday life. I think rejection, loneliness, isolation, depression and ideological rhetoric are FAR more dangerous to our society. The same guy you thumb your nose at and ignore is the one who a month later will blow your head off. All these guys need are the means to cause the most destruction in the fast way (assault weapons) and a tipping point (blame). The thing that pisses me off is this kind of sitting duck violence is something we would NEVER tolerate for a second is inflicted by another country/ regime, yet we keep letting it happen over and over again by our own citizens, and we get little more than a week of lip service.
  • I think rejection, loneliness, isolation, depression and ideological rhetoric are FAR more dangerous to our society. The same guy you thumb your nose at and ignore is the one who a month later will blow your head off. I agree with this.
  • One may not turn violent by playing violent video games, but I believe that such games like ego-shooters and battle-royale games still have an effect on personality – especially when played exclusively/excessively. While they may not make a violent person of the player, they may lead to the state-of-mind that you can be successful in real life by solving conflicts/problems/challenges with brute force. Eliminate your opponent/rival and you'll be successful resp. be a winner. Rather than looking for solutions (like you'd have to do in an adventure game) or by creating/building things up (like you'd do in a strategy game), you'll get into confrontation mode; this is not got good for the personal developement as social behaviour and civic competence are all about constructive cooperation and not about fighting conflicts.
  • First off thank you for this article, I couldn't agree more. That being said let's just clarify some things for everyone. First: the narrative that the the guy in el passo was a white suppremetive is a blatant lie. How could he be a white suppremetive when he was half Mexican/latino, not to mention he didnt just target one race and he actually shot several white people as well. Secondly: the Dayton Ohio shootings also involved the killing of people of different races. The only reason 6 of 9 deaths in Dayton were black people is because of statistical odds. That part of Dayton is predominantly black neighborhoods, so obviously there's a greater chance of black people getting hit. Oh and let's not forget he killed his own sister who was white. Oh and one more fact for you all. The KKK was started by Southern Remocrats not Republicans, the gun hating left are the original white supremacists.
  • Amazing. Every word of this was wrong.
  • Amazing every word of yours is wrong.
  • lol - While this guys writing is pretty terrible, it actually is known the KKK was started by southern democrats. Don't forget that republicans are the ones who were for freeing slaves. So yeah, you are wrong Russell - not ever word was wrong.
  • Democrats in 2019 are what Republicans were in 1864.
  • "Democrats in 2019 are what Republicans were in 1864"
    ROFL. Funny guy.
  • Nice to see some actual facts being posted.
  • The El Paso shooter’s manifesto was mostly lifted from Trump’s twitter feed. You need to own this. Your people are killers.
  • Quick, do the Dayton shooter. He was leftist who praised gun control.
  • Did you read the whole thing? He was also a climate change extremist. Maybe it's Al Gore's fault.
  • Your people? Get that sick racist and stereotyping **** out of here man.
  • LOL! Another person watering down the word "racist". UGH
  • It is very sad that Androidcentral is becoming a political site! The author has a few points but missed the point. Video games need to be monitored for those under 18. Parents need to be present! Both a Man and woman.
    I am going to stop right there as this is a site about Android and NOT politics.
  • What if the child has 2 dad's or 2 mum's?
  • After he makes his POLITICAL point, then he decries political subjects on Android Central. Typical bullcrap
  • +1
    They need to stay out of politics, period. Best option is to kill this slanted article.
  • Video games ARE monitored. That's why there is a rating system. In order to purchase a rated M game, one must be accompanied by an adult. I don't see how much more monitoring you'd want.
  • Your right about the parents being involved and teaching children about the differences of fantasy and what's real, but this site does cover Android games/some console games. Some of those mobile games are violent. So why not? If you don't like it don't read it you have a choice. I skip tons of topics on androidcentral because i have that choice.
  • I think it's funny that someone who makes a living from advertising doesn't think people can be influenced by video games, TV, and/or movies. Our culture is obsessed with violence. Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, any Marvel movie, etc are rife with violence. There is a cable channel dedicated to murder. Heck, I just saw a commercial with Melissa McCarthy gattin' someone down with pride. For anyone blaming someone else for the violence, there is plenty of blame to go around.
  • Mental illness is the main culprit in most of these horrific events. You'd be foolish to not think so.
  • It's an easy scrapgoat for politicians to gain more votes from Baby Boomers and Generation X voters. Man if I listen to these damn folks I will have to watch my 10 year old nephew that plays Minecraft......He may open a damn netherworld portal and cause the end of the world. I have been playing for all my life, my mom even watch my 2 brothers and I have a great ass time on the first 2 Mortal Kombat. We watched Jean Claude VanDamme and all the action movies (Fav actions movies Last Action Hero, True Lies, Last Samurai) of course had to close my eyes during sex scenes LMAO. I'm a Private Banker, ones a Truck Driver (business owner), and the other is a damn ER Nurse GTFOH.
  • I agree with everything except the mental illness part.
  • Case in point: https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/06/us/dayton-shooter-ex-girlfriend/index.html
  • And there ya go folks. MENTAL...ILLNESS....the key to a huge majority of these kind of events.
  • I already didn't like the way Russell writes and speaks, this is even worse *pukeyface* ..continues using adblock
  • Only makers and players think its bull.
  • It’s not video games and it’s not mental illness. It’s Trump inciting violence and riling up his white nationalist base. They then take their hatred, plan their attacks, and kill Americans. It’s premeditated. It’s on purpose. And these people have easy access to guns. Their hatred, fueled by Trump’s white nationalist rhetoric, leads to mass shootings.
  • What a giant load of crap. Trump derangement syndrome rears its ugly head again.
  • Mr Segundus always makes terrible points lol.
  • Russell it was just yesterday that Jerry was basically blaming video games, you need to straighten him out! I am just glad you vented to exactly what most of us think...this world has a lot of problems and it's the people that live in it not the games we play.
  • First off idiot, It has not been proved that the shooters were white supremacists.. Stop spreading false info ℹ. Your article is a clear demonstration that you can't fix stupid…
  • +one to that.
  • You state there were 297 mass shootings this year. How many of these were because of "a child raised in violence and hatred?" You also blame white supremacists, again how many were committed by white supremacists? Very, very few. Not that white or any form of supremacy or racism is excusable. It is not. Please take a look at the 297 mass shootings, who did them, and white kind of weapon was used. You will find the typical media perspective we have been spoon fed is completely false.