Video games (along with music and movies) are common scapegoats society will blame these days after a violent crime has occurred. What does the science currently say? Is it fair to point the finger? It’s more complicated than you think.
Social scientists have been studying and debating the effects of media violence on behavior since the 1950s, and video games in particular since the 1980s. The issue is especially relevant today, because the games are more realistic and bloodier than ever, and because most American boys play them at some point. Girls play at lower rates and are significantly less likely to play violent games.
A burst of new research has begun to clarify what can and cannot be said about the effects of violent gaming. Playing the games can and does stir hostile urges and mildly aggressive behavior in the short term. Moreover, youngsters who develop a gaming habit can become slightly more aggressive — as measured by clashes with peers, for instance — at least over a period of a year or two.
It is not clear if a video game habit increases the likelihood that a person will commit any violent crime, let alone a mass shooting. These types of events require forethought and planning and are not typically impulse events. They are also too rare to study in a rigorous way, researchers noted.
The piece explains the different types of experiments that are going on today. Remember, in a good science experiment, the question is VERY specific. In the real world, our environments are extremely complex with many interactions and factors at play. So a lab experiment that shows people are slightly more aggressive after a short stint playing video games does not translate into violent behavior in the real world. Maybe they left their console and petted the cat, immediately dissipating that feeling. Or perhaps they can disengage from the game entirely.
One important take away from this piece (and I encourage reading it, it’s very good), “the proliferation of violent video games has not coincided with spikes in youth violent crime”. So politicians and activist groups need to STOP saying that it does.
This seems to be the majority of opinion (though not everyone agrees):
“None of these extreme acts, like a school shooting, occurs because of only one risk factor; there are many factors, including feeling socially isolated, being bullied, and so on,” said Craig A. Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University. “But if you look at the literature, I think it’s clear that violent media is one factor; it’s not the largest factor, but it’s also not the smallest.”
Therefore the factors remain. In order to prevent another such incident DOES NOT means eliminating this one factor, it means a comprehensive understanding of why some individuals do this. Not simple. At all.