El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio in the U.S. have been the subjects of a lot of conversation after the August 3 and August 4 shootings, respectively. These shootings left a total of 31 people dead and roughly 50 people injured. People in the U.S. have quickly noticed that over the past five years, mass shootings seem to have become commonplace; The Washington Post recently published an article in which they show that since June 17, 2015, four or more people are killed in a mass shooting every 47 days, on average. However, instead of mourning the loss of so many people to real-world violence, people waived their fingers towards video game violence less than an hour after the El Paso shooting.
The gaming industry has been the scapegoat for an increase in violence (especially in America) for decades now. Ever since the popular and genre-defining games Wolfenstein 3D and Doom in the early 1990s, people have suspected that these violent shooters could be the cause of desensitization or even dehumanization in youth. Time and time again throughout the decades, science has, at best, shown that there is little connection between gaming violence and real-world violent crimes.
The fact is that we’ll never be able to get a definitive answer on this because of confounding variables. Studies try to draw the connection between games and violent behavior too often without considering the correlation between violent behavior and things like upbringing, personality, environment, etc. Ultimately, no data has successfully hinted at a clear causative relationship and I doubt any experiment or study will any time soon.
Violence vs. Aggression
In contrast, dozens of studies from as far back as the late ’90s to as recent as February of this year have properly examined the effect game violence has on aggression. One of the most important studies in this writer’s opinion is titled “Metaanalysis of the relationship between violent video game play and physical aggression over time”. This study takes a large number of other studies and evaluates their total findings to determine a link between gaming and aggressive behavior (as opposed to violent behavior).
While all but one of the studies showed an increase in aggression over time, putting all of the studies together and accounting for other factors besides time elapsed (such as preexisting aggression) yielded results that pointed towards an association between video games and an increase in aggression over time. However, the fact is that while aggression levels have shown to be able to predict adolescent criminal behavior, they cannot predict murderous tendencies or even violent criminal tendencies.
In 2017, the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shared that approximately 17,284 murders occurred in the country. Assuming that every murderer in the U.S. in 2017 killed only one person, a totally inaccurate assessment that yields the highest possible percentage, approximately 0.000053% of the country were murderers that year. Again, this is the highest possible percent. Also yielding the highest possible percentage, even violent criminals only made up 0.0038% of the population. Even the aforementioned study of aggression over time that covered 17,000 people cannot accurately represent this small portion of a country where violent crime rates are actually high. Unfortunately, even these statements I’ve made are speculation, but so is any study. Any statistician worth his salt will tell you that causality is extremely difficult, and at times even impossible, to determine. There has simply been no decent way thus far to find a positive, negative, or neutral link between violent crime and violent gaming.
Where Violence Really Comes From
Because of this, we have to assume that despite science coming up empty-handed, there could still exist a positive relationship between violent video game usage and violent crime. In other words, we’re going to give Donald Trump, Walmart, Governor Dan Patrick, and ESPN the benefit of the doubt since the science is inconclusive on the subject. All of the aforementioned individuals or companies have publicly taken a stance against video games: Trump and Patrick said, through the news, that violent video games were one of the causes of the shootings, Walmart had all violent video game displays removed from its stores, and ESPN postponed the airing of the Apex Legends EXP Invitational the weekend after the shootings.
Even with this freebie, all four of them are simply promoting ignorance. There’s an often-overlooked fact in this discussion; archeological, paleontological, and historical evidence indicates that, regardless of any contrary belief, the world did in fact exist in a time before video games… I’ll let that sink in briefly… This isn’t to make the argument that violence existed before video games, so there’s no reason to blame video games now. Rather, to illuminate that while many people, including myself, wished that violence was simply the fictitious creation of a new form of media, all violence in video games stems from the violence of the real world, not the other way around.
Violence’s Place in Art
In fact, one of the reasons we have violence in video games is to educate the common man of some of the horrors of things like war, genocide, mental illness, tragedy, and death, just like some of our favorite movies, like Saving Private Ryan or Dunkirk, and the most critically acclaimed books, like Crime and Punishment or Les Misérables. Authors, directors, artists, and photographers alike dating back centuries have agreed that the blood of humankind should not go ignored. The main function of art is to paint for the world a more accurate image of itself.
Video games are no exception to this. Did you know that if you look up a list of World War II games on Wikipedia, you will get hit with a list of over 400 games, not including expansion packs and DLC? That’s just World War II, and those are only the ones Wikipedia has listed. Since the creation of pong in 1972, that’s more than eight WWII games every single year. I don’t even want to get into the movies, shows, books, paintings, and photographs depicting the same tragic six-year conflict. Video games, like all other art, capture and reinterpret the events that already plague our society day to day. To insinuate that we should discourage video game violence would be to choose ignorance over knowledge, over truth, over real life itself.
Here’s where things get really dismal. The sad fact is that the people who perpetrate these acts of terrorism and put innocent people to death are capable of it all with or without video games, and they are a threat with or without video games. Games do not create monsters from nothing. People do not play Call of Duty and then decide they should kill over 20 people. The idea that we should discourage violence in video games while encouraging high schools to show movies riddled with death, art like the Boston Massacre, and pictures of piled-up dead bodies from the Civil War and the Holocaust is ignorance: ignorance of the true nature of everything around us, ignorance of the real violence and blood that influenced such artwork, and ignorance of who we all are.
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.