Still No Strong Links Between Video Games and Violence

A screenshot from Call of Duty 2: Black Ops.

Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, outgoing senator Joe Lieberman floated the recurring—and wrong—idea that violent video games play a part in mass shootings:

“The violence in the entertainment culture – particularly, with the extraordinary realism to video games, movies now, et cetera – does cause vulnerable young men to be more violent,” Lieberman insisted. “Doesn’t make everybody more violent, but it’s a causative factor in some cases.”

“We ought to ask the entertainment community, what are you going to do to tone that down,” Lieberman said of policymakers in Washington.

I don’t know of any mass shooting where video games were a “causative” factor. What I do know, however, is that the available evidence provides only a tenuous link between playing violent video games and committing violent acts.

Existing studies on the subject are all over the place: Some show an increase in the physiological signs of aggression when play violent video games, and some show an increase in actual aggression among children who play violent video games. Others show the opposite—a 2010 study shows that video game players were, on the whole, less aggressive than their non-gaming counterparts. It doesn’t help that most studies on violence and video games are small and short-lived—as of yet, there have been no published longitudinal studies of the relationship between violent video games and actual violence.

With all of that said, it’s possible that violent video games have particularly powerful effects on some people, but given the sheer number of people who play violent video games—Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 sold 7.5 million copies in November—we should expect more incidents of aggression among the young men who play them. But with declining crime rates across the board, that doesn’t seem to be the case, especially considering that young men are the most likely to commit crimes.

I understand the unfamiliarity and discomfort many have with violent video games—I’m not a big fan, myself—but it’s important to recognize the extent to which there’s no solid proof for the conviction that these games must have something to do with mass shootings, or gun violence writ large. And if, nonetheless, you believe that they do, then you also need to find some way to account for the fact that when tragedies like this happened, video games were but a blip in someone’s imagination.