No Video Games Do Not Cause Gun Violence

The original “culprit” they blamed in the 90’s. So scary.

This past week America saw two mass shootings on prime time television, one of them in El Paso and one in downtown Dayton where I used to live. The shooting in El Paso was racially motivated white supremacist domestic terror. Somehow, Republicans have decided that its games like Fortnite and Overwatch that are the cause of white supremacy and mass violence.

Kevin McCarthy and President Trump suggested this week that violent video games are to blame for El Paso, despite there being a manifesto published by the shooter using Trump and GOP anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Let me be clear, if you are trying to use games to prepare for real world violence, that is not useful at all. As someone who has played games and fired guns, I can tell you that they are not even sorta similar. The video game red herring has been used for many years to try to avoid the reality that politicians and media have a profit and power motive to both avoid responsibility for how their actions incite mass shootings and, in the politican’s case, distract folks from their inaction toward mass shootings throughout my life time.

Let me be clear, media coverage is not just complicit, it is a driving factor in mass shootings. According to a study published by IZA Institute of Labor Economics in October of 2018,

Our findings consistently suggest that media coverage systematically causes future mass shootings. These findings are consistent when accounting for weekday- and month-fixed effects, time trends, as well as characteristics of preceding mass shootings. A range of robustness checks support these conclusions. Using our benchmark estimation, a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that 58 percent of all mass shootings between January 1, 2013 and June 23, 2016 are explainable by news coverage. In terms of timeframes, news coverage seems to systematically raise the number of mass shootings in the following four to ten days and the effect reverts back to statistical insignificance after approximately 12 days.

Social media companies aren’t off the hook either. According to a study carried out by Kristina J. Lee, evidence indicates that social media coverage of shootings is correlated with the increase in their frequency. What is something that isn’t correlated with increase in violence? The sale of violent video games.

The shooter didn’t mention video games in his manifesto, just a bunch of GOP talking points.

Firstly, it is important to recognize that the GOP has a huge political need to blame white nationalist violence on anything but their own rhetoric. They are massively biased due to their own culpability in this matter. For years the GOP has refused to take action on regulating access to weapons, and for years those same weapons have been used in the execution of white nationalist domestic terrorism trumped up by GOP rhetoric. From attacks on black churches, to synagogues, to elementary schools, the GOP (and some Democrats) have stood by while white nationalist lone wolf attackers murder hundreds.

The shooter (who will not be named here because disaster porn is bad) was a radical fascist Republican doing the shit that Donald Trump advocates for on a daily basis. I have never heard a violent video game tell me to go attack and deride Mexicans. In fact, some studies have shown that violent video games decrease aggressive tendencies in youth by providing them with an outlet for their aggression.

I have heard the president of the United States suggest that Mexicans are rapists, that we should send immigrants (And U.S. Congresswomen of color) “back”, the GOP even instituted a child separation policy built to strip dignity and agency from asylum seekers fleeing persecution. No video game in the world can hold a candle to the news media’s love of mass violence and the Republican’s affinity for fascist rhetoric.

There is no correlation between video games and violence.

Attempts to blame violent video games for actual violence are not new, in fact I did a speech in highschool 8 years ago debunking the myth that violence and video games are connected. These arguments originate in the 90’s, and the longer media and politicians peddle their bullshit the more obvious their video game talking point is absolutely not true. This is the only nation where mass shootings happen at this rate, and we certainly are not the only nation with violent videos games. There is no data to support their claims about videos games.

Throughout the 1990’s as the sale of violent videos games went up, violent crime in youth went down. In fact, violent crime in youth dropped the lowest in history as violent video games gained sales numbers. Other countries also play violent videos games, but for some reason there has been an uptick to 20–30 mass shooting incidents this year. So it seems like there is no uniqueness to the violent video game argument, at the point where other nations don’t have mass violence.

Not to break out basic statistics on you, but correlation isn’t causation. And if you don’t have a correlation then there is absolutely not a causation, since you need covariance to prove a causation. There is one interesting covariance, violence seems to go down as we sell more violent video games. That doesn’t prove causation, because I am not a fucking idiot who would claim that a correlation is a causation.

It’s almost like… video games are a red herring, a distraction, from the real problems. The real problem is a right wing agenda that incites violence against marginalized groups and then doesn’t want to own up to what they have done. Their thoughts and prayers cannot save them from the reality that they are actively supporting domestic terrorism. GOP politicians continue to refuse any action to address policy or their own fucked up rhetoric, because deep down inside these people don’t want to. GOP politicians receive millions of dollars in donations from pro gun companies and activist groups. There is just too much money to be made off of mass violence.

Peddling violence for profit is what the politicains and news media do, not what video game companies do.

I have my fair share of issues with companies like Activision, EA, and Epic. These companies engage in exploitative business practices, and those bad business practices demonstrate their own form of greed. Video games are not, however, to blame for America’s mass murder streak. The media and politicians are.

Every time a mass shooting happens, we hear the name of the shooter plastered on every news station. The manifestos they left behind are shared all over social media, and they don’t mention video games. The manifestos do mention political hate and a desire to be remembered for what they did. Both of those things are rewarded by the news media, who is more than happy to spread the ideology of violence so they can boost those ratings! The news media glorifies the violence and lionizes the attacker when they spend days or weeks going over the attackers life and goals in detail, while ignoring the victims and community the attacker hurt. Famous and infamous are not that different in the end.

Whether it be the media or political organizations who profit from violence and disaster, there is a market to sell and buy images of tragedy. The media doesn’t want the mass shootings to stop, or they would stop glorifying the shooters and naming them. Malcolm Gladwell used the thresh hold theory to explain how the media, with every story glorifying mass shootings, lower the threshhold for another attacker. By normalizing the violence, covering it like its an action movie, and plastering the name of mass murderers all over their online sites, the media and social media users increase the probability that someone else will see their opportunity for fame through the eyes of mass violence.

Every time the media creates another disaster porno for Americans to consume en mass and share all over their favorite social media platforms, Americans become just a little more addicted and desensitized to violence. Americans come to the altar of Fox News and CNN to worship their falsely graven images of suffering and death, and they say the ceremonial phrases of “Thoughts and prayers” and “How does this keep happening???” as they await in eager anticipation for the next time it happens.

  • For the media: Stop naming the shooter, stop glorifying the violence, start calling out those responsible including yourself.
  • For the politicians: Come on man, own up to your violent rhetoric and change it. White nationalist violence won’t go away if you keep ̶n̶o̶r̶m̶a̶l̶i̶z̶i̶n̶g̶ encouraging it.
  • For the social media users: Don’t share footage of attacks, obviously. Don’t post his name, don’t learn his name. Reject the violence, and support the victims.

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Aaron J. Alford

Aaron J. Alford

Media critique and memes. Writing about rhetoric and society. MA in Communication They/He