In a recent column, Jack Thompson argues that mass shootings might be deterred by enacting government regulation of violent video games. Thompson argues this would be “simple, constitutional and effective.”
I am one of the leading researchers on the effects of violent games and testified before the School Safety Commission Thompson mentions. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled any government regulation of violent video games to be unconstitutional. Furthermore, evidence is now clear any regulation would be entirely ineffective at reducing criminal violence.
During my testimony before the School Safety Commission, I noted that research evidence has not, in fact, supported links between violent video games and mass shootings or any other criminal violence. Even for minor acts of aggression, such as putting spicy sauce in someone’s food as a prank, the evidence is inconsistent. For actual acts of violence, long-term studies of youth have not provided evidence that playing violent video games is a meaningful predictor of youth violence, bullying or conduct disorder.
Indeed, as sales of popular violent video games have soared, youth violence has declined by over 80 percent. Some studies suggest that the release of popular violent games like the “Grand Theft Auto” series is associated with immediate declines in societal violence.
As far back as the early 2000s, a report of the U.S. Secret Service found that school shooters tended to consume less violent media, not more than other males their age. And countries that are high consumers of video games such as South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands are among the most peaceful in the world.
Contrary to Mr. Thompson’s insinuations about the School Safety Commission linking violent games to the Parkland shooting, the final report appropriately noted the evidence was inconsistent and weak and merely suggested that game producers keep the ESRB rating system up-to-date. These conclusions are similar to those of government reviews in the UK, Australia, Sweden and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Thompson claims violent games may influence the brain, but some of the studies he mentions were funded by a conflict-of-interest anti-game advocacy group. By contrast, recent fMRI studies have failed to find evidence that violent games cause desensitization to violence in the brain.
Although it’s true the World Health Organization has advanced a “gaming disorder” diagnosis, they make no claims this causes violence. Furthermore, this diagnosis has provoked a considerable backlash by scholars who argue it is more akin to moral panic than a sound diagnosis based upon evidence. The American Psychological Association and Irish Psychological Society’s respective media and technology psychology divisions released a joint statement opposing the WHO move as unscientific.
At this juncture we can say that claims linking violent games to societal violence are a “moral panic” largely debunked by science. Unfortunately, such claims have been promoted by a few advocates and sometimes repeated by credulous professional guilds. It is time to let go of our fears of new technology as they only distract us from actual, pressing societal concerns.
Chris Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University. He is author of “Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong.”