Political Animal


December 16, 2012 3:15 PM Not the Video Game Blame Game, Again!

By Samuel Knight

In the wake of Newtown, it was only a matter of time before a gun loving politician unleashed a torrent of verbal diarrhea upon video games.

Enter Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.

“Look at the level of violence in our media, video games,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley today.

“The depiction of assault weapons again and again. There might well be some direct connection between people who have mental instability and when they go over the edge, they transpose themselves, they become part of one of those videos games. And perhaps that’s why all these assault weapons are used.”

How has this theory not already been relegated to the annals of concern trolling history? In 2002, Michael Moore did a fine job of deconstructing it in “Bowling for Columbine.” He pointed out that violent video games are also played in countries where gun violence occurs far less frequently.

Yet Hickenlooper thinks it carries water. One clue as to why might be found in his non-answer to Crowley’s questions about “a law banning either these high-capacity magazines or, again, re-instituting the ban on assault weapons.” The governor only offered vague talking points about how Colorado is looking into extending waiting periods for mentally ill gun purchasers. Even if many would consider this response to be an improvement upon his “there’s nothing we could have done” post-Aurora pontificating, Hickenlooper’s video game blame seems to be nothing more than a shambolic, ham-fisted attempt to change the terms of the rage massacre debate.

With all due respect to Mr. Moore, we could evidently do with more debunking, here.

Forbes contributor Eric Kain did a decent job of it last year, after a mini moral panic followed Anders Behring Breivik’s claim to have used “Call of Duty” to train for his fascist rampage.

But the lede in Kain’s piece is somewhat buried, so to speak. His main point - that video game sales in the U.S. have risen as violent crime has fallen - doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Would the violent crime rate be even lower if the games didn’t exist at all? The findings of a 2010 study he cited on “violent video game exposure effects on aggressive behavior, hostile feelings, and depression” should, however, be repeated ad infinitum by the “Grand Theft Auto” caucus.

As Tassi summarized it:

Dr. [Christopher J.] Fergusson and Dr. Stephanie M. Rueda…took a sample of 103 young adults and had them solve a “frustration task.” Separating the participants into four groups, the researches [sic] had one group play no video game, one play a non-violent video game, one play as good guys in a violent game, and one play as bad guys in a violent game.
They found that the games had no impact on aggressive behavior whatsoever, and that the group which played no game at all was the most aggressive after the task, whereas the group that played the violent games were the least hostile and depressed.

In other words, Moore’s pop political science is backed up by academic rigor. And lawmakers who want to link violent video games to mass shootings are wasting everyone’s time. How rude of them.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • DJ on December 16, 2012 4:56 PM:

    Extra shame on Hickenlooper, as Columbine is in his own. F**king. State!

  • KayInMaine on December 16, 2012 5:15 PM:

    Can someone explain why almost all the mass shooters in the US are connected to violent video games? It's not like all gamers are being accused of these violent crimes. It's just a very very very small percentage are committing atrocious crimes against humanity.

    Some online are saying that Japan has low gun killings and many young people watch those violent video games like American young people do. The difference is: America is armed to the hilt, whereas, the Japanese are not.

  • Jim Keating on December 16, 2012 5:19 PM:

    I am not a conservative or against gun regulation; however,
    I think that video games could contribute. I know in years
    past I got addicted (so to speak)to Pac Man ,played it a
    lot. I know that it engrained a names, Ia pattern in my head.
    I was able to play the game without the machine. I had memorized a pattern. The key to it becoming addictive is
    how often you played it and how you played it. If it became
    a pattern in your head it could effect these people. Just

  • Memekiller on December 16, 2012 5:29 PM:

    I wish he had played a video game. He didn't get it out of his system, and it appears his mom crossed the boundary between reality and zombie apocalypse.

    Real guns, however... those don't kill people.

  • DEL on December 16, 2012 6:36 PM:

    It turns out there is a preponderance of social psychological research supporting a link between playing violent video games and expressions of aggression (operationalized in a variety of ways).

    Probably the most convincing evidence comes from a recent meta-analysis by Anderson et al. (2010) in a piece published in Psychological Bulletin (a premier journal in the field): http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2010-03383-001. Much like how Nate Silver uses the average of multiple polls, rather than relying on just one, to get the best estimate of which candidate will win a given election, meta-analyses look at many studies, not just one, to arrive at an estimate of the relation between two variables in the population. (Nate Silver essentially meta-analyzes polls.)

    Unfortunately, the author of this blog has fallen into the trap of resting his argument on the results of a single, albeit apparently well-publicized, study. Rarely is one study with null results enough to end discussion on a topic. And, clearly, this Ferguson and Rueda (2010) study is the exception (akin to the one study disproving climate change, among the tens or hundreds suggesting the contrarythe one that conservatives tongue-bathe ad nauseum).

    The last few sentences of the abstract of this comment piece by Rowell (2010) makes some fitting points:

    the results of meta-analyses are unlikely to change the critics views or the publics perception that the issue is undecided because some studies have yielded null effects, because many people are concerned that the implications of the research threaten freedom of expression, and because many people have their identities or self-interests closely tied to violent video games.

    I would just say that we dont need assault weapons, we dont need violent video games, but we do need to get serious about addressing mental illness in our nation.

  • Mikhail the History Grad Student on December 16, 2012 7:07 PM:

    The way I see it, there's a good way and a bad way to talk about violent video games.

    The bad way is to say "VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES" and more or less stop there. That is, not talk about actual guns, not talk about mental health, not talk about the culture of violence, but focus on video games because hey, they're new, the people interested in them are teenagers, most people don't get them, so demonize away!

    The good way is to examine violent video games in a broader context of violence in American culture. Why do we have so many violent movies, but a nipple-slip at the Super Bowl causes a national crisis? And of course, one should point out that even then, given how prevalent violent video games and violent movies and such are, perhaps its inevitable that some percentage of the people who enjoy that will be dangerous madmen, and maybe we should focus on the dangerous (guns everywhere) and madmen (mental health system) parts of that.

  • The Oracle on December 16, 2012 7:18 PM:

    Adam Lanza's deceased mother reportedly collected guns, liked going to a firing range and was afraid of an economic collapse. I suspect she was a "doomsday prepper," and thus she probably watched Faux News and listened to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh on a regular basis, pumping up her paranoia even more. I doubt if she played violent video games, but maybe her deceased son did. But with her fear about future catastrophe pervading the atmosphere of her's and her son's house, exacerbated by right-wing ranters, just this pervasive paranoia would have had more of an adverse effect of her son than video games. I'm waiting for further information to see if my conjecture is correct.

  • Roddy McCorley on December 16, 2012 7:23 PM:

    It's the principle of Occam's Gun: In situations like this, only the most convoluted explanations will be given credence. It's the opposite of Occam's Razor.

  • billb on December 16, 2012 10:19 PM:

    I support DEL's view. All these things contribute. Vid Games are part of it, if you allow them, then you and I will get mentally ill peeps shooting at us. If Vid Gamers, like gun owners demand the freedom to do their violent thing, and you agree it is 'freedom', then be prepared for mentally unstable peeps to shoot at you, and your four year old child.

  • James on December 17, 2012 12:43 AM:

    Michael More did not do a "fine job" of addressing the known and documented link between violent video game play and these mass shootings by young people. Moore didn't factually address it at all. The link is there and there are scores of sober peer reviewed studies that show a definitive link. What Moore did was intentionally misinform and muddy the issue by throwing in the wider population statistics which are dominated by urban crime with illegally obtained weapons.

    The great, indeed almost total, majority of gun murders and shootings are by people already breaking the law and in possession of illegal weapons which gun control wont address.

    If instead we focus on Columbine, the Colorado Theater, Virginia Tech, the Newton elementary school, and for that matter the Norway, shootings, the big news stories where legal arms were involved -- they ALL involved young men obsessed with, if not addicted to violent video games, specifically first person shooters. All.

    So if these type of shootings are the touch stone, then violent video games ARE a BIG part of the issue.

    Secondly on Japan. The author of this Blog and Moore are completely WRONG. Japan does NOT have anywhere near the sales of realistic first person shooters. That is a well known fact. Indeed it is one of the most commonly commented on aspects of gaming sales and marketing. wired had a piece, google it: "In Japan, Gamemakers Struggle to Instill Taste for Western Shooters"
    What Japan has is a lot of sexualized video games focusing on young girls and a corresponding and documented poor attitude in that area as a result.

    On thing Moore did do in Columbine which was sober was ask why the health records, and specifically the psychiatric drugs records of these of mass murderers are allowed to be sealed ( the pharma industry has lobbyed to keep such records sealed). Both of the columbine killers was heavily on SRIs (Serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) and in it is specualted that Virginia Tech, the Colorado theater both were being treated with SRIs as well. For that matter the Fort Hood shooter was as well.

    Mr. Knight, please do review the way Moore constructs his argument on video games. It isn't serious and in fact it isn't accurate. The correlation between FPS (first person shooters) and mass killings by young non African Americans is clearly there.

    Mr. knight. By the way you cited the 20120 study is bunkum and bogus sample. it is with cross section - mostly with people who NEVER played such games. That is right: the sample is NOT long time or obsessive First person shooter players but with a cross section including people who never played a violent video game. The data on aggression and obsessive FPS play is there and shown by plenty of studies. Half the subjects were female.

    Moreover THE SAME DATA methods show gun owners are the LEAST violent people in the US. So by your logic, no gun control right? That 20120 study did NOT use a sample of trouble kids or kids on antidepressants, bi polar treatment, ADT treatment or other drugs.

  • Crissa on December 17, 2012 1:37 AM:

    There is no link between video games and violence.

    That's like saying there's a link between Texans and hot sauce. There isn't and there there.

    Of course violent people would enjoy violent games. But a huge number of Americans enjoy video games! The number of people who don't play video games is the minority now.

    It's a gibberish argument that tries to put correlation to equal cause - and there's just no there, there.

  • Neildsmith on December 17, 2012 5:34 AM:

    Does the product create the market or does the market create the product? I never knew I wanted to be able to look at the internet while sitting in a restaurant eating lunch until I could. Now I do it all the time.

    So it is with violent movies, TV, games, and even pornography. It's available and cheap so we consume all those things. Does it, in some subtle way, change us? Does it affect some and not others? I don't know, but I wonder what it is we're so reflexively defending.

    Culture is a subtle thing. It can be twisted into a force for evil and oppression so easily that I agree we must oppose attempts to restrict our basic freedoms. But President Obama was surely right when he said last night, "We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change."

  • square1 on December 17, 2012 6:58 AM:

    Maybe if Samuel Knight spent a little less time rolling his eyes in indignation he might actually grasp the meaning of the words that he was reading.

    Hickenlooper is quite clearly NOT saying that video games generally cause people to go on homicidal rampages. What he is asking, wisely, is whether America's hyper-violent pop culture, including video games, may have a dangerous effect on "people who have mental instability" who "go over the edge".

    There is absolutely no point in looking at studies of the general population to learn about the effects of violent media on the mentally ill.

    As a society, we need to accept that we are making CHOICES and take responsibility for them. Violent media can be wildly entertaining when consumed by millions of Americans and wildly dangerous when consumed by a handful of deranged individuals. We can CHOOSE to ban the media and forego our daily entertainment or we can CHOOSE the entertainment at the cost of more frequent, if still occasional, homicidal bloodbaths. Samuel Knight, like many Americans, wants to pretend that no difficult choice need be made.

  • reason on December 17, 2012 7:56 AM:

    Saying there is no link between hyper-violent video game addiction and these shootings is no different than saying there is no link between smoking and lung cancer.

    Klebold and Harris (Columbine), avid first person shooter players; Seung-Hui Cho (Va. Tech), long time first person shooter player; Lanza (Sandy Hook), only social interaction was first person shooter LAN parties); Holmes, (Dark Knight Theater), played Call of Duty and Halo endlessly; Breivik (Norway youth camp) also played first person shooters for 20 to 30 hours a week.

    To note that some people who play these games (females used in the poorly done industry funded study cited by the blog author) don't become violent and therefore de-establish a link is akin to the tobacco lobby saying smoking and cancer weren't linked. Many, in fact most, smokers in the 1950's did not die of cancer either.

    These video games are a causal factor and you would have to be blind -- or have an agenda -- to deny it.

  • RollaMO on December 17, 2012 10:00 AM:

    Causal factor or not, they are still disgusting. I am proud thay my two sons see that that way as well.

  • labradog on December 17, 2012 10:00 AM:

    Well, that settles it.
    You gullible soul, you.

  • lou on December 17, 2012 10:06 AM:

    Citing research results from a one time exposure with violent video games to prove no link seems to be extremely biased and would not stand up to the scrutiny of scientists. And rude to suggest the rudeness of others who hold a contrary view via a more thorough reading of the research.

  • g on December 17, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Banning video games would be against the First Amendment - freedom of expression.

    So their "solution" to a gun problem is to fetishize the Second Amendment to the extent that it's completely inviolable, but trample all over the First Amendment instead?


  • berttheclock on December 17, 2012 10:17 AM:

    The killer at the Clackamas Mall in Oregon was reported to have been an avid player of "Call to Duty". That was reported by a former girl friend of his.

  • Zed43 on December 17, 2012 10:25 AM:

    "g" above. No one is suggesting banning video games. Simply some federal legislation banning play by minors, and controlling them to some extent, as well as controlling violent movies. That would be a start.

  • Tom Bisson on December 17, 2012 12:39 PM:

    I understand the arguments that exonerate video games, but I need to add my comments. I've watched my son play first-person shooter games and it's just a matter of going from room to room killing people - sort of like in Newtown. When I watch a sporting event, I often get excited to play so I know the power of video. I also know that if someone proposed a video game where instead of being a first-person killer, the player was first-person rapist, that no game company would produce it. Rape is horrific, but more so than murder? So it leads me to believe that we have established a culture of deadly violence Video games are a reflection of that culture, not the driver of that culture; but they contribute to it (along with movies, media broadcasts, etc.) We need to examine all the cultural messages let it be known that violence and death are not entertainment.

  • Gorobei on December 17, 2012 1:36 PM:

    Curiously, games where the player uses laser swords or plasma rifles or magic to commit acts of outrageous violence has not been linked to an increase in real life attacks using those weapons.

    So is it then the lack of access to the tools used in the game that prevents these attacks?

    Yes this analogy is absurd. As is the suggested link between violence in a video game and violence in real life. Playing a cat in a video game does not make me more inclined to groom myself using my tongue.

    The common link is people. People, as animals, harbor aggression. The ways in which people are trained to view this impulse to aggression through parenting and social acceptance in the real world is the issue. As aggression becomes increasingly marginal as accepted activity in daily life, it needs to have an outlet in an arena where it controlled. Arguably sports and fantasy are two such arenas.

    Implied violence is at the very core of our hierarchical society. If you don't comply with the will of your betters your life will be threatened in one way or another, starting with the loss of your means of living (income) or being banned from living in a particular place (sex offenders) and ranging to the explicit expression of violently being beaten or maced by riot police to being incarcerated for protesting a policy that you don't agree with.

    I am not a proponent of the old NRA saw that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Not least because it is incomplete in that "and people with high powered guns with high capacity magazines kill lots and lots of people."

    But the idea that we can ban our way to safety by attacking our cultural output, when that output is merely a reflection of our collective national conscience / id, seems to treat a symptom rather than to offer a cure.

  • Lance on December 17, 2012 3:15 PM:

    They are setting up the prohibition of video games as the follow-on to the end of prohibition of recreational drugs.

  • bdop4 on December 17, 2012 4:48 PM:

    "No one is suggesting banning video games. Simply some federal legislation banning play by minors, and controlling them to some extent, as well as controlling violent movies. That would be a start." - Zed43

    Good luck with that. How do you propose to enforce that, other than at the point of purchase?

    I think a more effective route is to push for mandatory mental health screening as part of a healthcare regimen and ongoing evaluation for high-stress environments. This should definitely be the case for any gun purchase or license application.