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Why video games do not cause violence

As the media continues to perpetuate the same tired and unfounded idea that video games cause violent behaviour, we break down exactly why politicians should stop blaming your PlayStation 4.

Playing video games regularly does not have a correlation with violent behaviour.

It’s no more ‘dangerous’ than reading a scary book, watching an action film, or binging a gory television series. This has been backed by multiple scientific studies, all of which came to the same conclusion – that there is no causal link between the two.

Despite this, however, video games and their apparent ability to influence impressionable minds and turn them into raging psychopaths continues to be flagged  in public debate, most notably from President Trump and mainstream outlets such as FOX News.

‘We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,’ stated Trump during a White House address. ‘This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.’ But why are video games consistently thrust into the limelight as the scapegoat? And why does it happen so often?

When did gaming start taking the blame?

Ageing politicians have been pinning the issue of social violence on video games for some time, beginning during the early 1990s when shooter games such as DOOM and Grand Theft Auto began to emerge in the mainstream. They deviated away from basic, cartoony platformers to more realistic three-dimensional depictions of gun violence.

Naturally, the concerns and grumbles of older generations came along with these releases. The argument was that their immersive nature and believable scenarios encouraged young players to lash out and act more aggressively than they normally would. There isn’t much actual evidence to support this theory, but it persisted nonetheless.

Some titles have since exploited this ‘shock value’, either creating games from the ground-up that deliberately feed into the hysteria and generate publicity, or skew their marketing to make a game look like it fetishes violence much more than it actually does. It’s arguable that Grand Theft Auto adopted this tactic, making it an infamous name for parents and a much-sought out title for rebellious kids and teens. Today, Grand Theft Auto is one of the most lucrative franchises in recent memory.

While it’s disappointing that companies have fed into the backlash gaming has had over the decades, it still doesn’t make their actual effects on players any more legitimate. Ultimately, erratic behaviour and violent outbursts are far, far more likely to stem from other factors than from your television screen.

Why is the ‘video games cause violence’ angle so flawed?

The argument itself avoids glaring holes in its own logic. For one, video games are available internationally, with the industry generating billions upon billions in revenue across the globe every year. Most of us have access to the same types of content, yet such tragedies as the two recent mass shootings only occur on such a frequent basis in the US. In addition, countries such as Japan and South Korea, who spend more time on video games on average than anyone else, have some of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Secondly, video games and their violent themes are entertainment. Most – if not all of us – are able to recognise that playing as fictional characters in make-believe universes are a detachment from real life. That’s the point of them. Gamers are not morally vacuous zombies that blindly mirror the events they see or play on screen. Just like any other outlet or medium, games are works of art and fictional simulations and nobody thinks otherwise. You don’t see people flinging bananas out the windows of their car after a session of Mario Kart, do you?

Well, maybe on a YouTube prank video, but you get my point.

To whittle down an extremely complex social problem that flags up glaring issues with gun laws, mental health, poorly funded education systems, and bubbling racial tensions into a mob against games is absurd. The causes of mass shootings and extremist violence are far more wide reaching and while it may be convenient to pin the blame on one factor, it just simply isn’t true.

What has been the response from the public?

Thankfully, Since Trump’s comments on video games were made over the weekend, it seems like the online reaction has mostly been ridicule. In typical internet fashion, memes have cropped up pointing out that the most popular mainstream titles aren’t even that violent. The best-selling game of all time is Minecraft.

It also seems as though the public conversation has shifted toward US gun laws and political division in recent years, rather than sticking the blame on edgy entertainment. Many of today’s voters are 80s and 90s babies – adults who grew up around video gaming and realise that it is not the central cause of aggression. Many of these people will have played violent titles in their youth.

With all that being said, it’s important to remember that violent games aren’t appropriate for very young audiences to be playing, in the same way that horror films are only intended for adult audiences. Games have ratings and age recommendations and they should be listened to, but to suggest that they’re a moral plague on society and a root cause of tragedy is a bit much.

So, boot up your PlayStation 4 and keep playing the games you always have. No amount of Fortnite is going to transform you into a violent criminal, regardless of what Trump might be telling you. Gaming is fun and imaginative, which is what it always should be.