Once More From the Top: Why Video Games Do Not Cause Real-World Problems,
The mainstream media loves to perpetuate a moral panic against the nerds. Following the horrific mass shooting in Buffalo on Saturday, many prominent voices in the media couldn't trip over themselves fast enough to blame the shooting on the one thing we know for sure wasn't responsible: violent video games. Going back decades, accusing gamers for the world’s problems is a popular pastime for the media. Too bad for these finger-wagging luddites that thousands of scientific peer-reviewed studies have repeatedly shown that there is no link between video games and violent crime. But who needs science when a juicy narrative is afoot?
What happened on Saturday is a horrific tragedy. That afternoon a deranged gunman opened fire in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, killing ten people and wounding at least three others. The perpetrator was a mentally unstable 18-year-old, a deranged Nazi that described himself as a member of the "mild-moderate authoritarian left." Not that it should matter, crazy people should never define our politics, nor should it matter that this nutjob streamed the shooting on Twitch, a popular video game streaming platform. Nevertheless, many commentators were more than happy to condemn video games and the people that play them for the violence.
The most notorious of these hot takes came from Elie Mystal, a justice writer for The Nation, one of the country’s oldest magazines. In Mystal’s viral tweet -22,000 likes and counting- he wrote: “Everybody is on the ‘This is Fox News's fault’ and, it is. But I want to focus on another community I follow closely: Gamers.” Yikes.
Mystal wasn’t the only prominent lefty to jump on the bandwagon. There is also a popular Twitter trend where leftist Twitter users claim white supremacists are using video games to recruit children. White supremacy seems to be a top-tier attack tactic lately.
Indiana "Froskurinn" Black, the journalist responsible for putting the new G4TV on its deathbed, blamed memes and Gamergate for radicalizing gamers into becoming mass shooters. Tweeted Frosk, “I wish internet communities would recognize that their spaces have been infiltrated, manipulated, and hijacked by nefarious groups via "meme" propaganda. "Just jokes, bro" until hatred becomes normalized, radicalized, and a hate crime.”
Double yikes. However, before my conservative friends enjoy too much schadenfreude, we should recognize these bad takes aren’t just a leftwing problem, there are plenty of members on the right willing to jump into the pile of dumb. Jon Scott on Fox News Weekend had former ATF agent Bernard Zapor to talk about the Buffalo shooting. Said Scott: "I wonder, it seems these things have gotten so much worse since video games became so realistic and violent?" Scott then asked Zapor: ”Have you done research or learned that video games tend to desensitize people to the actual results of pulling a trigger?” To which Zapor could not answer clearly that he had.
Absolutely not, Chris Ferguson, a psychologist with Stetson University, and a top researcher on the video game violence connection told me. "It bears repeating that there is no evidence to link video games or gamer culture to mass homicides either directly or indirectly. Nor is there evidence gamer culture is associated with far-right causes more than any other group," said Ferguson.
As Ferguson explained to me, there have always been two significant myths surrounding video games and gamers. First, playing video games increases aggression and turns non-violent people into criminals. This theory originated in 1976 when Death Race, a game that looked like Pong, was labeled “a murder simulator by the Associated Press and the New York Times. The second theory is that playing video games radicalizes people to white supremacy and terrorism. Something you here whenever Gamergate enters the mainstream news conversation.
Scientists have tried to figure out if there is anything true about these myths, with thousands of studies conducted over the years looking at video games and violence. The results? While some have seen correlations with aggression, almost all peer research saw no increase in real-world violence. Some studies show a correlation between the lowering rates of violence over the years and the popularizing of video games. Not proof, but it does make sense if you are a gamer. Many games have little to no violence whatsoever. Some games like Papers Please or Undertale actively make you think of the real-world impacts of violence. Its possible that gaming is making our society safer.
Furthermore, there is no connection between playing video games and becoming radicalized toward any political or ideological identity. What political activity does occur is out of a desire to protect their hobbies, not get Trump elected. This is ironic, because as Ferguson's research shows, the gaming community is not on the right but the Left. It used to be members of the religious right were opponents of video games, going back to the devil-worshiping Dungeons and Dragons Scares of the 1980s. These days, however, since Hillary Clinton and the Democrats investigated Mortal Kombat in the 1990s for causing murders, the Left has largely been the home of video game ludditism.
Why let facts stop a good narrative:
None of what I shared here is much debated. The science is settled on the psychological effect of video games on humans. For some reason this knowledge hasn’t managed to take with the popular culture. And unfortunately for us, journalists and politicians don't care for scientific evidence when there’s a much more convenient narrative available. This is why you cannot go a month without a major publication complaining about how Gamergate is somehow responsible for the latest controversy, whether it's a mass shooting or, I kid you not, the overturning of Roe v Wade.
As sales data shows, attacking gamers is a tactical misstep. Video Games are easily the most popular medium today and pushing a moral panic against gamers will only hurt the outlets and their causes politically. Conservative media should look at this as an area for great potential growth and start treating gamers as allies instead of enemies. If the right won’t do it, it increasingly looks like in modern journalism, few else will.