After two shootings in less than 24 hours killed 30 people and injured dozens more over the weekend, President Donald Trump addressed the nation Monday morning, condemning “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” but failing to directly address his own rhetoric when doing so.
Among the potential causes for both shooters’ actions in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Trump targeted video games. “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence,” he said.
Trump’s comments echoed those from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who told Fox News on Sunday that “the idea of these video games that dehumanize individuals to have a game of shooting individuals and others – I’ve always felt that is a problem for future generations and others.”
Facts First: While some leading psychological organizations in the US say that children should not play violent video games because it may lead to aggressive behavior, there are no findings from research that demonstrate a direct connection between people playing violent video games and mass shootings.
This is not the first time that Trump, or other politicians both Democratic and Republican, have cited video games as one of the potential causes for an American mass shooter’s actions.
Trump attempted to link violent video games with the cause of a shooter’s actions after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. After the shooting, the President held a series of school safety meetings at the White House to try to address the crisis. Trump repeatedly brought up violence portrayed in media including video games, movies and the internet.
During one of those meetings, Trump said, “I’m hearing more and more people saying the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”
While major US organizations including the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics take a firm stance against children and teens playing violent video games, other more recent psychological research does not show a direct correlation between playing violent video games and exhibiting violent behavior outside of those games.
A 2015 policy statement from the American Psychological Association says that research demonstrated a link “between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior … and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement.”
In the American Academy of Pediatrics July 2016 guideline on media violence, the academy warned that violent media set a poor example for kids. Overall, the academy’s summary of the results from more than 400 studies revealed a “significant” link between being exposed to violent media (in general) and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts and angry feelings.
Other research says there is no direct link between violent video games and predicting violent behavior.
A study conducted by Western Michigan University professor Whitney DeCamp concluded that playing video games, no matter how graphic, did not predict violent behavior. The study used data from a 2008 Delaware School Survey, which included responses from over 6,000 eighth graders.
A separate study published in the British journal Royal Society Open Science in February says that teens who play violent video games did not exhibit more aggressive behavior compared with teens who did not play them in the United Kingdom.
The study found that nearly half of the female teen population and two-thirds of the male teen population played violent video games in the UK, but their research did not find that playing those games was associated with teens exhibiting more aggressive behavior than teens who did not play them.
Beyond that, video game sales in other developed countries are not linked to a country’s firearm homicide rate. According to data compiled for the book “Moral Combat,” when comparing per capita dollars spent on video games to homicides by firearm, the US is a clear outlier, with a much higher rate of homicide than any other developed nation. (See chart below)
Blaming video game violence became more prevalent after the Columbine shooting in 1999, when the two teenagers who killed 12 of their peers were widely reported to have played the shooter game “Doom.”
Less than a month after that shooting, Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that “Hollywood and computerized games have undermined the core values of civility.” Democratic President Bill Clinton then asked the government to look into whether media companies, including the video game industry, were marketing violent content to young people.
Hillary Clinton campaigned against violent video games when she ran for Senate in the mid-2000s, and after a man opened fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, then-Sen. Joe Lieberman said young men who commit mass shootings “have had an almost hypnotic involvement in some form of violence in our entertainment culture, particularly violent video games.”
In 2013, President Barack Obama called for Congress to fund research into video game violence as part of a 23-point plan to reduce gun violence. He later issued a series of executive actions with “actions to reduce gun violence” in January 2016.
Advocacy groups warn that pointing to a connection between violent video games and gun violence distracts from the real issue allowing so many mass shootings to occur in the US: gun safety laws.
Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts told CNN in 2018 that video games are not the reason the US continues to see so many mass shootings. Moms Demand Action is a gun safety advocacy group.
“Americans play the same video games, watch the same TV shows and experience mental illness at the same rates as our peers in other high-income nations,” Watts said in a statement to CNN. “What separates America is our weak gun laws and unacceptable rates of gun violence. Americans want action on gun safety, not video games.”