WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 26, 2018 – There is no evidence that video games cause school shootings or gun violence. As an organization whose researchers are dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, free speech, and academic freedom, we certainly would accept and amplify the results of a sound study that does––yet, after decades of research on the issue and a case before the United States Supreme Court, no such causal connection has been established. Why, then, are politicians blaming video games again? Because they need a scapegoat. This must stop.
The scientific debate over video games and violence is effectively over, and has been for years, but took a notable turn in the public forum in 2011 when the Supreme Court wrote in its 7-2 decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.”
Proponents of the connection in the real world often base their claims on several laboratory studies on aggression. However, any effects generated from these experiments and studies lasted for minutes and were comparable to the effects of watching cartoons, as noted by the high court, “the “effect sizes” of children’s exposure to violent video games are “about the same” as that produced by their exposure to violence on television . . . [T]he same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated “E” (appropriate for all ages), or even when they “view a picture of a gun.”
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, others have continued to refute connections between video games and violence. The American Psychological Association’s Media Psychology and Technology division’s report analyzing over two dozen studies writes that, “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.” The Washington Post gathered data pointing out that consumption of video games does not correlate with gun violence. Journalists are well versed in the research and have written extensively on the topic in USA Today, The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, Fortune, BBC, and The Washington Post. All point again and again to the lack of evidence. And finally, the research of HEVGA members and others in the video game field, encompassing decades of work and thousands of peer-reviewed studies, provides overwhelming evidence that video games are vehicles for change, learning, empathy, and connectivity.
Former advisors at the White House in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who started the effort to use games for impact at the federal level, also weighed in on this matter. Constance Steinkuehler, former HEVGA President and current professor at the University of California, Irvine, served as the first Senior Policy Analyst on games from 2011-2012 and briefed then Vice President Biden on the lack of supporting research following the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. She ran a subsequent meeting and listening session that included Biden, key White House staff, industry leaders, and top games researchers. Mark DeLoura, who served as the Senior Policy Analyst on games from 2013-2014 following Steinkuehler, wrote on Twitter, “In the previous administration we looked into this and learned that the research does not support any such correlation.” The current administration has not filled a similar or related post.
If the research debate on video games and violence has been settled in the academy and by two branches of the federal government, then why––despite the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association ruling, the voluminous research on the positive effects of games, the work in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and even the megaphone of the popular press––are politicians still blaming video games as the cause of gun violence and shootings when it directly contradicts the overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
As Erik Kain stated in Forbes, “Shifting the focus to violent video games is just one of many strategies used to divide and distract rather than unite and problem solve.” The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre, following Sandy Hook, blamed video games in a press conference, throwing their hat into the ring in what has now become an overused strategy for politicians and other stakeholders. The effect was loud and clear: you can still blame games, despite the recent evidence, and continue to use them as an easy scapegoat.
That is why we are issuing this statement: the core values of the university––the pursuit of knowledge, academic integrity, public and community engagement––demand it. When we observe politicians misrepresenting the facts for political purposes, scapegoating important issues, and quashing genuine public conversation, it is our responsibility to defend the truth. When we see them proposing games legislation based on unsound research in repeated attempts to avoid their own duty to directly address the core issue at hand, we must respond.
If Washington wants to enact legislation for positive change in America on the subject of gun violence, then it should do so, but it should leave video games out of the debate. They have no place there.