Video Games

Does it Matter That British Teen Suspected of Stabbing Teacher to Death Played Violent Video Games?

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Credit: smademedia/Foter

The Daily Mail is reporting that the teenager in England who is suspected of recently stabbing a teacher to death in front of students played "ultra-violent video games," "experimented with drugs," and threatened to commit suicide after he complained about bullying. The Mail also mentions that the 15-year-old boy's peers regarded him as a loner who mostly did well in school but "seemed increasingly troubled in recent months." The Grand Theft Auto series and Dark Souls are all mentioned as games played by the suspect in the Mail's reporting.

Most readers will remember that after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012 it was reported that Adam Lanza enjoyed violent video games such as those in the Call of Duty series. In March 2013 The New York Times reported that according to one witness Lanza was a "shut-in and an avid gamer who plays 'Call of Duty,' amongst other games." According to The Daily Mail, Lanza also played Gears of War.

However, while it might be the case that many of those who commit violent crimes also played violent video games it is not clear that there is a causal relationship between playing violent video games and violent crime.

In the March 2014 issue of Reason Jacob Sullum points out that Lanza played Dance Dance Revolution every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the months before the Sandy Hook massacre. No one is suggesting that Lanza's obsession with dancing as being causally related to his murder of 27 people.

Reason's Jesse Walker notes in the June 2014 issue of Reason that in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre there was support for action to be taken against video games across the political spectrum, with Donald Trump tweeting "Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!" and Vice President Joe Biden proposing a tax on video games.  

It was not only Lanza's penchant for violent video games that some thought could in some way be linked to his violence; others pointed out that he had Asperger syndrome although, as Sullum points out, The New York Times noted that "there is no evidence that people with Asperger's are more likely than others to commit violent crimes."

Last year, Kotaku published an article on what 25 years of research on violence and video games has come up with. Kotaku notes that, "While there are no documented scientific links between video games and criminal violence, the question of whether violent video games lead to aggression has been hotly debated."

The article goes on to point out that "there have been two major meta-analyses" done on data relating to video games and violence and that the two groups that did studies on the data came to different conclusions.

Reason

Scientists such as Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson believe that there is "a definitive causal link between games and aggressive behavior." The Kotaku article notes that there is a distinction between aggression and criminal violence:

That distinction between criminal violence and aggression is critical. Science has yet to show any links between video games and violence, but violent games may have a more subtle effect on children: for example, they could make a child more inclined to bully or spread rumors about his peers.

However, researchers Chris Ferguson and Cheryl Olsen, who examined the same data as Bushman and Anderson, believe that there is no conclusive evidence between violence and video games. Ferguson told Kotaku:

I think anybody who tells you that there's any kind of consistency to the aggression research is lying to you, quite frankly… There's no consistency in the aggression literature, and my impression is that at this point it is not strong enough to draw any kind of causal, or even really correlational links between video game violence and aggression, even, no matter how weakly we may define aggression.

For more from Reason on video games click here, and be sure to check out Reason's June 2014 video game-themed issue.