A day after the post-Parkland listening session at the White House, President Donald Trump trotted out the inaccurate and simplistic suggestion that playing violent video games contributes to school shootings. The president expressed his concern about the effects of what kids are seeing on the internet and then observed, "And also video games. I'm hearing more and more say the violence of video games is really shaping young people's thoughts."
Let's be clear about two things. First, as the popularity of video games has grown, the rate of violent crime has plummeted. Second, most scientific studies do not find a significant connection between video violence and real violence.
A new survey by Pew Research finds that nearly every kid in America plays video games. A 2016 survey by Statista found that 27.5 and 22.5 percent of video games sold in the U.S. were shooter and action games, respectively. Meanwhile, the violent crime rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent since 1990.
What do scientific studies have to say about violent video games' effects on players? In 2015, an American Psychological Association task force claimed that "Violent video game play is linked to increased aggression in players but insufficient evidence exists about whether the link extends to criminal violence or delinquency." Even that went too far: In an analysis published this month of how the task force reached its conclusion, psychologists Allen Copenhaver and Christopher Ferguson found that "the Task Force appeared to be 'stacked' with members who had publically taken antivideo game positions in the past…without this being balanced with more skeptical scholars."
In fact, studies failing to find a link between playing violent video games and violence in the real world continue to stack up. For example, a new paper in the journal NeuroSignals set out to measure empathic responses to viewing painful stimuli; it found no difference in the brain scans of people who did or didn't play violent video games. "We did not find any evidence for desensitization in the empathy network for pain in the violent video game group at any time point," report the researchers. "The present results provide strong evidence against the frequently proclaimed negative effects of playing violent video games and will therefore help to communicate a more realistic scientific perspective of the effects of violent video gaming in real life."
A new commentary by Ferguson suggests that researchers who insist that violent video games heighten real life aggression are falling prey to confirmation bias.
So is there a link between violent video games and infamy shooters—that is, fame-seeking mass shooters? The Villanova psychologist Patrick Markey tells USA Today, "All we can really say for sure is that there does not appear to be a link at this time between violent video games and school shootings. And if there is a link, it goes in the opposite direction." Markey, co-author of the 2017 book Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong, reports that only about 20 percent of school shooters play video games, compared with about 70 percent of high school students overall.
Copenhaver and Ferguson agree with Clay Calvert and Robert Richards' contention that "it will take a generation of future politicians 'weaned' on violent video games to come to the conclusion that violent video games are not harmful to young people." President Trump is clearly not a member of that generation.