A helpful reminder: Video game consumption is not correlated with gun violence

The focus on video games as a source of American gun violence is driving me a bit crazy, so I just wanted to toss some evidence out there. Even though most of you have likely long suspected the two things were not related, you'll be happy to know that science agrees with you. Consider this a helpful kit for forwarding to concerned relatives. Here's a 10-country comparison that found no correlation between video game consumption and gun violence. Here's a Harvard Medical School summary that explains why some people claim video games cause violence, and why the studies behind those claims aren't actually telling us that. And here's a PBS FAQ explaining a lot of the same issues. With violent video games (as with everything else) context matters.


      1. Yeah, the point is that, when your 10-year-old is 15 and they play GTA at a friend’s house, it does not inevitably mean that they (and their friend) will become more violent as people in the real world. 

          1. It’s actually a surprisingly hard game if you try to avoid traffic violations and damage to property…

          2. “i know, exact simulation of real life.”
            Except that the radio stations in the game are actually worth listening to…

        1. I understand that part perfectly well. There are other things involved though. Like sexual themes and profanity, which are things I’d rather my ten year old learn from me than a video game. Once I’m satisfied that my kid has learned what those things are and how to deal with them properly, then he or she can play GTA. Just because the violence thing has been debunked doesn’t mean you can conflate that with other issues pertaining to the education of children.

          1. Then don’t buy him games that have that, games have an ESRB rating for a reason, and it not like there aren’t enough good high quality games that don’t have sex or violence in them, Rayman origins, Everything made by nintendo, Journey, portal 1 & 2, and if you just don’t want sex or gun violence then theres Skyrim, Kingdom of amalur, Hell pretty much any fantasy RPG. Now I do understand that peer pressure and other parents being shitty parents and giving your sons/daughters friends COD/GTA but still If you can take the time to sit down with your kids and just talk with them about violence (violence as a whole) Then your kid will be fine, unless he is mentally sick

        2. I’m not a scientist so I may be missing something key here, but isn’t the issue at hand the specific effects (if any) of violent video games on the statistical outliers who end up enacting the Columbines and Auroras and Newtowns? It only takes a handful of these to create the culture of fear we now live in. And then the question becomes whether society in general gains or loses by depriving the vast majority of data points of their enjoyment of GTA solely in order to keep it out of the hands of a sprinkling of outliers.  (As if that’s even possible these days, now that the cat’s out of the bag.)

        3. Dunno, Maggie.  One time I played San Andreas for like five hours.  Then I went outside for a break.  When a car came down the street I jumped in front of it and tried to press triangle to drag the guy out of the car and punch him in the head.  Luckily I could not find the triangle button but I feel it was a close call.

          Naah, I’m just kidding. I can’t even bring myself to blow up Megaton in Fallout 3. Apparently I really care what a bunch of poorly rendered pixel people think of me.

    1. GTA(particularly in its later incarnations) is actually a particularly interesting case.

      The first GTA, in addition to being technically crude, was a pretty straight, overhead, run-n-gun with a focus on vehicular homicide. Controversial because it was named after a felony; but pretty generic arcad-ish top down shooter with some light driving physics.

      As the series went on, though, Rockstar significantly amped up the storyline, and the detail level of the rather seedy city sandbox environments; but also grew a definite 4th-wall-breaking sense of humor. This isn’t to say that the games are PG and Good Upstanding Influences; but has been interesting to watch them evolve in light of their iconic notoriety.

      (By way of example: the famous ‘hooker killing’ controversy: Can you kill hookers in recent GTA titles? Sure. There are hookers, because they are set in simulated seedy cities. There are weapons, and hookers aren’t immune to them. Can you kill them to get your money back after you’ve paid them? Well, GTA tracks money, so if you gave money to an NPC, and they die, that money will be on their corpse, so yes. But, now, GTA gives you an entire virtual city to explore and a zillion storylines and missions and things to follow. Why were you picking up and killing prostitutes? What is wrong with you?)

  1. Relevant to gun homicide in general I think, which is something that sadly happens so often (see: Chicago, etc).  There we have data.

    But when it comes to people who commit mass murder with guns… that’s something only like 0.00001% of the human population ever does.  I don’t think there’s any way to make scientific conclusions outside of the margin of error when the sample size is so tiny.

    1. For garden-variety homicide, I’d be strongly inclined to suspect that video games are veritably bursting with goodness.

      What other force has gotten so many bored, angry, idle, young men off the streets and busy doing harmless things with fervent intensity for hours on end?(and without any of the civil rights violations that law enforcement usually brings to this process). 

      Find that dude who invented the playstation and give him Obama’s peace prize, stat!

      1. I like it! =)

        Of course, videogames cost money, and the kids that stay in playing more games have more money and their families have more money.

        Which brings us of course to the truth about everyday gun violence: poverty.

  2. What about other flavors of violence?

    I’m still holding out perverse hope for a moral panic around Angry Birds. To wit: “Angry Birds” is a game where a group of angry birds, upset at the genocidal dispossession of their eggs by the pigs, are conducting a series of ‘martyrdom operations’ against pigs and pig infrastructure.

    The player, in order to win each mission, must kill every pig, no matter how young or small, whether a state actor or a civilian before running out of available martyrs.

    I’m guessing that if the game had been otherwise identical; but had been called ‘Jihad Jump’ it would not be the  #1 smash hit on practically all touch-enabled platforms…

    1. there is a very funny angry birds live action skit by an israeli comedy show that is no doubt familiar with the underlying geopolitics of bird/pig violence

  3. The video game gun violence hot button is there because we don’t live in a vacuum.  Video games are influences on kids just like anything else.  I believe that well adjusted kids can differentiate between virtual and real violence and that virtual violence is really just a form of competition or problem solving.  The problem that may happen is a kid plays GTA all day long and then sees their redneck parent bring home a new AR15.  It’s just too cool to ignore and eventually one of those kids with a serious mental affliction decides to bring their virtual life to reality.

    So the problem isn’t the game but mainly the parent.  However, the game is still an influence but then so are many other real world acts of violence. There also may be an effect of playing a violent, intense, lifelike video game provides an outlet for frustrations.

  4. Note that the NRA very publicly denounced video games as contributing to crime and then released their own first-person-shooter game a couple of weeks later.

    1. It’s a range target shooter that doesn’t involve people not a Black Ops 2 style game. It’s also pretty crappy and more of a IAP money maker. Each new gun costs you $1

      1. not having played either, i’d still say that they’re both equally bad in terms of sanctifying a fetish for guns and gun culture.

      2. It is also a clever bit of media manipulation. Look, games don’t have to be violent to contain guns, they are saying. Oh, gamers think it is crappy? Is that because it is not hyper violent? Look how violent games have programmed these gamers!

        To their supporters there is a very clear difference between this, intended as an educational “gun safety” tutorial and harmless target practise game, and “violent video games”. Don’t forget, the NRA wants you to buy guns.

        1. It’s crappy because of the gameplay and not lack of extreme violence. It can hardly be called a game or a FPS that the NRA denounces.

          You have to spend like $8 buying extra guns to get everything. The graphics and feel of the game is it was rushed out over the weekend. The increase in difficulty just increases how shaky your hand is. The education part is just links. Interactive 3 D showing how to load a gun, clearing a gun or any practical use of a gun would have been great. No physics for distance shooting. Guess slapping “endorsed by the NRA” doesn’t mean crap in quality control.

          Once again a crappy App. It’s also the worst kind of App they make too, by making you buy extra guns instead of earning them in game by being good.

          Sorry I didn’t reply with “Needs more Zombies and Boobs”

  5. As we all know, correlation does not equal causation.
    Violent Video Game Play is not correlated with Gun Violence.
    Thus we conclude that Violent Video Game Play causes Gun Violence.

  6. Wasn’t long ago that the waltz was considered the scourge of the young folk.  When we were kids video games were seen as ‘brain rotting’.  Now that we are adults (those of us who are) the moral panic has had to be more specific – violent games – because most of us have or do play games.

    I am curious what new entertainment/recreation medium will come out that makes me uncomfortable, because I have no issue with my kids playing video games (within reason and at appropriate ages – meaning not all day and not with content they won’t understand or be able to handle).

      1. Just another example of the devil doing the boring, important work while God grandstands and takes all the credit.

  7. Clearly this hypothesis is false, because the gun manufacturers said so.  Also, that newfangled internet.

  8. Of course video games and gun violence are correlated. They may have a weak or strong correlation, a positive or negative correlation, or we may simply lose sight of the one ripple in the the stream of elements. But we have seen kids who played Call of Duty and shot up their schools, and GTA kids who gave blood to save unicorns, and all we can say is that we don’t know much for sure.

    It’s tempting to defend yourself with this collective ignorance, especially if you’re a gamer or game-maker, but that’s not how the world works. We do the best we can with what we’ve got, and if some parent feels like a blood-spattery title might Hyde their baby Jekyll then they’re gonna fight it…and perhaps they should.

  9. Funny how some want to ban video games like Call of Duty, but what about the real life wars in which the game is modeled after?

    What do we expect from our children when our own leaders lie, cheat, undermine, blame, murder, assassinate citizens, and terrorize other countries that we can’t get along with? What kind of culture is our government supporting?

    It’s not video games or rock n roll, but society as a whole, and that can only start from the top.

    1. Except the NRA didn’t mention Call of Duty. The used more fantasy style games that people barely play still.
      The can’t call out Pro American games or ones where using guns saves lives by killing bad guys. Plus the backlash from people today would crush the NRA if you took away Black Ops 2.

      1. There are more than just the NRA that is trying to ban video games. What I was really trying to convey is that it is ridiculous for a government to stop gun violence when they themselves are one of the major gun users and suppliers on the planet. We are a barbaric society and don’t convey how special life is on a global level.

        It’s like trying to stop under age drinking by banning pina coladas.

  10. Good job Obama – waste more tax money on studies that already been done. Oh, well it’s just a sham until all this dies down and we talk about the economy, healthcare, and taxes. The damn thing your a Predident for and not a PTA witch hunt on why Johnny shoots up a school due to mental problems.

      1. He’s commissioning new reports that only idiots are asking at the expense of taxpayers. It’s all politics on both sides with generous chest thumping. Previous reports all came to the same conclusions before. Why are we trying to come up with the same answers again.

        Comics, rock and roll, and Elvis dancing were all once seen to corrupt young people. Video games is this generations scape goats. History’s on videogames side as not THE cause of violence like the NRA will portray. They can’t even admit that maybe some of their members shouldn’t be owning guns because it would mean no members should own guns at all.

        Americans can’t take personal responsibility for their actions, they did A because of B. We are just repeating history with these useless studies on video games. I grew up playing those violent videogames. You know why I didn’t kill people? I knew right from wrong and reality vs fantasy. I know a lot of people working in healthcare playing those games to this day.

        Obama’s playing up on the fear of the week wasting resources.

  11. The 10 country study just lumps ALL games together. I’d be interested to know which countries buy the most violent games? How is that violence measured? Have games gotten more violent?

    The Harvard study begins “Experts are divided about the potential harm…” 

    There is certainly no smoking gun but it also sounds like there is no definitive answer or concept of what the relationship/mechanism is. I don’t think we can just assume there is no connection…it may even be a positive one. Media in all it’s various forms has an effect on adults and kids alike or we wouldn’t have so many wonderful advertisements and ways to enjoy them. Also, when my six year old watches Ninjago, it’s nothing but ninjas and epic imaginary dragon battles for hours afterward.

    He always defeats me.

  12. I like how the right wing opposition to video games has largely been smothered by the great enthusiasm from the military as training and recruitment tools, but to say that video games do not promote violence would imply that they are wasting all their money, and that no one in the military was ever inspired to enlist by a video game. You can’t say video games are a legitimately powerful medium deserving of respect in the same breath as denying that this power has the potential to be used as successful propaganda for violence. You don’t have to support prohibition and demonization to acknowledge that there is a problem with the culture of violence and sexism surrounding and facilitated by video games today. I don’t see any problem, though, with consigning such games (Call of Duty included) to the fringes of social acceptability rather than having them thrust at you before every movie trailer.

  13. As a graduate student who just finished writing a Master’s thesis on games and learning, I’m actually kind of excited to see a CDC study on video games and violence. Some of the most-cited research on this subject is packed with questionable claims (like Craig Anderson’s claim that violent video games lead directly to Columbine-style mass shootings), lousy methodology and sketchy presentation of data. Yet, because of some brilliant self-promotion by a few unscrupulous researchers and the powerful appeal that the “video games = gun violence” argument has to some political groups, it has gotten a lot of traction.

    This sketchy science has threatened to derail nearly every gaming study I looked at in the last two years. Games and learning? Action games and visual acuity? Video games and online communities? Semiotic domains? Literacy? Problem-solving? Identity? Before any of these studies could address their intended subject, they had to pay homage to video game violence first. It’s like we had to put the kids to bed before we could have a grown-up conversation.

    I hope that the CDC, as a mostly disinterested party with a good deal of credibility, can insert some scientific rigor into the discussion. Then I hope we can move onto something better. Gaming is popular. Gaming is powerful. Gaming is a rich field for research. And gaming offers a lot more than simply entertainment But if we can’t put this bogeyman back in the closet, we’re exploring the subject with a severe handicap.

  14. The danger that violent video games present is that they are fictional. Every form of fiction shares the exact same danger — that individuals who are incapable of discerning the difference between a fiction and their own lives will confuse the two and endanger themselves and others.

    So, does anybody want to ban violent books?

  15. The argument is misleading or at least misstated.

    Video games may not *cause* violent behavior, but they (and other media forms) do numb players to violence and make ever-more intense experiences increasingly tame.

    We’re a society of people who are desensitized to horrific acts. Consider that the very kinds of traumatic, violent experiences that until recently only a combat soldier would endure – and suffer with PTSD as a result of – are now considered entertainment.

    And you can argue that it shouldn’t happen, but young – very young – children are exposed to brutally-violent video (and movies) games either due to negligence or naivety on the part of their parents.

    Funny that we recoil in sheer horror at the very thought of a child seeing a naked body, yet we backslap and chuckle over that same child’s “headshot” skills in a first-person shooter. It’s inappropriate for a child to see a breast, but ok to see a spleen being blown out of a person’s body by massive artillery?

    1. And while we’re at it, why is it that many parents allow (or even encourage) their little BOYS to play ultra-violent video games yet I suspect that few of those same parents would ever consider allowing their small GIRLS to do likewise?

      Perhaps that should be a key metric for acceptable video games – would you let your little pink princess play it? If not, then perhaps your young prince shouldn’t either.

      (I’m not a complete Luddite. My almost-7 yr old son kicks some serious crocodile butt in Donkey Kong Country!!)

  16. Um, most of the countries on that chart of ten countries have strict gun control laws. It doesn’t matter if the sales of violent video games are the same if they don’t have access to guns. Also, there IS a lot of peer-reviewed research that appears to support the belief that exposure to violent video games, movies, etc.,  does have an effect on us.

    1. I don’t think strict gun control laws necessarily mean guns are inaccessible.  Quite the opposite in the United States, in fact.

  17. I’d like to see a comparison of gun violence and gun control. Do countries that have gun control laws have less, the same or more gun violence per capita?

    I’d also like to see a comparison of amounts of violent content in games, television programs, movies, etc.

    Does the incidence of gun violence change after the release of a major movie, game, etc that include violent content? If it does, how much is the change versus the type of media?

  18. Maggie, you should send this article and all the comments to the white house as your own president seems to be in doubt about all that.

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