It’s more complicated than you think
(excerpted from my book The Minds of Mass Killers: Understanding and Interrupting The Pathway to Violence (McFarland, 2021).
Mass killings have been blamed on violent video games since the Columbine murders in 1999. The idea is a simple one: ban violent video games and mass killings will stop. First-person shooter games in particular have been condemed.
Though there is sometimes a relationship between video gameplay and real-world violence, it’s clearly is not that simple.
Analyzing this research is complicated and has not been without controversy. Violent video games are universally popular, and gamers are understandably quick to become defensive at allegations their hobby could cause them to become real-world killers.
Gaming is far more significant than Hollywood as a cultural influencer and moneymaker these days. Forty-three percent of all U.S. adults play video games “often or sometimes.” Video game sales statistics show that electronic gaming industry revenue dwarfs all other entertainment industries combined. Global film box office revenue in 2018 amounted to $41.7 billion, while the gaming market generated $151.2 billion. Despite the stereotype that most gamers are adolescents, the average age of a gamer is now 35.
Enthusiasm for gaming is not limited to the United States. In many countries of the world, video games are considered a major social activity. South Korea, Japan, U.K., Italy, Germany, Canada, and others are examples of countries where gaming is a common cultural pastime — yet they have dramatically lower incidents of violence than the United States, and mass shootings have never occurred in most of them.
Ninety-seven percent of youths age 12–17 play video games. While many mass killers have been avid players of violent video games, so are most young men worldwide. Women are also gamers, making up 46% of all players, though they are less likely to play violent first-person shooter games; seventy-eight percent of women play nonviolent games on their smartphones.
A false dichotomy has been presented: either violent video games are causing mass shootings, or they have no relevancy whatsoever. Getting to the truth isn’t…