In an interview on Face the Nation this weekend, former FBI Profiler, Mary Ellen O’Toole, said there is little actual evidence to support the often touted theory that video games cause violence. According to Raw Story, this comes after CBS reported that investigators of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut said that they had found a “trove” of video games in the home of alleged shooter Adam Lanza. This was enough for some conservatives, specifically Glenn Beck, to conclude that these games had been the spark that ignited the violent massacre. This isn’t an uncommon attack; video games especially violent ones have often been used as a scapegoat for those who are unable or unwilling to see the real causes to violent and disturbing crimes.
During her time on Face the Nation, O’Toole did say that violent games are considered a “risk variable” that is part the assessment of violent crimes. This means that while violent games aren’t necessarily a cause of violence, they may “fuel” those who are already capable of committing or planning to commit such crimes.
Christopher Ferguson, a psychology professor from Texas A&M who was on Face the Press as well, advised that it is best to put a debate like this in a historical perspective, saying the media goes through a period of “moral panic” every now and again, often blaming violence and crime on all kinds of unrelated “societal ills.” He reminds the panel that comic books were blamed for juvenile delinquency and homosexuality back in the 1950s. The behavior of blaming things some people just don’t like is nothing new, according to him.
We’ve got experts from both sides of the fence with empirical data who have gone through the numbers and studied history, reaching the conclusion that no video games do not, in fact, cause violence. So the debate is settled, right? Most likely no, in fact it’s been my experience that in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary those who believe video games do cause violence will continue to press forward, probably harder now more than ever.
I do have to say that the game industry itself doesn’t do a very good job in defending themselves. While it’s easy for the media to demonize games like CoD, Battlefield, or any of the other games in which players murder each other repeatedly, they rarely mention the games in which players build or create things, need teamwork, or learn to solve complex problems. Games like Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and League of Legends are all still remarkably popular, yet these types of games aren’t mentioned specifically and end up being lumped as part of the “problem.”
I hate even calling this a debate – a debate requires two equally opposing, studied, and argued sides. It’s more like bullying; with those who think games are a problem bullying an opposing side who isn’t really fighting back. I doubt this will go away until either someone from the industry steps up to challenge the accusations or they cave and put more warning labels on games or something similar.
Finally, all of this gets in the way of addressing the actual problems that cause people to commit crimes such as this; mental health. With video games as the easy scapegoat, there’s not much time to talk about how it’s vastly easier, at least in the U.S., to acquire a gun than it is to acquire help for mental illness. To me, that’s a problem we should be talking about.