Extra Lives: Videos games don’t cause violence

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The complete and utter lack of knowledge many people seem to have on the topic of video games is something that really bothers me.

It seems as if the media jumps on the chance to make a scapegoat out of violent video games every time a new mass shooting occurs. When Newtown shooter Adam Lanza’s home was searched, news organizations couldn’t help but seize the opportunity to blame the entire incident on video games. Again and again I saw television networks put Lanza’s gaming habits on display, showing that he enjoyed such titles as “Grand Theft Auto” and “Call of Duty.” The National Rifle Association (NRA) decided to blame the video game industry for violence in an apparent attempt to shift attention away from the gun lobby.

I was prompted to write this mostly due to a series of conversations I had with friends or acquaintances who seem adamant in the belief that violent video games are dangerous because they cause events such as mass shootings. They’re not alone, either. A study conducted last year revealed that 58 percent of adults in the U.S. believe the myth that video games were a contributing factor in real-world violence.

I call it a myth because it is one. There is little to no data right now that supports a direct causal link between violent video games and the kind of violent tendencies that would drive a person to kill. Occasionally, studies about the subject are released and people try to make the scientific data conform to their preconceived beliefs instead of letting the evidence inform their opinion. The closest thing to evidence that would support the idea that video games cause violence is a series of studies that have, over the years, proved a correlation between violent video games and increased aggression (studies like this one or the one discussed here).

When examining these, it is crucial to remember that correlation is not the same thing as causation. Interpretations of these studies all argue that because children who play violent video games appear to be more violent, violent video games cause violence. However, they fail to take into account the nature of the children playing the games. A person who has preconceived violent tendencies is more likely to interpret something like “Grand Theft Auto” violently. Violent people are more likely to be drawn to violent material; that’s why so many mass shooters play video games. Gamers can also be frustrated and become aggressive to to the difficulty of the game.

A good way to look at the argument of correlation versus causation is to use the historical example of polio. In the mid-20th century, some scientists saw that as ice cream sales increased, cases of polio increased. Thus, they concluded, the consumption of ice cream must be causing polio.

In addition to the fact that correlation does not equal causation, data shows that there isn’t even a correlation to  begin with. The rise in the popularity of violent video games actually correlates with a decrease in violent behavior among youth.

All of this information only adds to the numerous amount of scientific studies show no causal link between violent games and real violence. Earlier this year, a study showed that video games did not lead to an increase in violent criminal activity. More recently, a psychologist at the University of Florida further corroborated this. There was also a study from researchers at Oxford University and the University of Rochester that showed that aggression from video games was indeed often caused by the difficulty of the game being played. A 2013 article published on Psychology Today’s website also highlights the scientific data supporting no causal link.

In summary: If you fall within he category of people that believe simulated violence in video games can cause violence in the real world, you’re simply misinformed.

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