No, Peter Dutton, Video Games Don’t Cause Terrorism
Blaming acts of real-world violence on video games is nothing but an unscientific distraction from what we already know can cause them.
Video games are a convenient scapegoat; something people easily draw as an obvious link. The simplistic idea that players become desensitised to in-game violence and are therefore more likely to carry out violence in the real world, as a result, is an easy one to accept at face value.
On the ABC yesterday, in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton called for further discussion of a link between video games and violence. But the impacts of games on real-life behaviour has been discussed and analysed for more than 20 years, especially following mass shootings.
In the early days “evidence” regarding violent video games was sent out into the world with little criticism. But this isn’t the early days anymore, and just like the old-school arguments against rock music or indecent acts on television, the “proof” showing a causal link between violent video games and real-life aggression or violence has been dismantled.
Video Games Do Not Cause Violence
In 2017, researchers in Germany set out to prove their hypothesis that gamers have reduced empathy when compared to non-gamers. Using a brain mapping technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging, they studied the emotional responses of long-term players of violent video games to “provocative” images. They found that playing violent video games does not negatively impact on your empathy.
Earlier this year, UK scientists found that there was no relationship of any kind between playing violent games and violent behaviour.
These aren’t unusual results. They reflect the findings of literally hundreds of similar studies from across the world, searching for any evidence to link violent games with violent behaviour. There have been so many that criminologists openly call the theory a myth. The American Psychiatric Association has published statements urging the media to stop drawing this false conclusion, pointing out that despite the rise in popularity of video games, youth violence globally is at a 40 year low.
The US Supreme Court dismissed this idea back in 2011. A 2015 analysis of 101 studies specifically focused on violent video games showed the impact on aggression and mood in players was minimal. Exposure to video games cannot be used to predict violent behaviour.
Some studies show people playing violent video games can become desensitised towards violence. But there is no consistent evidence that violent video games encourage violence, cause people to become violent, or normalise real-world violence to the point where people think less about carrying it out.
Violent people may play video games, but video games do not cause people to be violent.
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, for example, but what this really means is that gamers are better at disregarding graphic content while looking at a rapid series of images, leaving them better able to see what they have been asked to look for than non-gamers. The scientists behind this particular study say this in no way shows a link to moral desensitisation, but merely the way gamers process information. The same experiment is now being conducted with emergency first-responders.
When looking at the people who carry out mass shootings, an analysis by the US Secret Service showed a lower consumption of violent media (including video games) than what was considered “normal”.
Time and time again, we see the same thing. Some violent people may play video games, but video games do not cause people to be violent. They don’t even make violent people more aggressive.
So Why Blame Video Games?
You might think that having an imaginary AR-15 in your virtual hand, and being good at using it in-game would make players think about guns a little differently in the real world. A 2016 study set out to prove just that, but ended up revealing the opposite: our politics is actually what has a considerable influence on attitudes towards firearms.
“Political views are often strong and resistant to change. Relative to the influence of political beliefs, the effects of brief exposure to a violent game featuring an attractive firearm may be minimal,” the research reads.
After 20 years, this cyclical blaming of video games, like clockwork, has had its time.
Generally speaking, confirmation bias plays a huge role in the ease of linking violent media with violent behaviour. Almost everyone plays video games, just as nearly everyone drives a car, drinks coffee or uses shampoo. For a perpetrator of violence to be a gamer is not unusual. Trying to link a rare act with a common one is confirmation bias.
In the case of the Christchurch shooter, his references to gaming culture make it a more obvious conclusion, a more natural and reasonable link to make. But there is a far more nuanced conversation to be had here than “video games cause violence”, because video games don’t make people violent, but violent people play video games, too. The role played by online communities where hate speech inciting and encouraging violent acts of terrorism can flourish and be rewarded is what needs further discussion.
The role played by our politicians and media — those with the loudest voices in a country crying out for empathetic leadership — allowing an anti-Muslim sentiment to be normalised and encouraged is what needs further discussion.
Because after 20 years, this cyclical blaming of video games, like clockwork, has had its time. The real issues need your attention now.