Should Video Games Be Blamed for Violence?


In light of the numerous mass shootings over the past several years in the United States, many people hold violent video games responsible for inspiring such crime. For instance, in 1999, 13 people were killed by two student shooters at Columbine High School and the public was quick to blame the tragedy on graphic violence depicted in the first-person shooter game “Doom”, which both perpetrators frequently played. Other incidents like Columbine have resulted in a heightened concern for the youth being exposed to violent material, and accordingly, spurring research for the association between violent video games and real-world violence. Following a slew of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio in 2019, President Donald Trump blamed video games for the crimes, stating, “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”

Another consequence of the belief that violent video games encourage real-life violence was the establishment of laws to limit children’s usage of such games. For example, a 2005 California law banned the sale of violent games to anyone under 18. However, in 2011, this law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association decision, which ruled that video games were protected by the First Amendment as Freedom of Speech. Popular video games that have been under fire for their portrayal of repulsive violence include Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.

Despite many groups–parents and politicians alike–promulgating that extreme violence stems from one’s experience with violent video games, there is insufficient scientific evidence to support a strong link between them, according to an updated resolution in 2020 made by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA concludes that there is a small, reliable association between violent video game use and aggressive outcomes, such as yelling and pushing. Research has also found that violent video game use is related to decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and moral engagement. However, there is no hard evidence that supports that violent video games contribute to mass homicide and other large-scale crimes. Consequently, APA President Sandra L. Shullman, Ph.D., says, “Violence is a complex social problem that likely stems from many factors that warrant attention from researchers, policymakers and the public. Attributing violence to video gaming is not scientifically sound and draws attention away from other factors, such as a history of violence, which we know from the research is a major predictor of future violence.”

With the rise of video games, and thus the rise of those with violent themes, it is easy to place blame on them for the heinous acts conducted by an individual or group. The staggering increase in mass shootings leads to desperate measures taken to prevent more from occurring in the future. Although violent video games may be a widely-received cause for real-world violence, it is not the most significant nor only cause. Other factors, such as mental health, bullying and history of abuse, prove to be more veracious than the popular opinion that blames violent forms of media.