Not the Video Game Blame Game, Again!

In the wake of Newtown, it was only a matter of time before a gun loving politician unleashed a torrent of verbal diarrhea upon video games.

Enter Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.

“Look at the level of violence in our media, video games,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley today.

“The depiction of assault weapons again and again. There might well be some direct connection between people who have mental instability and when they go over the edge, they transpose themselves, they become part of one of those videos games. And perhaps that’s why all these assault weapons are used.”

How has this theory not already been relegated to the annals of concern trolling history? In 2002, Michael Moore did a fine job of deconstructing it in “Bowling for Columbine.” He pointed out that violent video games are also played in countries where gun violence occurs far less frequently.

Yet Hickenlooper thinks it carries water. One clue as to why might be found in his non-answer to Crowley’s questions about “a law banning either these high-capacity magazines or, again, re-instituting the ban on assault weapons.” The governor only offered vague talking points about how Colorado is looking into extending waiting periods for mentally ill gun purchasers. Even if many would consider this response to be an improvement upon his “there’s nothing we could have done” post-Aurora pontificating, Hickenlooper’s video game blame seems to be nothing more than a shambolic, ham-fisted attempt to change the terms of the rage massacre debate.

With all due respect to Mr. Moore, we could evidently do with more debunking, here.

Forbes contributor Eric Kain did a decent job of it last year, after a mini moral panic followed Anders Behring Breivik’s claim to have used “Call of Duty” to train for his fascist rampage.

But the lede in Kain’s piece is somewhat buried, so to speak. His main point – that video game sales in the U.S. have risen as violent crime has fallen – doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Would the violent crime rate be even lower if the games didn’t exist at all? The findings of a 2010 study he cited on “violent video game exposure effects on aggressive behavior, hostile feelings, and depression” should, however, be repeated ad infinitum by the “Grand Theft Auto” caucus.

As Tassi summarized it:

Dr. [Christopher J.] Fergusson and Dr. Stephanie M. Rueda…took a sample of 103 young adults and had them solve a “frustration task.” Separating the participants into four groups, the researches [sic] had one group play no video game, one play a non-violent video game, one play as good guys in a violent game, and one play as bad guys in a violent game.

They found that the games had no impact on aggressive behavior whatsoever, and that the group which played no game at all was the most aggressive after the task, whereas the group that played the violent games were the least hostile and depressed.

In other words, Moore’s pop political science is backed up by academic rigor. And lawmakers who want to link violent video games to mass shootings are wasting everyone’s time. How rude of them.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.