I understand I’m preaching to the choir. I understand that this kind of talk comes and goes. But it needs to be said in the hopes some non-gamers stumble across this and actually read it. Video game violence (and violence in the media in general, though that isn’t my focus here) does not cause people to become violent. I bring this up because once again politicians are bringing up video games as a problem. We’re not talking censorship this time at least. So far, the idea is to tax violent video games and then pass the funds onto victims of violent crime. This alone is not necessarily a bad thing. I have no issue with taxes, and I have no issue with helping victims of crimes get back on their feet. The problem is what has been explicitly said and implied about why such a tax is justified or needed.
Perhaps we should back up a step or two though. The reason I’m writing this now is due to remarks made by Vice President Joe Biden about a number of recent violent events. To be fair, his comments have, at times, been taken somewhat out of context, and the crux of it comes down to what he said here. These come in the context of considering the video game tax mentioned above.
“There is no hard data as to whether or not as these excessively violent video games in fact cause people to engage in behavior that is antisocial, including using guns. There is one study done, I think it was the American Academy of Pediatrics, they said if you watch 3 to 6 hours of video games, a lot of kids do that, can lead to aggressive behavior. They didn’t make the next connection saying that leads to violent behavior, but there’s no studies done.”
The problem with these remarks is striking to me. First of all, antisocial behavior is not the same as violent behavior. It means avoiding being social. Second, there have in fact been studies done on this. That said, I’m not against more studies, so long as they are done honestly. It is true that some studies have even linked video games to increased aggression, but not violence. Then, we have these studies below which conclude that video game violence does not lead to real life violence, though most of them do cite a need to further study these conclusions.
First, let’s start with this study from the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, which found that “adult criminality was best explained by a confluence of genetic and proximal social risk factors. The influence of media exposure on adult criminality was negligible.”
Moving on, we have the study Demolishing the Competition: The Longitudinal Link Between Competitive Video Games, Competitive Gambling, and Aggression which indicates violence in video games do not lead to a rise in aggressive behavior, but competition does. Naturally, competition is a core part of many games, including many violent games. It’s also a core part of many sports and board games, but we aren’t blaming them for violence.
And for now, let’s conclude with one last study, Understanding the Effects of Violent Video Games on Violent Crime, which actually shows an increase in the consumption of violent video games reduces violent crime. As a gamer, this intuitively makes sense to me. When I get angry, it’s nice to vent with a nice hack and slash action game for a bit.
Perhaps in addition to studies, we should bring in an expert or two. We have a former FBI profiler, Mary Ellen O’Toole, who explains, as written in this article on Raw Story, that video games do not cause violent behavior, though they are sometimes studied as part of a risk assessment for if someone will act out violently. This coincides wonderfully with the opinion of MIT Media Scholar Henry Jenkins, who explained as part of his awesome testimony to congress on media violence, that video games and other media are not a cause of violence, but rather that people are drawn to specific forms of media for many varied and complex reasons. There’s also a lot of awareness of other important cultural phenomena in there, and the whole thing is worth the read.
Now that we’ve done the fun work of placing some evidence out there, let’s get back to some opinion. I think Republicans want to push this because video games are an easy scapegoat, and they don’t want us talking about important things like considering revamping our gun laws with some common sense reforms, since this would anger their base. They don’t want us to focus on mental health because that would cost money. And Democrats are happy to go along with this because they want to show they’re considering all sides of the issue, even if one of those sides isn’t the actual problem. Besides which, cracking down on video games is easy political brownie points.
As I alluded to earlier in this piece, I have no ideas with the separate ideas of a tax on video games, nor with helping the victims of violent crime. I have a problem with the implication of that tax. The implication is that our hobby, playing video games, plays a part in the tragedies that result from these violent crimes. Since it’s out fault for liking video games, we should pay directly for the care that goes to these families. This is not true. If we need more money to take care of these families then we should raise it. But we should raise it the same way we raise money for other things we need to take care of in our country, not by punishing a group of people for something that is not our fault or the fault of the video games we play.