In recent years, there have been several incidents of mass shootings where the perpetrators have been young adults in their teens. In December 2012, Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, US and took the lives of 20 young children before turning the gun on himself. In 1999, two senior students were responsible for taking the lives of 12 students and a teacher in the Columbine High tragedy.
Various incidents of teenage violence in the US and other parts of the world have sparked a debate among parents, news anchors and TV pundits. Many of them blame the prevalence of violent video games for the increase in youth violence. Others have challenged this implied association between violent video games and school shootings by arguing that most young perpetrators suffered from anger and psychosis issues that made them predisposed to violence. As a result, blaming video games for their actions appears rather illogical.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of all video games rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) contain violence – including more than 90 percent of those that are rated as appropriate for children who are 10 years and above. It is, therefore, not surprising that parents are concerned about the impact of these games on their children.
However, there is no proven link between playing violent video games and the incidence of youth violence. In fact, research shows that while the sales of violent video games have increased in recent years, the incidence of youth violence has dwindled. We can explain this through a simple statistic: 98.7 percent of young adults in developed countries have played these video games at some point without ever picking up a weapon and shooting innocent people.
In a 2016 interview, Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, stated: “If consuming violent media made you violent, then we should prevent adults from reading the Illaid, or for that matter the Old Testament. Together with Shakespearean tragedies and Godfather movies and much else”.
Magazines such as The Economist and Forbes have published articles which state that in recent years, youth violence has decreased by about 50 percent while the sale of violent video games has gone up dramatically. An analysis by The Washington Post of the 10 largest video game markets across the globe showed no correlation between video games and violence. In fact, there are many countries where the sales of violent video games are higher while the number of deaths triggered by gun violence is much lower.
Japan is a perfect example. Although video games are extremely popular in Japan, the country has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Obtaining a gun in Japan is an arduous process that requires an exam, a mental health test and a drugs test. Deaths by gun violence are rare. In 2014, Japan had just six gun deaths as compared to more than 33,000 in the US. This seems to indicate that other factors – such as easy availability of guns and mental health problems– have played a stronger role in orchestrating massacres like the Columbine shooting.
In 2010, the state of California tried to ban the sales of violent video games to minors. In its decision on this case, Brown vs EMA, the US Supreme Court refused to allow the ban. It maintained that the medical research that was presented to support the ban, was flawed and unreliable. More recent research by Texas A&M professor, Christopher Ferguson – published in a psychiatric journal – shows no long-term link between playing violent video games and youth violence.
Playing video games in moderation may have some benefits. It improves hand-eye co-ordination and reaction time and fosters better decision making abilities. Children should be allowed to play age-appropriate games with parental approval and combine that with a healthy lifestyle, including plenty of exercise.
Instead of wasting time and resources trying to ban violent video games, we should focus on gun control and provide treatment to people with mental health issues so that tragedies like the Sandy Hook incident do not happen again.
The writer is a freelance contributor.