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There's no evidence to back up Trump's claim that video games cause mass shootings

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

President Donald Trump addressed the nation on Monday following two mass shootings over the weekend that killed more than 30 people to lay the blame for the attacks at the feet of a culture that glorifies violence. And the biggest culprit of all? Why video games, of course.

In a statement from the White House, Trump said "We must first stop the glorification of violence in this country. This includes the gruesome and violent video games that are now commonplace."

But the facts don't support Trump's assertion that video games and real-world criminal violence are connected.

No link between video games and violence

This isn't the first time that Trump has used video games as a scapegoat to deflect a debate about guns in the U.S. away from a discussion about gun control. Following a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year, Trump convened a meeting with members of the game industry and conservative groups to explore video game violence.

But just as then, studies have found no link between video games and violence.

“As we shared at the White House video game meeting in March 2018, numerous scientific studies have established that there is no causal connection between video games and violence," a spokesperson for the Entertainment Software Association, an industry trade group, told Yahoo Finance.

"More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide. Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S."

HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/07/28: Visitors are seen at Sony' PlayStation brand booth during the Ani-Com & Games event in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Stetson University Professor Christopher Ferguson, who attended a meeting on violent crimes and mass homicides with the Trump administration explained that at the time of the meeting, administration officials came to the conclusion that games weren’t to blame.

“Even the Trump administration’s own review of this didn’t support this narrative of linking violent video games to mass shootings,” Ferguson said.

“While we're exhausting the oxygen in the room talking about this, we're not talking about other issues whether gun control, or income inequality, or mental health, or [topics] that might be more productive in reducing the amount of crime in society,” Ferguson added.

According to Villanova University Professor Patrick Markey, trends show a completely opposite effect of violent video game use in that they tend to reduce especially violent crime. What’s more, perpetrators of mass shootings tend to play fewer violent video games that the average male.

“Most scientists do not think violent video games are a cause of mass shootings,” Markey told Yahoo Finance. “The research that examines actual horrific acts of violence like homicides and mass shootings tends to find that, one, people that are mass shooters tend to play violent video games less often than the average person. And also, when people are simply playing violent video games like when the sales of "Grand Theft Auto" spike or "Call of Duty" spike, we see decreases in things like homicide and things of that sort.”

The reason? People are in their homes playing instead of committing crimes. Even when gamers are done playing, there is no resulting increase in acts of violence.

School shooters in particular flout the typical stereotype of obsessively playing video games.

According to Markey, about 13% to 20% of school shooters play games. Compare that to the 70% of adolescent males who play games. Markey says the difference likely comes down to the fact that school shooters exhibit abnormal social behavior. And since gaming is a common, normal behavior for most teens with healthy social lives, shooters are less likely than the average teen to play video games.

Since the emergence of violence in video games, speculation has emerged about the effect that brutality has had on gamers. Games like "Mortal Kombat" have been derided for what was then considered to be photo-realistic depiction of extreme violence. And as technology has improved over time, so too have the graphical capabilities of console and PC games, leading to even more realistic scenes of violence.

What's more, the gaming industry has gone through an extended period of explosive growth. Millions of people around the world play games on a daily basis ranging from building-style titles like "Minecraft" to competitive online shooters like "Fortnite" and "Call of Duty."

Still, experts have yet to find a connection between games and criminal violence.

"Violent video game play is linked to increased aggression in players, but insufficient evidence exists about whether the link extends to criminal violence or delinquency," reads a 2015 American Psychological Association report on video games and violence.

Even that report, however, attracted criticism from experts who say that its claim that video games can lead to antisocial, aggressive behavior, came from flawed data.

An international group of some 230 scholars and experts in the field initially tried to persuade the APA not to publish its piece based on their collective belief that its findings were inaccurate and used weak or misleading evidence. They also said the kind of meta-analysis used to craft the resolution could prove misleading.

Games are the easy scapegoat

Video games aren't the only form of entertainment being used as a scapegoat for societal violence. Movies, comic books, music, and more have, at varying times, been accused of leading to real-world violence.

Video games became a target of scorn following the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 where Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 13 people before shooting themselves. At that point, the focus was on the fact that both of the shooters played the computer game "Doom."

But a key point often left out of the discussion is that many perpetrators of mass shootings are young men. And many young men also happen to play video games. That, however, doesn't necessarily result in a link between video games and violence.

What's more, video games are a global form of entertainment. Canada, China, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and other countries around the world play videos games, but none experience mass shootings with such frequency as the U.S.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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