Media and Real Life Violence

The logical fallacies in blaming media for violence

Through the years, various forms violent media has been the blame for acts of violence. Whether it be the concerns with violence in TV in the early 20th century, heavy metal, movies with high body counts and gory glorification, or more recently the violence seen in shooters like “Call of Duty” or in the freedom of games like “Grand Theft Auto.”

Wesley Henshaw

Through the years, various forms violent media has been the blame for acts of violence. Whether it be the concerns with violence in TV in the early 20th century, heavy metal, movies with high body counts and gory glorification, or more recently the violence seen in shooters like “Call of Duty” or in the freedom of games like “Grand Theft Auto.”

Wesley Henshaw, Editor-in-Chief

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The country saw two shootings within hours of each other in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas on Aug. 3, 2019. Sadly, these two tragedies mark only two more tiny blips on the constantly expanding list of mass shootings that have occurred in the past year. However, due to the severity of this instance we have seen politicians on both sides, as well as the media, weigh in on solutions to the issue of gun violence in America.

While this reopening of the dialogue on gun violence is a promising sign for change in America, one of the more frustrating issues that has arisen is the resurgence of blame placed on video games and other violent media for actual violence in America.

Shortly after the two shootings in question, President Donald Trump called for a stop to the “glorification of violence in our society,” including the “gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”

This is due to a manifesto allegedly written by the shooter at El Paso having made reference to popular video game series “Call of Duty.” As such, many attributed his actions to his interest in the game.

“It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately,” Trump said.

Suddenly, political discourse had been shifted away from the real issues. Rather than address any number of issues that might have greater pertinence, say, the current issue of resolving the conflict between personal freedom and public safety in relation to guns, time had to be wasted on this tired debate.

However, I believe there is virtue in examining wasted time. Why does it seem Americans see this issue resurface every couple years like the monster in a horror movie?

Well first, it’s important to understand why this misconception exists.

Violent media being blamed for actual violence is a tale as old as time. It definitely goes back to the creation of the television and the accessibility of violent media to an entire population, though one could argue it goes back further in literature and other older forms of media.

Ever since Albert Bandura demonstrated that children imitate violent behavior that they witness with his famous “bobo doll experiment,” wherein children beat up a giant clown doll after viewing adults doing the same, special attention has been paid to violence in media, especially that which is aimed toward children or youth.

For video games, controversies really began with the release of the now famous (or infamous) game “Mortal Kombat” in 1992. Known for its extreme gore and iconic “fatalities” which were player actions that could result in the brutal death of their opponent, the game caused an uproar in America. This game actually was one of the main causes for the creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) in 1994, responsible for rating games on a scale from “E for Everyone” to “AO for Adults Only (18+),” something that many denouncers of video games have neglected to mention has existed for over twenty years.

It wasn’t until the tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999, where both perpetrators were said to have played the hit game “Doom,” yet another game known for its brutality and violence. This sparked a decades-long campaign against video games as a source of real world violence.

This campaign included many different politicians over the years such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, both Bill and Hilary Clinton, former Senator Joe Lieberman, and former President Barack Obama. Both Bill Clinton and Obama called for research into media and the video game industry’s relation to violence and violent crime, Obama doing so as part of his plan to cut down on gun violence..

With this, we come to modern day, where President Trump has blamed video games and other media for mass shootings not once, but twice, having done the same in response to the Parkland shooting last year.

It is important to note that this correlation is completely unsupported by any study or research. Looking at the years of research, very little has been found in linking violent media and actual violence.

The general consensus of the American Psychological Association (APA) is that increased exposure to violent media, specifically in regards to video games, correlates to an increase in aggressive behavior and a decrease in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement. For these reasons they caution against exposing youth to these types of media. However, even this point is highly contentious within the psychological community, a group of 230 researchers and scholars in the pediatric and adolescence health field calling the APA’s stance “misleading and alarmist” in an open letter in 2013.

Even within the APA, a division focused on the media cautioned government officials from attributing violent acts to violent media such as video games. This was due to a severe lack of evidence suggesting a correlation. Namely, these researchers suggested that the release of a violent movie or video game should correspond with a violent crime spike if the two were linked, but rather there might be evidence the opposite is seen and that violent crime decreases with the release of violent media. Additionally, the research itself is often prone to false positives and negatives as well as publication bias, wherein only the evidence to support a link is shown and distributed without displaying evidence of the contrary.

Some other interesting information on the topic includes that men who commit serious acts of violence play video games less than those who have not, 20 percent compared to 70 percent according to Peter Markey, psychology professor specializing in video game studies at Villanova University. Additionally, many countries such as Japan and South Korea have much higher video game sales per capita, but practically non existent gun deaths in comparison to the United States.

So back to the original question, why do we keep seeing this tired, obviously false conclusion? It might be easy to point to incompetency and the growing disconnect between politicians and the people, but it’s a far simpler issue. Video games are unprotected. No powerful lobby exists for video games. One does exist for guns.

The National Rifleman Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobbies in politics and has been dominating the gun control issue in Congress. According to CNN, 307 out of 535 Congress members had received any amount in direct or indirect financial support from the NRA and its allies in early 2018.

The amount of money that has flown through Congress from the NRA and allies within the careers of many of the lawmaker’s careers is upwards of $12 million. While in the political world this isn’t the largest amount of money, the purpose of a single-issue lobby is just to outbid the opposition, which they have done. The number for gun control groups is around $500,000. With this type of influence, politicians who might very well want to help the issue find their hands tied within the game of politics, following the money.

As a result, we the people can only sit by and watch our government sit by and watch. 61 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws according to a Quinnipiac poll. While the route forward is unclear, as people disagree what kind of change is needed, the general consensus is that change is needed. Something that simply won’t happen when our own government doesn’t prioritize its own people.