President Donald Trump claimed that there is a causal link between violent videogames and gun violence after the deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this past weekend. But the people who actually make these games choose instead to follow facts, which continue to find no credible evidence suggesting this entertainment medium leads individuals to commit mass shootings.
On Saturday, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 people and injuring 24 others. On Sunday, nine people were killed and 27 others were injured when a separate shooter opened fire in Dayton. An online manifesto, which police are investigating in connection to the El Paso shooter, referenced videogames, specifically Call of Duty.
In remarks delivered Monday, Trump said, “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly videogames that are now commonplace. 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.”
It’s a talking point that many politicians on the right, as well as the NRA, have touted for decades. But again, the evidence isn’t there.
EW reached out to multiple game developers for comment on this story; reps either declined to comment or did not immediately respond. However, the Entertainment Software Association, a videogame trade group and self-described “voice and advocate” for the industry, released a statement.
“As we shared at the White House videogame meeting in March 2018, numerous scientific studies have established that there is no causal connection between videogames and violence,” it reads. “More than 165 million Americans enjoy videogames, and billions of people play videogames worldwide. Yet other societies, where videogames are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S.”
The statement continues, “Videogames positively contribute to society, from new medical therapies and advancements, educational tools, business innovation, and more. Videogames help players connect with family and friends, relieve stress, and have fun. We encourage parents who have concerns about age-appropriate videogame content to visit ParentalTools.org to learn more how to control what games are played in their homes.”
Meanwhile, the aftermath of Trump’s statements saw shares in multiple videogame companies drop, including Activision Blizzard (Call of Duty), Take-Two Interactive (Grand Theft Auto), and Electronic Arts (Battlefield), according to a Business Insider report.
In June 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that sought to ban sales of certain violent videogames to children. Antonin Scalia delivered the majority opinion, which read, in part, “California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent videogames and harmful effects on children. These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent videogames cause minors to act aggressively (which would at least be a beginning).”
Scalia added, “They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.”
In June 2017, a policy statement from the American Psychological Association noted, “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent videogames and actually committing violent activities.”
Other studies disproving a connection between violent games and violent acts include a 2011 study from the Centre for European Economic Research, a 2006 study from Indiana University, and research from Villanova University psychology professor Patrick Markey in his book Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong, to name a few.
Cory Barlog, the game director behind last year’s award-winning God of War, tweeted in response to Trump’s recent statements on the matter, “Violent video games and mental health? Not the high powered weapons of war being sold to civilians by the millions that are actually being USED to carry out these acts of domestic terror??”
“I’ve seen first hand how video games are one of the most powerful, uniting and creative forces in popular culture around the entire world,” Geoff Keighley, creator and host of The Game Awards, wrote in a separate pair of tweets. “Today we should celebrate what games mean to us, and resolve to help others understand and appreciate the vital importance of this medium. When someone questions the role of video games in society I encourage you to respond with one simple question: ‘Have you played a video game? Tell me about your experience.’ Only then can the conversation continue.”
So, with all the research that’s out there, why does this view persist? According to Shannon Watts, the founder of the gun-reform advocacy group Moms Demand Action, videogames and media are easy targets. (One of those is already a frequent target of Trump.)
“I think it’s always been in the background,” Watts tells EW. “Every single time there is a shooting tragedy, the lawmakers who are beholden to the gun lobbies find something to blame gun violence on… Even back in the ’90s, people were blaming violent lyrics or movies, violent content, violent videogames. And it’s anecdotal, it’s more playing on emotion instead of focusing on the real reason, which we know is easy access to guns.”
Watts also calls out the NRA, specifically, for its hypocrisy when it comes to this topic. In 2018, the then-president of the NRA, Oliver North, called gun violence a “symptom” of “youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence.” However, North helped market Call of Duty: Black Ops II in 2012.
He can be seen saying in a promo for the first-person shooter below, “I don’t think the average American grasps how violent war is about to become. There is no longer a defined battle space. The enemy could be anywhere and it could be anyone. I don’t worry about a guy who wants to hijack a plane. I worry about the guy who wants to hijack all the planes.”
In 2013, the NRA released its own videogame, Practice Range, for free on smartphones and iPads, a month after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“There is NRA involvement in funding videogames or marketing guns in first-person shooter videogames,” Watts says. “So, it’s pretty cynical and hypocritical of them to point at videogames when they are heavily involved in the industry.”