Sandy Hook Shooting: Video Games Blamed, Again

It's natural in emotional times to search for answers, but there's no evidence that violent media leads to mass homicides

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Seth Wenig / AP

Jeanne Walker of Newtown walks through an overflowing memorial to the shooting victims in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 20, 2012.

Yesterday, Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced a bill calling on the National Academy of Sciences to “study” video game violence on children. Speaking of the recent Brown v. EMA Supreme Court decision, which criticized the existing research as inconsistent and methodologically flawed, Rockefeller stated, “Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it. They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue. This report will be a critical resource in this process.”

(MORE: Sandy Hook Shooting: Why Did Lanza Target a School?)

The Sandy Hook tragedy has torn our nation’s heart, probably more than any other crime I can remember. But by advertising the desired results before any study has even begun, Senator Rockefeller is in classic moral panic mode.

As a video game violence researcher and someone who has done scholarship on mass homicides, let me state very emphatically: There is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth. Our research lab recently published new prospective results with teens in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence indicating that exposure to video game violence neither increased aggressive behaviors, nor decreased prosocial behaviors. Whitney Gunter and Kevin Daly recently published a large study of children in Computers in Human Behavior which found video game violence effects to be inconsequential with other factors controlled. And as for the notion of that violent media “desensitizes” users, recent results published by my student Raul Ramos found that exposure to violence on screen had no influence on viewer empathy for victims of real violence. (A study published by Holly Bowen and Julia Spaniol in Applied Cognitive Psychology similarly found no evidence for a desensitization effect for video games.) Finally, a review of the literature by the Swedish government in 2012 has joined the U.S. Supreme Court and the Australian government in concluding that video game research is inconsistent at best and riddled with methodological flaws.

In fact, during the years in which video games soared in popularity, youth violence has declined to 40-year lows. And while it’s natural, in such an emotional time, for people to search desperately for answers, that often results in misinformation. In 2007, after the Virginia Tech Massacre, pundits such as Dr. Phil immediately blamed video games. Only later did the official investigation reveal that the perpetrator was not a violent game player after all. In the Sandy Hook case, after the shooter was misidentified as Adam Lanza’s brother Ryan, the Facebook page of the video game Mass Effect (which Ryan “liked” on his own Facebook page) was attacked by angry hordes.

(MORE: The Myth of Second Amendment Exceptionalism)

At this point, we don’t know much about Adam Lanza’s media use history. Given that, as researchers Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner note in their book Grand Theft Childhood, almost all young males play violent video games at least occasionally, it’s playing the odds to say Lanza did too. But that has all the predictive power of saying that he sometimes wore sneakers or ate breakfast. In their 2002 evaluation of school shooters, the U.S. Secret Service found no evidence to suggest that these perpetrators consume more media violence than anyone else.

Why then, when the evidence is so poor, do we always return to media to blame for societal ills? The notion that simply removing video games would make these events go away is as understandably tempting as it is nonsensical. After the 1999 Columbine massacre, the nation uselessly diverted itself into a decade’s worth of video game violence laws that were struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. Let us hope that Senator Rockefeller’s efforts do not distract us from the bigger tasks at hand: gun control and improving our mental health system.

MORE: Don’t Blame Batman for the Aurora Shooting

125 comments
kizi11com
kizi11com

Adult and kids alike are hooked to playing online games because aside from the fact that it is free to play, these games can be fun and challenging at he same time as well, helping anyone pass time away without the boredom. But a lot of people believed that a great alternative to playing online games is to buy a gaming console they can play at home every time they want to. There are actually few notable advantages online games have that make it a much better option than buying gaming console.

http://kizi11com.blogspot.com

toki2
toki2

always this ultimate debate : violence or education threw video games... The same problematic should be for TV's news or movie industrie, in my opinion. http://protein-gold.com/wow/

Why this only focus on MMO games ?

UDC
UDC

Can I just love all the comments for video games? 

jihadjoe123321
jihadjoe123321

Sure blame the guns...I can tell you that this sort of thing did not happen when I was amid, and guess what, everyone still had guns??? But we did not have violence in media to the extent we do today, also no social networking, no youtube, no xbox,orviolent games of ANY type... gee I wonder why there are so many shootings??????

averagejoepatriot
averagejoepatriot

Here's a quick note on the 2nd Amendment from an Average Joe;

Liberals have the hubris to claim; 'I may not agree with what you have to say but I'll defend to the death your right to say it'  And without the 2nd Amendment, just how would they do that??? Taking guns away from a responsible gun owner is like taking away your 1st Amendment because I don't like what your Krazy Neighbor has to say.  I've attempted to post a version of the following on a few blog sights only to have the (open minded) thought (/opinion) police deny it’s release???.  However, I am hopeful you may use it as a talking point amongst friends, neighbors and my fellow Americans. The simple truth is, this is not an attack on the 2nd Amendment; it's an attack on our U.S. Constitution.   Thank you for your time and consideration, I trust you'll enjoy the read; AJP.

Forward:~

As an American, a father, a husband, and a patriot I am horrified at the events of Newtown Connecticut. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and grief of the parents, friends, neighbors, spouses, sons, daughters and loved ones of those whose lives were tragically ended. Nor can I understand the reasoning of a 20 year old mad man who could look into the face of innocence and pull a trigger 20 plus times. However, I am equally horrified by those supposed pundits that now want to revoke or infringe upon the 2nd amendment rights of every law abiding citizen that had nothing to do with these senseless killings. I have to question the motives of those that want to act in a ‘Fast and Furious’ manner to stop the violence that has become so pervasive in our culture. The answer is not to revoke or infringe upon the 2nd Amendment but to establish it firmly for the common good. Just one shot from an armed teacher, principle or administrator could have stopped evil in its tracks. It is the only means that I know of that gives your 90 year old grandma equal parity with a thug that wants to rob her or cause her harm. We would do well to remember this. Indeed, I believe it’s why Wyatt Earp said, ‘an armed society is a polite society.’ And that is why our founding fathers gave us the second amendment, to protect and preserve the rights of the individual.

Have you ever wondered why the 2nd Amendment was not listed 3rd, 4th, or 7th? Just as our founding fathers gave us the 1st Amendment that protects ‘free speech’ and the right to ‘redress grievances’; they fashioned the 2nd Amendment juxtaposed to the 1st Amendment to preserve and protect that right. And anyone who would threaten the 2nd Amendment may just as well threaten the 1st, the 3rd, 4th, or the 7th. Moreover, any US Congress person who signs an international treaty banning the ownership of a handgun is in clear violation of their oath of office and unfit for duty as my elected representative. It is these same representatives that want you to ‘feel’ guilty about the acts of a mad-man, and not ‘think’ and ‘act’ like a real America by taking corrective action against evil when it confronts you face to face. And can we still claim we are the ‘land of the free’ because we are ‘the home of the brave’ (or do we cower at the first sign of violence and let the bad guys win)? I doubt many of our fellow citizens realize that the US Supreme Court has ruled that neither the police nor the local sheriff is legally obligated to protect them. Moreover, the denial of their 2nd Amendment right (as in Illinois) is a violation of US Code 42, Chapter 21, sub-chapter I, section 1983. And no, I’m not a ‘Gun Nutt’, I am Average Joe Patriot. Considering the average response time to a police emergency 911 call is about 10 minutes (and double in rural areas), and given the muzzle velocity of a .357 is about 1500 feet per second, I choose the latter to protect myself and safeguard my family.

Meanwhile, I have been waiting patiently for an indictment in the Fast and Furious case on behalf of Border Agent Brian Terry whose Civil Rights were violated knowing he will never cast another vote. And where is the apology to the private citizen who made a film about Muslims (under the protection of his 1st Amendment Rights)? Given the leadership of Eric Holder at DOJ and Mrs. Clinton at the State Dept. I won’t hold my breath. And to all my fellow citizens who willfully choose not to exercise their 2nd Amendment right, choose not to exercise your 1st Amendment Right either and shut the He!! Up!!! If you want to take my guns fine, repeal the 2nd Amendment, and take the 1st with it. It's called due process. Taking away my 2nd Amendment right to own and carry a gun is like me taking away your right to free speech because I don’t like what your Krazy neighbor has to say.

Yes bad things happen when Krazy people have access to and use a gun. However, where is the Media coverage when a responsible gun owner defends the life of another? Like the local store manager of the Kroger in Indiana who shot and killed a thug who threatened two people with a firearm the day after Christmas 2011. And what about Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) having unrestricted concealed carry permits? If the newspaper in NYC wants to publish the names of private citizens, how about equal time for our hypocritical politicians? Thus, I leave you with this question, what do you honestly think the story line would have been if an armed principle, teacher or administrator would have shot and killed the 20 year old mad man in Newtown, CT? Moreover, I think it’s sad that this twisted individual has become the de-facto ‘champion’ of the anti-gun lobby. Perhaps it’s time we all bend a knee, bow our heads, and say a silent prayer.

I welcome your thoughts, (even the intolerant ones) as I believe this is the course of dialogue the American people need to discuss.

Sincerely,

Average Joe Patriot

The purpose of fighting is to win.
There is no possible victory in defense.

The sword is more important than the shield,

and skill is more important than either.
The final weapon is the brain.
All else is supplemental.

P.S.

The ‘long gun’ at Newtown, CT was not an AR-15, (it was a shotgun) and was locked in the trunk!?  It was a shotgun.  

Heian
Heian

It also raises the question of, why are people who are so painfully out of touch in positions of authority? Laying blame just diverts from the issue as it exists.

17frenettes
17frenettes

guise... lisen 2 me i have somthin 2 s4y


drhorrible89
drhorrible89

violent video games produce violent criminals at roughly the same rate as Madden football produces professional football players. 

Anna888
Anna888

In 2008 there were 11 gun related deaths in Japan, while in the same year in the USA there were 11,000 - you think kids in Japan don't play video games?

DiogenesII
DiogenesII

From 2003-2008 I owned an internet café in Albany. A large part of my clientele was people who came in to play “lan games” over my network, and many of those games were first person shooters. These people were mainly male, but were in a wide age range from about 13 thru mid-forties. There were literally hundreds of these gamers and none of them committed any violent felonies, at least during the years when the café was open, or I would have heard about it. I had dozen of kids, and their parents, tell me that they felt the café was an important influence in keeping these kids out of trouble. When you’re sitting at a pc playing video games you can’t be running the streets looking for trouble.
To be honest I think our educational establishment has been foolishly resistant and unimaginative when it comes to making use of video game technology as a teaching tool. I had kids come in the my café who didn’t know which direction Boston was from Albany, but knew there way around the 3d World of Warcraft virtual world without even referencing a map.

ianbrettcooper
ianbrettcooper

Moral panics are not new - a century ago, people claimed that the radio was corrupting youth. 500 years ago, people were executed for translating the Bible from Latin into contemporary languages. Today it's video games. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".

FrancisL.Jairam
FrancisL.Jairam

If they decide to ban games a lot of people are going to get really pissed off. So they better not make a law saying that all people are prohibited from playing violent games.

Captiosus
Captiosus

26 years ago, as a Boy Scout, we had a group of scouts, including myself, who enjoyed pen-and-paper roleplaying games. The most well known of which, of course, was Dungeons and Dragons. Word got back to some of the other Scouts' parents that we were playing these games and a ridiculous controversy began. 

Some of the parents believed we were somehow paying homage to Satan by playing these games. They believed we were teaching all of the other Scouts (who never participated and were often off doing other activities) demon worship, violence, and sorcery. The "concerned" parents (some of whom actually pulled their Scouts out of the program without even investigating the situation) irrationally called for an outright ban on any kind of "paper" game even though that very ban would have included almost every board and card game in existence. They made these demands simply because they remembered news articles from years and years ago about what some crazy players had done. Neither side could prove any link between games of these types and any behavior changes, positive OR negative. This entire controversy lasted for two months, caused us to lose several quality Scouts, caused us to miss out on three camping trips, and ended up requiring intervention by the local council for resolution.

[Aside: I suppose it's a good thing those parents never found out we were also playing PARANOIA: The Role Playing Game. That would have sent them right off the deep end, I imagine.]

I type all this to simply point out some people think the "bogeyman" is in the shadows of everything. Before Atari and Nintendo, the bogeyman was Dungeons and Dragons. Before D&D, it was pinball. Before pinball, it was rock and roll. Before rock and roll, it was westerns. Before westerns, it was comic books and dime store novels. In NONE of these cases has anyone been able to establish a legitimate causative link between the stigmatized media and increased acts of violence, psychopathic/sociopathic behavior, or anti-social trends.

Antares
Antares

I´ve been playing video games for about 15 years and from what I´ve experienced the only thing that can link violence and video games is a momentarily frustration and rage from losing or dying in competitive game; same as a person were to play tennis, lose, frustrate and finally throw the racket away. But this is without a doubt a NORMAL response to losing in a competitive environment.

Entirely another thing is if video games cause a prolonged violent behaviour in a way that could have something to do with overall violent acts around the world. These mass shootings, although are becoming somewhat of a trend, are still very rare and extreme cases, but there doesn´t seem to be any correlation between video games and overall higher violence rates - infact as said, some studies show just the opposite. Many countries even have very low or non-existent murder or overall violence rates compared to the U.S. Yet, these countries like most nowadays, have around the same percentage of video game players as have the United States. Call me crazy but that fact alone in my view is enough of an evidence to conclude that video games do not cause any excess violence.

This video game issue or debate should not even exist, instead people should be talking about how we as parents raise our children and help to create a safe and positive environment for them. The real correlation between violence or at least in these mass shooting cases can be found in how we act as a society and treat each other. All of these mass shootings whether they happened in the U.S, Germany or Finland have the same type of person behind them; a bullied antisocial person, had experienced bad parenting and neglect. These things lead to huge problems with how a person sees himself and the world. Eventually leading to hatred towards other people and himself.

This is our real problem, not video games, music etc. Are we as parents and human beings too proud and blind to see that more than anything we should look into ourselves; what can I do to prevent our children and other people not gettting even close to the state of mind in which these acts are usually done.


Btw, sry for the poor english, not my native language.

Rosemary36
Rosemary36

Guns don't kill, people do is the favoutite phrase of the NRA.

How about: Guns don't kill, people with easy access to guns do.

And how many schools in the developed world, outside the USA, have a need for armed guards?

Rosemary36
Rosemary36

The USA needs to look at other countries. Most developed countries  have similar acess to violent video games. Few of them suffer the mass massacres that occue in the USA and few of them have similarly liberal gun laws.

LoHappa
LoHappa

So maybe when we track violence to videogames, we can track the epidemic obesity all the way to Pacman?

thanhqpham
thanhqpham

I'm an avid video game player and this article is desperate. If you read his student's study, his experiment demographics was 92% Hispanic, 6% White, 1% Black, 1% Asian. Hispanics are a lot more religious and morally conservative than other groups. There are also differences in family size and structure. Cultural differences are also a factor. Furthermore, there only 28% of his subjects were male. His violent TV material is even more laughable. He picked Law and Order: SVU, Once Upon a Time, and Bones. Their video game study had same demographics and the testing method was a survey.

Ferguson also references a 2002 study by the Secret Service (not a research institute) that uses data from the 90s. I'm not impressed.

ofEarth
ofEarth

Video games again, huh?

Not the crime dramas on TV?  Not movies that glorify war?  Not movies that glorify the drug trade?  Not movies that glorify violence in general?  Not "Gangsta Rap" that glorifies drugs and guns?  Not the media turning these shooters in to the anti-heroes so the next sociopath needs to one-up it? Nope...  it has to be video games

jjones7635
jjones7635

Oh my god, when is everyone going to learn!  There is no explanation for it.  People go crazy, and they kill people.  It has nothing to do with lack of god, too much god, not enough vitamins, too many violent video games or the fact that your dad didn't hug you.  People will always go crazy and you sycophantic parasites will always sit there trying to justify these actions in your little eggshell reality.  This is life, it's chaotic.  The more you try to control everything, the less control you will have.  The buddha says , "Chaos is inherent in all things, strive on with diligence."  I suggest more people learn to do that. 

aurelius160
aurelius160

The argument that there is no correlation to violent games, movies, etc... and violence can be countered by the amount of money that corporations spend every day to get people to buy every conceivable product.  Getting images in front of people works for them.

RichSmith
RichSmith

1940s - Old white people think that comic books are going to make children violent and out of control.

1950s - Old white people think that Rock music is going to make children violent and out of control.

1970s - Old white people think that violent movies are going to make children violent and out of control.

1980s - Old white people think that violent TV shows are going to make children violent and out of control.

1990s & 2000s - Old white people think that violent video games are going to make children violent and out of control.


Conclusion:  Old white people are a fearful bunch that have no idea how to relate to or control their children, are easily swayed to a theory that has no scientific backing if it plays well enough on their fears, and will always have a desperate need for something to blame random meaningless violence on because they can't accept that some people are just damaged goods.  They see a situation they could not have prevented and cannot predict or prevent in the future and this makes them feel powerless, so to assuage their fears and feelings of insignificance they jump onto a bandwagon vilifying something they don't understand or relate to because it makes them feel better, as if they were now part of the solution.  These are people that are willing to barter their and your freedom to expression away for a perception of safety because they are afraid to confront the larger issues at hand as those issues relate to themselves.  While ultimately well meaning, we cannot allow the fearful to dictate social and legal policy based on fear.  If we do, we will be inviting those with questionable motives to decided for us how we will be able to live our lives, and that is absolutely unacceptable.


Angelmichu
Angelmichu

I hate how every time that mass murders happen they blame video games. As if prior to the existence of video games, mass murders, wars, and violence never existed. Video games have been around for about 20 yrs... humanity and its violence for THOUSANDS of years. Yet apparently video games are to blame. If anything video games are violent because humans are violent and they created the games. 

ALH
ALH

Readers, PLEASE read this article on the myths surrounding violent video games and aggression by the American Psychological Association, the premier scholarly organization on psychological illness:  http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2003/10/anderson.aspx .  PLEASE do your own research and read the facts on this issue!!

ALH
ALH

Readers, PLEASE read the article here by Dr. Brad Bushman, just one of many credible, scholarly researchers who have found incontrvertilbe links between violent media exposure and aggression:  http://www.ithp.org/articles/violentvideogames.html .  There are over 130 studies directly contradicting what this author is claiming.  Please do your own research on this! 

CTConsultant
CTConsultant

Just because you do not know of a specific connection between Sandy Hook and violent video games, does not mean that one does not exist. Speak to an FBI agent who knows the details of the shooting. I live in Connecticut and am close enough to an FBI agent that he said to me, "I can't tell you hardly anything, the public will never know the full gruesomeness, but I know all of the details, minute by minute. What I will tell you is: do not let your children play violent video games." He told me, with tears in his eyes, what he could, and the implication was that the "how" of how he killed the children was indicative of the effect video games had had. It was not a matter of judgement. Adam Lanza was trying to live out something that had been sensationalized to him. How could things so violent, and so immersive not affect a young persons brain? Why are we trying to protect violent video games? What is so great about them? What value is there in them that we cannot live without? I do not understand.

AugustaPcRepair
AugustaPcRepair

I was an on line gamer for a long time. I quit on line gaming due to the "crowd" I seen every night. 80% are very hateful, they lack respect, and they will hurt anyone verbally anyway possible. Sitting behind a computer screen there worst comes out in all forms, including racist comments. Completely un-believable. One server Admin banned a player for a cheat, player went to site to post an appeal, his appeal was "you don't know me, you don't know what I can do, protect your kids and family because I will be coming them and you". This  personal direct threat was posted for all to see, all over a GAME! So a mentally un-stable person playing violent games, oh yes there can be a big problem. My own opinion.

DrumberBoy69
DrumberBoy69

@AndrewAllen @DrSpeech Wow. Haha! You just got told! I love it when someone who clearly has no knowledge of the subject matter tries to argue with someone who clearly does. It's hilarious! =D Over 67% of US households play video games with the average age of a gamer being 34 years old. It not something geeky teenagers do in their basement. Gamers from all over the world play the same games and converse in the same online communities, yet we're the only country that seems to have this problem. In fact, Japanese and Chinese culture has even more violent video games and media than we do and we don't see them doing these things. Youth violence has actually decreased drastically over the years while the popularity of video games has risen. Blaming video games for violence is as silly blaming a sock for the weather. Do your research silly goose! =P

tanstaafl
tanstaafl

It's nice to hear from an associate professor at Texas A&M International University, a former community college in Laredo.  In a 2009 study in Applied Developmental Science, researchers affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital found that violent video games increased the likelihood of bullying and physical fights among teens. A 2012 study by researchers at Oklahoma State University found that players of violent video games increased their accuracy in shooting real guns, including a 99% improvement when aiming at a human targets head. A 2013 (forthcoming) study by four researchers including one from Ohio State University in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology begins "It is well established that violent video games increase aggression" and demonstrates this fact with a controlled experiment.  A 2010 meta analysis in Psychological Bulletin found a positive and statistically significant relationship between violent video game playing and aggression.

There are many causes of violent behavior, so it is not inconsistent that violent crimes can fall while violent video game use increases.  The decline in violence over the past 40 years is sometimes attributed the removal of lead from paint and gasoline (really); how much further would violent crime had fallen if these violent video games has not become widespread?

It is disappointing that a professor acts as an advocate for a viewpoint that is far from settled in academia as though there is no dissent.  For a less biased view, please read chapter 20 of the Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology (portions of which can be read online).

nowak.loren
nowak.loren

Our introduction to violence has been a slow, steady progress.  Last night we watched an old episode of Colombo on the tube.  And I remember watching Perry Mason episodes with my mom, "back in the day".  They were called murder mysteries.  And YES, someone got killed but we never saw the awful graphics of the actual murder as we now do on TV.  Eventually the "good guys" figured it out and the "perps" went to jail.

What I'm trying to say here is that there has always been violence, murders, killings in the heat of passion or for stranger other reasons.

BUT....there was no need to graphically envision the actual violence.  That part was left to the imagination and (fortunately) it quickly disappear4ed from our minds.  What was left was the cerebral process of solving the crime.  

Today, NOTHING is left to the imagination in the movies or on TV.  Plus we have video games that make it very easy to remain totally aloof while our avatars do despicable things to our "opponents".

Yes, I think it is time to remove these outlets from our community.

All we want to do (you and I), if you're anything like me is to just live our lives, raise our families in comfort and safety.  That's it.  We no longer need this kind of "pretend" violence in our lives.

hwangchung1
hwangchung1

It's simple numbers, people.  A larger percentage of people play video games than ever before, near 200 million in the US alone, and yet violent crimes are at their lowest point since the mid-'70s.  If video games were the culprit, those numbers should be the exact opposite.

I would counter that the 24/7 news coverage delving into every nook and cranny of the killer's life turns them into overnight superstars, and creates a sense of oneupmanship for each subsequent mass murderer.  "How can I top killing a bunch of people in a theater?"  Well, this kid found the answer, and now people around the entire world know his name and his face.

It's not video games.  It's not TV shows.  It's not movies.  It's not fast food.  It's not religion or politics.  It's crazy.  People that messed up in the head will always exist, and there will be more truly horrific scenes that play out like this in the future.  I understand the need to try and find the rationality behind an event like this, but it'll never happen because by it's very definition insanity is the lack of rationality.

JakeTheZombie
JakeTheZombie

it's as simple as this

Believing violent media is to blame = ignorance mixed with arrogance 

AndrewAllen
AndrewAllen

The problem here is that you just don't get it. Of course every one who plays these violent video games does not become violent or capable of mass killings. BUT in every case the ones who do these type of crimes DO play violent video games! They practice their strategy, get ideas.  They use them as a training tool. 

Some may argue that the people being killed in these games are the bad guys. Well in the mind of the shooters the ones 'we' see as the "good guys" ARE the bad guys.