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

116 comments
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!!

MrBCDummy
MrBCDummy

@jihadjoe123321 yep you had nooooo violence yeah I agree guns aren't to blame but neither is media

Paco
Paco

@jihadjoe123321 Anyone who is crazy enough to kill an school full of elementary school students had a lot more problems than just violent video games. About 80 percent of male teenagers at my high school play violent video games and guess what? None of them have brought a gun to school and massacred us all! I know it's crazy! How could someone separate playing a video game where they shoot computer NPCs from real people that they interact with every day?! You sir are what is wrong with america today. You're scared of what's going on so you blame it on Call of Duty. I'll see you later Obama voter! I'm gonna go sit on my couch and kill Taliban. Hopefully that doesn't influence me to go massacre some people.


UDC
UDC

@jihadjoe123321 Your comment makes no sense whatsoever. Amid means surrounded by, or in the middle of. So when you were surrounded by... Surrounded by what? Learn how to space. I would really take this comment more seriously if you did learn to type and structure your comments better. 

us89na
us89na

@Anna888 You clearly missed the part of the article that pointed out that "in fact, during the years in which video games soared in popularity, youth violence has declined to 40-year lows."

The rate of gun murders in the US among population similar in culture, education, and income to Japan's rather homogeneous population is similar to that in Japan.  The difference is that the US has diversity and all its accompanying bad consequences.

Avalongod
Avalongod

@HaydenJo the AAP has had a lot of credibility problems on this issue given their history of extreme statements and blatant citation bias. Freedman (2002) has fact checked some of their past false claims and there is an article in press with the apa journal American Psychologist that deals with some of the problematic AAP statements. They have little credibility on this issue.

Rosemary36
Rosemary36

@Captiosus I agree that the trigger is not video games. However I do believe that for some people, exposure to violence in films, TV and video games results in a dangerous level of desensitisation to causing hurt to others or even killing them. Those countries like Australia which have very strong gun laws - you have to extablish a need to have a gun (which may be because you want to belong to a gun club and shoot competitively, live in a rural area and want to shoot rabbits, or whatever) - require the licence to be renewed annually, the guns to be safely secured when not in use (to try to eliminate theft and thence unlicensed possession) and, if a person is the subject of a domestic violence order, the licence is revoked and the weapons are seized. Fewere deaths per capita through use of a firearm occur in such countries and since the massacre in Port Arthur, Tasmania in 1996 - which resulted in a massive gun buy-back and much more stringent gun laws and licensing conditions - we have not experienced another mass shooting.

bars421
bars421

Ive had access to guns for 44 yrs and never once have I want to get one and go kill a school full of kids or anyone else...

rhb440
rhb440

Sociopaths that gain illegal access to guns......and anything else that can be turned into a weapon.....kill people. Quit demonizing the millions of law abiding citizens that enjoy guns. THEY didn't kill all those innocent little kids at Sandy Hook. They cry just as much as YOU do about it.....

Avalongod
Avalongod

As you'll see in the study, the shows were picked to approximate the non-violent shows on variables other than violence.  Not doing this was a big mistake of many previous studies.  Many scholars have said "violence is violence" (which came back to bite them during Brown v EMA).  For all your comments on Hispanics I have yet to see any researcher claim that media effects are not supposed to pertain to Hispanics.  Or is research only valid when the samples are Caucasian majority? 

Avalongod
Avalongod

You are making an apples and oranges "nonsense" comparison.  Advertising is very different from fictional media in both content and purpose.  Advertising claims (falsely often, sure) to be "fact" where as fictional media does not.  And advertising needs only to get you to say, switch from Pepsi to Coke.  What we're talking about with video games is getting someone to go out and shoot kids.  Very different outcomes. 

us89na
us89na

@RichSmith You're fashionably racist, and I bet all your cool friends love how even though you're white you bash old white people all up and down.

PS - your parents are two old white people who clearly did a crap job of raising a self-hating tool of a son.

EliteHunter
EliteHunter

@Paco @jihadjoe123321 
I don't understand what this has to do with voting for Obama, he's currently funding research on effects of video games and refusing to ban them.

ianbrettcooper
ianbrettcooper

The AAP has a lot of credibility issues on a lot of issues. They lost their ethical compass a long time ago. I think it's quite sad that an organization that exists to protect children still supports procedures such as circumcision, which has been known for over 60 years to be harmful.

aurelius160
aurelius160

@Avalongod   I don't think it is a "nonsense" comparison, advertising uses knowledge of human psychology to manipulate viewers.   These games use the same type of knowledge of human psychology to keep people playing.   The effects (desensitization to violence) will be disputed by those with financial interests (just like smoking).

jjones7635
jjones7635

@Jasjm Sooo, because you just proved him wrong that means the Crusades were started because of violent video games.  You know what, you're right.  I seem to remember Hitler playing some pretty crazy video games back in 1934. 

Avalongod
Avalongod

Well it's being disputed by academics with no financial interest in the matter as well.  I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree otherwise.  Just because one kind of media has some (small) influence on us, doesn't mean a totally different form of media can have a (huge) influence on us.

Jasjm
Jasjm

@jjones7635 @Jasjm What? Did you click on the first link? I am defending video games.