There is one rogue scientist out there, roaming from media outlet to media outlet, who has performed his own studies on violent video games and has concluded that they don’t cause violent tendencies. He has been very vocal about his findings in the media, and has confused and befuddled the national conversation about the link between video games and violence. His name is Christopher Ferguson and it is easy to find his name linked to almost every study ever performed on such games in which the outcome shows no link between playing them and actual violent behavior. The fact is, violent video games have been studied over many years; there have been meta-analysis performed on those studies, and violent video games have been proven to be causal in violent behavior in some people, specifically people like the Washington Naval Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis. The Navy Yard shooting was caused, in part, by violent video games.
Because this is a controversial subject (thanks to Christopher Ferguson,) it is important to examine the facts about the vast body of data which proves causation between violent video games and violent behavior. First, there have been thousands of studies conducted on violent video games which show a causal link between violent video games and aggression. The “evidence” that proves otherwise is scant at best. Every major medical and psychological association has issued a statement to this end. For example, The American Academy of Family Physicians states:
That media violence leads to increased actual violence has been borne out by a massive body of literature. More than 1000 lab experiments, cross-sectional analyses, longitudinal studies, and epidemiologic studies support this hypothesis, as do meta-analyses… Media violence has also been shown to desensitize humans to violence… fear and a feeling of victimizatiom.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states:
Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.
There are at least five other similar statements that have been issued by major, respected medical and psychological associations that say violent video games can directly cause violent behavior. They do not say that there is only a correlation; they say that there is absolute causation.
Why do people deny that violent video games cause aggression?
If all major medical and psychological associations are convinced by a “massive body” of studies that prove such causation, why do people continue to deny it? Well, it turns out that the psychologists have, for the most part, now stopped examining whether violent video games cause violence and are now focused on why people deny their violent effects. The American Psychological Association says it is because people have linked their own identities to the video games, and looking negatively upon video games would be like looking negatively upon themselves.
Another reason people have so much trouble accepting the facts is because they turn to anecdotal evidence instead of science to explain the relationship between video games and themselves, often saying, “I play a lot of violent video games and I am not violent, therefore, violent video games do not cause violence.” Unfortunately, they don’t realize that a statement like that is similar to saying “I smoke and I don’t have lung cancer, therefore, cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer.”
Violent video game deniers share many characteristics with global warming deniers and evolution deniers. They look away from the large, established bodies of evidence and toward anecdotal or fringe evidence to solidify their belief systems.
Not only can violent video games cause violence in mentally stable, healthy people; they are particularly dangerous when they get into the hands of people who are actively mentally ill or who have a propensity toward mental illness. Where a shooter might otherwise have refrained from shooting, playing hours and hours of violent video games as did the Washington Navy Yard shooter could propel them to commit a heinous act. Studies support this and have shown that violent video games in the hands of a mentally ill person can create a “perfect storm” of danger.
Aaron Alexis was mentally ill and addicted to violent video games
In the case of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Aaron Alexis was known to be addicted to violent video games. Friends of Alexis describe his sitting on front of violent shooting games for hours and hours at a stretch. Now it has emerged that Alexis also had a history of mental illness. Studies show a direct causal link between violent video games and aggression, especially among mentally ill people, but yet, the media had immediately jumped on the “violent video games didn’t cause the Washington Navy Yard shooting” bandwagon.
One of the causes of this media bias is that video games and technology companies are frequent advertisers of many major newspapers. These video game companies also conduct and publish their own studies, similar to the way tobacco companies have published many studies showing that cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. Not wanting to lose advertising dollars greatly informs the media coverage on this issue, and that is why so many articles come out which point to these fringe studies and the studies done by Christopher Ferguson.
Examining the evidence and the wealth of data available on violent video games makes it abundantly clear that the Washington Navy Yard shooting was caused by Aaron Alexis’ addiction to violent video games in combination with his mental illness. Had Alexis not ever played a violent video game the shooting most likely would not have occurred.
We need to talk about direct causation
Being able to establish direct causation in this way, and discussing it openly in society, is the only way to combat further shootings like the one at the Washington Navy Yard. But the constant pushback from the video games companies, Christopher Ferguson and the dollar-fueled media makes it very difficult to establish a reasonable, informed conversation. Video game proponents never show huge meta-analysis studies that prove their position because there are none available. Instead, they resort to ad hominem attacks on the observer in order to corral the focus away from the scientific evidence and toward a gang mentality of attack. Not surprising since they are generally addicted to the violent games as well.
The Washington Navy Yard shooting was caused by a combination of violent video games and mental illness, which studies show create a perfect storm of extreme danger. When is our society going to look toward science and do something about it?
By: Rebecca Savastio