Once again politicians are claiming video games are a cause of mass shootings. In doing so, they are making an argument that dates back at least to Plato. In the Republic, Plato argues that exposure to certain types of art can have a corrupting effect on people, making them more likely to engage in wrongful behavior in real life. While Plato focused mainly on the corrupting influence of tragedy (which could, he contended, cause people to fall victim to inappropriate sadness) he also discussed the corrupting influence of fictional violence. As he saw it, exposure to fake violence could cause a person to be more inclined to engage in real violence. Plato’s solution to the threat presented by such art was to ban it from his ideal city.
This argument is not without appeal—people are influenced by their experiences and it certainly makes sense that repeated exposure to fictional violence could impact how a person feels and thinks. It also makes sense that exposure to non-fiction, such as hateful speech, writings and tweets could influence a person in negative ways. The critical question is whether the influence of video games can be a causal factor in a person engaging in violence, especially a mass shooting.
Determining whether video games are a causal factor in mass shootings involves assessing causation in a population. The challenge is showing whether there would be more mass shootings in a population if everyone played video games than if no one did. If there is a statistically significant difference, then video games can be rationally said to have a causal influence on violent behavior. So, let us consider this matter.
If video games were a statistically significant causal factor for mass shootings, then we would expect to see the number of mass shootings varying with the number of video game players in a country. While the United States is a leader in both video game revenues and mass shootings, other countries also have large populations of gamers, yet do not have a corresponding level of mass shootings. As such, video games would not seem to be a significant causal factor. To use an analogy, if it were claimed that smoking caused cancer in the United States, yet other countries had large populations of smokers with little or no cancer, one would suspect that smoking did not really cause cancer.
This does not prove that video games are not a factor—it could be that video games combined with other factors do cause mass shootings. In this case, we would need to look at the differences between the United States and other countries to see what factors combine with video games to cause mass shootings. This does suffice, however, to show that video games are not the primary driver of mass shootings. Now, suppose that video games do have a role to play in causing mass shootings. The question that now arises is the extent to which they cause the shootings.
About 67% of Americans play video games of one form or another. But the concern is not with video games in general but with violent video games like Call of Duty and Fortnite. While most Americans do not play these games, millions of Americans do. The overwhelming majority of people who play these games never become mass shooters. As such, if violent video games do have causal influence, it must be incredibly limited—otherwise mass shootings would be more common. This does not, of course, prove that violent video games do not have a causal influence—but it does show that there must be other factors in play. As such, it is an error to claim that video games are a primary cause of mass shootings. But perhaps a case can still be made for it being a factor.
Some politicians have tried to make use of the method of difference to argue that video games are causing mass shootings. This method involves comparing cases in which an effect has occurred to similar cases in which the effect did not occur and finding a plausible difference that could be the cause. This method is certainly reasonable to use but must be used with due care to avoid falling into error. The gist of the argument is to conclude that violent video games cause mass shootings because mass shootings increased when violent video games were created.
While it is true that the number of mass shootings does correlate with the number of violent video games available (both have increased over the years), correlation is not causation. After all, the number of tech startups has also increased, yet it would be absurd to conclude that they are causing mass shootings. To simply assert that since mass shootings increased as more violent video games appeared would be to commit the cum hoc fallacy—that because two things correlate, there must be a causal connection. This does not entail that violent video games do not play a role, but more is needed than mere correlation. As argued above, there seems to be no significant causal connection between violent video games and mass shootings; they merely happen to correlate as do many other things.
While blaming video games has political value, it does nothing to address the problem of mass shooting since there seems to be no meaningful causal connection between real violence and video games.
I am inclined to agree, although I’d also say that imaginary dogs are also not a cause – yet Son of Sam would make me wrong, wouldn’t it? I realize that David Berkowitz was more of a serial killer than a mass murderer, but I’m sure you get the point.
As a racist white supremacist myself, I am inclined to believe it’s Donald Trump. After all, I didn’t have to wait for NBC News to tell me that when Trump orders flags to be at half-staff, that’s a signal to all of us because “8/8” means “H/H” or “Heil Hitler”. Message received, and we are mobilizing.
I don’t think that inanimate objects are the root cause of anything – not video games, not movies, not guns, not anything. A gun in the hands of a normal, reasonably well-adjusted person is not an issue.
You can have millions of people playing video games, but there could be one anti-social guy who sits in his mom’s basement and doesn’t come out – who won’t even leave the console to use the bathroom, who is so disconnected from anything even remotely resembling normal social interaction – and this society is stupid enough to conclude that if he were to go on a shooting rampage, it’s the fault of the video game.
You can look at every single mass shooting over the last five decades, and the obvious common denominator is that these people are isolated sociopaths. They produce manifestos, their behavior is regarded as “off”, they hate their mothers or their fathers, they have been abused, or they are aligned with some political faction that wants to destroy infidels. They listen to voices. They live in fantasy worlds that tell them that they are going to make a difference. They are irrational and sick.
It’s the gun. Or it’s the video game.
I heard a comment today on the radio that makes so much sense – that when the country has been worked up into an emotionally charged state, when we are in the middle of trying to work through a tragedy or tragedies like the ones that just recently transpired, it is absolutely not the time to pass legislation that will have a long-term impact on how we live, and yet, that’s how we roll.
It is amazing to me – but not nearly as amazing as it is disgraceful, how so many politicians are rushing to exploit this tragedy to further their agenda – and without a real agenda, so many are using it to just further disparage the president in the most absurd and ridiculous fashion.
“8/8” is a signal to White Supremacists as a nod to Hitler? Really? And this wasn’t on some fringe web site, it was on the national news on a major network!
Ivanka Trump sent out a few tweets that were very compassionate – urging us not to let a major event like the mass shootings allow us to take our eyes off of every day violence, reminding us that there were many violent deaths in Chicago during the same period of time. She called it a “playground” instead of a park, though, and maybe got the count wrong – and the Mayor of Chicago had a field day with her. (Meanwhile, Joe Biden gets a pass, even when he got the names of the towns of the mass shootings wrong).
This is not helpful.
This country is full of hate. It’s in the news every day, it gets worse and worse. Hate drives the news, it drives commentary, it drives speeches – it drives Facebook and Google and everything else. Hate causes the calculated, purposeful mis-representation of people’s words, hate prevents people from thinking clearly themselves.
But the hate does not come from Trump. It does not come from “White Supremacists”. It does not come from racists. It comes from the Left. Every word that comes from Trump’s mouth is twisted and re-phrased or cherry-picked or somehow misinterpreted to demonstrate the narrative that the Left wants us all to believe, because they know that the ridiculous far-left agenda being debated by the Democrat candidates will never fly with America without that “special sauce” they are so bent on cooking up.
Anyway – mass shootings are a very complex problem, and every one of them has its own underpinnings and its own nuance. Video games? Certainly not a common denominator or a root cause. If anything, excessive play and allowing that kind of behavior to be the central focus of one’s life can contribute to social anxiety, alienation, depression, anger – but read that carefully – the contribution is not the game, it’s the person that’s playing.
I don’t think that inanimate objects are the root cause of anything – not video games, not movies, not guns, not anything. A gun in the hands of a normal, reasonably well-adjusted person is not an issue.
I think you’re mixing things up here a bit. A gun is without a doubt an inanimate object. For it to do anything it must be manipulated by a human being. Video games and movies are, by nature, animated. They are the act of manipulation. They are both capable of expressing and communicating values, for better or for worse. Not that any of it should be banned but in this context it would make more sense to hold video games and movies, and books as well would be included (of course the go-to example being Mein Kampf but Das Kapital or the Unabomber Manifesto or whatever qualify) more so than a hunk of metal.
Herb Wills says
And yet, Plato seems unconcerned that, by his own argument, his writings would encourage the arrest, conviction, and execution of philosophers.
Michael LaBossiere says
Perhaps he was hoping to clear out some of the competition to Plato’s Academy, Inc.?
I suspect these guys just need to get laid. Redistribute sex.
There used to be a “reality” show on TV (maybe it’s still on …) called “Fear Factor”. I always thought it was interesting, and enjoyed watching the challenges these people had to take on – until, that is, they had to eat from pails of bloody guts, or handfuls of crawly disgusting insects. That’s when I turned it off – I couldn’t stomach it. I literally wanted to barf.
Why do I bring this up? Because that’s the way I feel about the news these days. Seriously. It’s not news anymore, it’s “Can you top this?” with the most ridiculous, inane, and downright bizarre accusation levied against Trump.
It goes way, way beyond whether or not one is a “Trump Supporter” or not.
(This in itself is something I’ve never really been able to stomach either. Aren’t we all supposed to be educated, independent thinkers? Aren’t we supposed to say “Yes, I support the tax cuts, but I’ll take a “wait and see” on the tariffs … he’s mostly right on immigration but there are some problems he’s not addressing … etc, etc. Not today. We’re either totally against him, in favor of impeachment, beheading, prison, and complete erasure from history, or we are ourselves White Supremacist Racists. I’m starting to identify as the latter – it’s easier than fighting it – but I’m not sure of what my pronoun should be. Can we not have our own version of a “line-item veto”?).
Like the examples I mentioned in my earlier post, this has gotten to the point where it is completely absurd, totally ridiculous. There is absolutely nothing this man can say in any context – no matter how carefully scripted, no matter if it was vetted by a hundred speechwriters and read verbatim off a teleprompter – that it will not be picked up, twisted around, and slammed by everyone and their brother.
All anyone has to do is read the transcripts of the comments by Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and others in the aftermath of these latest shootings to see that every single Democrat was falling all over themselves and each other, trying to beat the competition in blaming Trump, calling out his “White Supremacist Hate Speech”, or criticizing his reaction but in every case, politicizing the event to what they thought would be their advantage. And the really depressing part of it is that every one of the comments was based on a lie – or at least a contortion of the truth; based on something that someone said he said, or something he did say that was taken out of context … but that half of America just believes.
“”What do you think? You know the s*** he’s been saying,” O’Rouke said. “He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the f***?”
Nice. Very presidential. But the fact is – here’s what he really did say:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people.
It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably— probably— from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.”
I think anyone who has half a brain – or one that is not clouded with “Trump Derangement Syndrome” can easily understand that Trump is saying that our border protection is severely lacking, and we do not have the competence to tell the good guys from the bad guys – and that it isn’t just Mexico – it’s all of South America and possibly the Middle East as well. We do not know what is happening!
Beto O’Rourke does not have the wherewithal to even try to understand what is at issue – it’s far easier to just jump on that racist bandwagon …
“I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country. He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country. So, uhm, you know, I just-I don’t know what kind of question that is.”
O’Rourke and others would like us to believe – and have met with considerable success in this – that Trump never acknowledged that he believes that there are good people among the immigrants, that he does not believe there is such a thing as a brown person of any merit.
I’d really like to read his position paper on that one – complete with references and citations. What is truly depressing to me is that so many people in this country – so many people that i know personally – will buy this crap right out of whole cloth, without bothering to read a paragraph or even a sentence themselves.
Biden launched his campaign with this one:
““That’s when we heard the words from the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation, that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” [Trump] “assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. We are in a battle for the soul of the nation.”
Except that that’s not what happened at all. Not even close. And the worst part of it is that Biden knows damn well that it’s not, but has chosen to jump on the bandwagon himself and himself stoke the flames of hate with lies and misinformation.
For what it’s worth (and I know you know this), Here’s what Trump actually said:
“”You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. … I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name. … So you know what, it’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. And you had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the White nationalists, because they should be condemned totally — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and White nationalists. Okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people. But you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group.”
Meaning what? Meaning that there were many people participating in the debate about removing Confederate statues, including noted historians who study the history of the United States, historians who study military strategies, historians who study the cultural history of the US and the world, and art historians who study statuary and the sociology of art –
Meaning that this is an important debate to be having, and that well, there are some fine people on both sides.
But he specifically called out the neo-Nazis and the White Nationalists – saying specifically that they should be condemned totally.
But that doesn’t matter to Joe Biden. It doesn’t matter to the rest of the Democrat field, and it certainly doesn’t matter to the “Never Trumper” American public. “Willful Ignorance” is way, way too soft a term for what’s going on here.
Is it at all possible for Biden or others to be made to sit in a room with a camera on them, be read the actual quotes, be shown the actual videotape, and be required to answer for their own inane statements?
I have been a frequent critic of this blog – but always (I hope) on its intellectual merit. My frustration always emerges when Mike abandons his education and training in forensics, in logic, in debate, in exchange for parroting talking points that are rooted in emotion, assumption, and the citation of opinion as fact. But sadly, I completely understand.
In a larger sense, this country was founded on intellectual debate and compromise. A look at the Federalist papers is a glimpse as to the extent of the education of Madison, Hamilton, and Jay. Many of these people were not friends – some hated each other – but the debate was always civil, always impersonal, always deeply rooted in classic and contemporary philosophy.
That was the hope, I suppose, in the authoring of the Constitution – that they were establishing the ground rules and underpinnings of this country, and that they had faith that the debate would continue. They knew they themselves were flawed – especially with regard to that “peculiar institution” of slavery. But students of American history know that this issue was hotly debated and ultimately tabled with the understanding that it was not going to be solved by them, and that they had to compromise in order to establish the government of the country with all of its merits, flawed that it might be.
So this blog is not untypical of what has become the level of emotion-based tribalism in this country. It’s very difficult to escape it, and it’s what so many around here expect to hear when they think of “political philosophy”. The thought of independent thought is not only too hard, it simply does not exist anymore.
I had always considered that perhaps the lowest point in the history of American government came in 1856, when Charles Sumner (a Massachusetts abolitionist) was beaten nearly to death by Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery representative from South Carolina.
“In May, 1856 (after the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas), Sumner delivered an impassioned speech denouncing the sequential compromises that perpetuated slavery in this country and attacking three of the southern representatives by name who supported these compromises. His tone was at times mocking – and in particular, he said that Andrew Pickens Butler of South Carolina (who had recently suffered a stroke), “had taken as his mistress that harlot, slavery.”
And so another South Carolina representative, Preston Brooks, (who happened to be Butler’s nephew) decided that Sumner had violated some sort of code, and should be challenged to a duel of honor. But he further decided that because Butler was not present during the speech, Sumner was not worthy of the honor of a duel. The following day, Brooks sought out Sumner; found him in the Senate chamber, and began to beat him mercilessly with a cane. Sumner was helpless – unable to get his long legs out from under the desk (which was bolted to the floor), and Brooks continued to beat him and beat him. Sumner finally was able to break the desk free, and staggered down the aisle of the Senate – but Brooks followed him – breaking the cane over his head but continuing the beating with the splintered piece remaining in his hand.
The House tried to expel Brooks, but shockingly, could not amass the votes in order to do so. He was fined $300 – the equivalent of about $2,000 today – and ultimately resigned and went home to a hero’s welcome. Supporters sent him new canes. And he was re-elected in the next cycle.
The physical and psychological injuries suffered by Sumner kept him away from the Senate for most of the next several years. He was re-elected, and the people of Massachusetts were satisfied to let his seat remain vacant as a reminder of Southern brutality.
So like I said, I used to consider this to be the low point – but we have sunk far lower. Today It’s not just one Representative – it’s the entire Democrat majority. And while Preston Brooks decided to take a hotly debated political issue attack a human being personally for it (which is deplorable enough), today the entire Democrat majority in the House and the minority in the Senate are in lock-step, making every single political issue a cause for personal attacks. Can anyone you know engage in an intelligent, informed discussion about the differences in policy proposed by Bernie Sanders versus Joe Biden, versus Elizabeth Warren or any of the others? All we know (without looking, that is) is that they all support a far-left agenda, but they all agree that Trump is a racist and they hate him.
And just like Preston Brooks, who arrived home to South Carolina to cheers and a hero’s welcome for his despicable cowardly acts, so do these Democrats return to their constituents.
Four years after this caning, of course, South Carolina led the south in seceding from the country, and we spent the next four years killing each other in one of the bloodiest, most costly wars in American History. And we have learned nothing.
I can’t imagine a war like that – or any kind of civil war – breaking out in this country, but this will come to a head, and probably a lot sooner than four years.
Next year’s election will be a dangerous time here. The level of hatred that the Left has fomented easily equals what I understand the level of the 1850’s to have been. Trump is not innocent by any stretch – I’d really like to see what would happen if he let all the vitriol and lies roll of his back and demonstrated a simple focus on governing – but that’s just not his style. So he tweets and accuses, and people take sides and the hatred just grows and grows.
My biggest disappointment, my biggest disgust, my biggest fear – is that so many Americans are forming their opinions based on all this emotion and all these lies – they are buying it hook, line, and sinker. Families and friendships are being broken up as a result. And it’s not the opinions that are being held, it is the passion with which they are held – passion that is completely untrammeled by even a modicum of independent thought or research.
I do believe that we, as a nation, are doomed. I’ve been called out here for not standing up for my beliefs, for fearing for my job over standing for my ideologies and I get that. But at the same time, I am afraid we are well beyond any kind of intellectual debate; this is a mob – and one being led by our leaders. I never ever thought I’d say it, but although I disagree wholeheartedly with her ideology (and I think that she is a criminal …), it seems that the lone voice of reason in the Democrat House is Nancy Pelosi. If that’s not a harbinger of doom, I don’t know what is.
Agreed. No link between video games and violent outbursts of any kind has come anywhere close to being shown.
This is just a distraction talking point, not worthy of consideration.
So you are 100% confident that a video game (or possibly a movie? or a speech?) cannot possibly provide any motivation whatsoever for a person to commit a violent act? So if a video game where the objective was to hunt and kill Jews or Blacks or Whites or Muslims or Guys Wearing Porkpie Hats, this would not in any way whatsoever result in more violence towards Jews or Blacks or Whites or Muslims or Guys Wearing Porkpie Hats? Such a video game (or movie?) would have zero dehumanizing effect among those playing the game? Of course it is entirely possible that the players of such games might have prior motivations driven by hate against those groups to play such games or even possibly such games could give them the release such that they don’t actually go out and do such things. But no one would become more motivated? No one? Or is it possible that some players develop less reason, some develop more but it all washes out statistically? I really wouldn’t know. But to say that “No link between video games and violent outbursts of any kind has come anywhere close to being shown”, I’d really like to see the methodology of all those studies.
Now to be clear, I believe the individual to be personally held accountable is the person committing the crime. I do not in any way condone restrictions on video games or movies any more than speech. Mostly because I believe that the hypothetical restrictions on speech would result in far worse problems down the road. I do feel that the makers of such games/movies/books are morally responsible. But I don’t believe morality falls within the domain of the law. What I find disturbing is that in our current environment, this belief in outside influences on violent behavior is turned on and off where politically convenient.
I’m pretty comfortable, yup.
The day some not-trash research is published with an N greater than your immediate family and an effect size that rises out of the noise is published, we’ll see laws passed with record speed.
You have, however, laid out a position I did not claim. Is it possible that some game could feed some obsession in an unbalanced person? I’d say so. I have no evidence, but my experience running a security test once showed me even that very intelligent, balanced, experienced, secure people, who were warned in advance that they were going to be tested, can be tempted into behaviour they know better than to follow – with the right bait on a spear-phishing hook.
If you think that a convincing link has been shown to apply, though, feel free to present the evidence that convinced you.
You have, however, laid out a position I did not claim.
Nor did I say you did. As the oft misapplied cliche goes, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio. That possibility does have some credence, as you say.
These things, and there are many, many of them, in fact sociology and psychology are pretty much composed of them, are not testable to the degree of confidence you appear to be espousing. Because there is no evidence of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You do understand that, yes? Or do you read that sentence within context of what the Narrative infers from it.
More broadly still, why do people, and especially crazy people, believe the things that they believe? And do their beliefs not scope their behaviors? Where does any of that come from? Are there certain forms of input that the human brain magically categorizes such that it doesn’t influence their behavior? What are those people on Madison Avenue doing with their time?
Short on time and the above could use some refinement in language, but oh well..
These things, and there are many, many of them, in fact sociology and psychology are pretty much composed of them, are not testable to the degree of confidence you appear to be espousing.
Couldn’t agree more! I regard all of sociology, most of psychology, economics, and pretty much every field with the word “Science” after it either as pre-sciences, like alchemy and astrology, or mishmashes of technologies bundled together with narrower fields of genuine science to gain prestige and funding.
Ans for absence of evidence not equalling evidence of absence, that was my original point. The null hypothesis is that video games do not cause violence. I am quite confident that no-one has shown a solid reasion to reject that null.