Following a spate of tragedies over the weekend that left at least 31 dead, prominent gun rights advocates, including President Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), quickly blamed video games for stoking violence — although officials did not appear to draw any early connections between these specific attacks and gaming.
Experts and social scientists have long debunked the notion that games present a cause for the levels of gun violence experienced in the U.S.
"We just have tremendous amount of research — at this point now we've been researching it for 21 years — that just says the exact opposite," Russell Holly, managing editor at Android Central, said of the accusations. "There's just a lot of research that disagrees. This has been a scapegoat for a long time."
Arguing against the popular hobby, which encompasses a wide range of genres that include everything from violent war games to farming simulators, has a history in Washington that began long before the current administration. But the rhetoric still exists.
After the Parkland, Florida high school shooting last year, President Trump said "I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts," a position he would echo on Monday.
As far back as 1993, former Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl chaired a committee to investigate the effects of violent video games such as 'Mortal Kombat' and 'Night Trap' on young people. The industry would follow up on the scrutiny with a new independent ratings system by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board to inform parents and consumers of game content.
The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry group that lobbies the government, according to Gameinformer, released a statement this week addressing these long-running concerns, stating: "As we shared at the White House video game meeting in March 2018, numerous scientific studies have established that there is no causal connection between video games and violence. More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide. Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S."
"Being told on a regular basis that this group of people over here is the enemy, has a significantly greater impact on someone perceiving that person as the enemy than ever seeing it in a video game," Holly said regarding the differences between the real and the virtual.
The suspect in the El Paso Walmart attack allegedly published an online manifesto which indicated he targeted his victims based on an anti-Hispanic, xenophobic, and white supremacist ideology.
Yet video games continue to remain a popular scapegoat, especially in light of the advances in technology that have only added to fears that the medium stokes violence.
"When you put violence in a photorealistic environment whether its on the screen in a movie theater or it's something you're controlling with your controller on your television at home, it can be a little disconcerting," he conceded. "It's not difficult to see someone see that and think 'oh wow, that must have some negative impact,' but it's on balance nowhere near as impactful as just so many other environmental factors in the life of your average child."