Donald Trump, in a press conference Tuesday discussing the two horrific mass shootings over the weekend, turned to a familiar scapegoat: Video games.
While Trump did not blame games directly for the domestic terrorist acts, he did indicate he believed them to be partially culpable.
“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” Trump said. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this.”
The language was similar to that Trump used last February after the fatal shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. At the time, he suggested a rating system might be needed (despite the fact that the industry already has one in place).
“We have to look at the internet because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds and their minds are being formed, and we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it,” he said. “And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”
That led to a White House panel on video games that seemed stacked against the industry, with only two executives from game publishers and the head of the industry’s trade group facing off against two of the most vocal critics of the industry, including one who coined the term “murder simulators” referring to action games.
Despite Trump’s repeated claims that game violence is partially responsible for real world shootings, experts have flatly rejected that argument, which the Supreme Court noted in its 2011 ruling that guaranteed First Amendment rights to game makers.
“California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent videogames and harmful effects on children,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia. “These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively.”
Researchers at Dartmouth in 2018 did say they saw a link between violent games and adolescent aggression. Several other studies, though, have discredited the correlation.
“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,” wrote Chris Ferguson, professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M University, a week after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
The Secret Service has also looked into the issue, with a specific focus on tragedies like Sandy Hook. In 2002, the organization found no evidence to suggest that school shooters consume more media violence than anyone else.
Violent games, while some sell well, don’t make up the bulk of the video game industry’s sales. In 2018, according to the Entertainment Software Association and The NPD Group, “shooter” games made up just 20.9% of all titles sold.
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