Update: On Thursday, President Trump will hold a round table looking at video game violence in the context of school shootings. After the massacre in Parkland, Fla. last month, we looked at whether or not any connection exists between the two. That analysis is below.
A common refrain since, oh, the dawn of video gaming is that playing video games spurs young people to violent acts. I’m not sure whether the complaint was ever leveled against Zork (though I’m sure someone was worried about grue abuse), but it certainly became common in the era of the first-person shooter. Even when those games, like Wolfenstein 3D, were essentially interactive cartoons.
After last week’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., video games are again being cited as a contributing factor to alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz’s actions. Yet, a Villanova University researcher who spoke with USA Today indicated that school shooters might be less interested in violent video games than other young men their age. (Most school shooters are, after all, young men.)
This didn’t stop President Trump from singling out video games as he sought to explain what link there might be between these shooting incidents besides ready access to firearms.
“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,” Trump said, according to a pool report, “and we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. 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.”
Given that the Army has used video games in the past as training tools, it makes sense to wonder whether there is a link between gun violence and video games. But when you consider the overlap of two variables — interest in video games and incidents of gun violence — around the world, it quickly becomes clear that there is not much of a link at all.
Using data on video-game spending from NewZoo and estimates for deaths from firearm violence from the Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network, we can see whether the countries that are most into video games are also those that experience the most gun violence.
They are not.
Generally, the countries with the most deaths from gun violence are not the ones that spend the most on video games. The United States is something of an outlier in that regard, given its high number of gun deaths. (This data excludes suicides and accidental shooting deaths.)
The figure above uses raw numbers. If we look at rates — how much a country spends on games and how many gun deaths there are relative to the country’s population — the United States is still separated out. We spend far more on video games per person than most countries but see gun deaths at a higher rate, as well.
These charts show only countries that were in the top 100 on both gun-violence deaths and game revenue. If we include South Korea and Japan, which have far lower rates of gun violence, the graphic shifts.
We can look at it another way. Of the 200 countries with the highest rates of deaths from gun violence and the 100 countries that spend the most per capita on video games, only the United States is in the upper quintile on both metrics. Otherwise, the global pattern mirrors what that Villanova professor suggested about individual school shooters: More gaming correlates loosely to fewer violent gun deaths.
As always, there are exceptions, instances in which a shooter may specifically have acted because games “shaped his thoughts.” Generally, though, the United States is the only place where people play a lot of video games and frequently shoot each other to death.
Suggesting that one doesn’t necessarily flow from the other.