If you look at my first studies I did a decade ago, they are these studies looking at mundane forms of aggression. These were questionnaires—like, do you feel hostile playing violent video games? I was finding these links were right after you play a violent video game—your mood was temporarily changed. In the early articles [I wrote], I even talk about school shootings in the context of my findings, so I was very much in the camp of it.
But then what happened was Sandy Hook.
After Sandy Hook, I suddenly got inundated with calls from reporters and politicians and so forth, using my research as a suggestion that’s what caused it. It made me really reflect on the generalizability of my findings. Can we really take the stuff we’ve done in the lab and relate it to horrific acts of violence like school shootings? That’s when we started to look at real acts of violence—homicides, aggravated assaults, and so forth—because it was a much more direct comparison. It was that investigation where I started to change my mind on whether we should be using what we find in the laboratory to suggest there’s a link between real acts of violence.
And how the stereotype that mass shooters play violent games is largely untrue:
One thing we found is that the countries that play or consume video games the most often tend to be the safest countries in the world. That’s even when we control for all types of variables. We find this correlation— and correlation doesn’t mean causation, there might be some third variable that might be causing it—so our job is to try and break it, to put in as many variables in that we might be explaining that relationship, and we haven’t been able to. No matter what we try to control for, it always stays negative, it never becomes positive. By negative, I mean the countries that consume the most video games are the safest ones. It never flipts in the other direction.
Towards the end, we touch on the future of studying games, and whether the bigger danger for games is having them declared formally “addictive.” Oh, and loot boxes!Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Have thoughts? Swing by Waypoints forums to share them!
We tend to remember the cases that fit our narrative. We have this illusionary correlation. We remember Columbine, we might remember Sandy Hook, the ones that fit our narrative. The ones that don’t fit our narrative we don’t relate to it, we tend to forget about. We create this false impression that there’s a relationship. And even the ones we tend to think relate to it actually don’t relate as much as we think. Certainly Columbine, they played Doom, and they played Doom a lot.
But if we look at other cases, like Sandy Hook, that’s a prime example. It was often said that he obsessed about violent video games and played them all the time. He definitely owned Call of Duty, there’s no doubt he owned it, but it’s this million unit seller, it’s not surprising an adolescent owned it. But actually what we know from what he was doing up until the killings was, based on the GPS in his car, he kept going to this movie theater, and it’s unclear why he was going. But what it turned out, the reason he was going to the movie theater was to play Dance Dance Revolution every single day. If he had an obsession with games, it was Dance Dance Revolution. Even interviews with his friends, his peers, when they were asked about his favorite game, they said his favorite was Super Mario Bros. He played video games, like most adolescent students, but the ones he obsessed about are not the ones we tend to link to violent crime.