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Remember how, in the wake of even more gruesome shootings in the United States this month, Fox News decided to blame video games rather than, you know, the near total lack of meaningful gun control? Remember how I said last week that the “argument” of video games causing violence was so misleading and blatantly manipulative that I wasn’t going to make it worthy of an answer?
Well, here I am answering, because the supposed connection between video games and real life violence is one of the most persistent myths I’ve encountered in my career, and it has an interesting history ( although infuriating too).
Many video games have violent content, just as many movies and TV series have violent content (and of course many books, as anyone who has endured a Bret Easton Ellis novel will attest). And it makes intuitive sense that the interactivity of games – especially shooters – can seem more unsettling, from the outside, than passive media such as movies. (I have to say, though, that in 25 years of video games, I’ve never seen a scene as violent or upsetting as, say, a Quentin Tarantino movie.)
But the idea that exposure to these violent games turns people into killers in real life is completely wrong – and it distracts from the real drivers of violence in the real world, from inequality to access. guns to online radicalization. It’s a very politically motivated argument, and one that makes me instantly suspicious of the person making it. The NRA, for example, trotted it out regularly. Donald Trump, instigator of real violent riots, loved him too. Why could that be, I wonder?
First, the facts: there is no scientifically credible link between video games and real-life violence. Many studies on this question are, in a nutshell, bad – small sample sizes, lab conditions that bear no relation to how people interact with games in the real world – but the best we have shown no connection between violent games and violent thoughts or behaviors, or a positive correlation so small that it makes no sense. A 2020 science review, which reviewed and reassessed 28 global studies on video games and violence, found no cumulative harm, no long-term effects, and barely even a short-term effect on aggression in the real world. He concluded that “the long-term impacts of violent games on youth aggression are close to zero”.
It seems obvious: video games have been part of popular culture for at least 50 years, since Pong, and violent games have existed in one form or another since Space Invaders, although they have become more visually realistic over time. . If video games were dangerous in any way – if they significantly affected our behavior, our emotional reactions – you would expect to see widespread cross-cultural shifts in the way we act. This is clearly not the case. Indeed, globally, violent crime has been declining for more than 20 years, the exact period during which gambling has become ubiquitous. While it’s unscientific to credit video games with this effect, you would think that if the generations of people who have now played Doom or Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto were warped of it, we could see evidence of it by now.
It’s true that some mass murderers – like the Columbine shooters – were video game fans. But given that the vast majority of teenagers are fans of video games, that doesn’t mean much. More often than a fixation on violent media – of all kinds – mass shooters display an obsession with weapons or explosives or real killers, an interest in extremist views, social ostracism. These aren’t well-rounded people who are suddenly forced into real-world violence by a Marilyn Manson game, movie, or album.
The history of the “video games cause violence” argument goes back even further than video games themselves: it is an extension of the panic that flares up whenever a new form of culture emerges. supposedly morally abject young people. In the 1940s, when the mayor of New York ordered the seizure of 2,000 pinball machines so he could performatively destroy them, they were arcades; during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and beyond, it was metal music. Since the mid-to-late 90s, it’s been video games, and no study debunking any connection between them and real-world violence seems to tell the difference.
So why does this argument persist? In short: because it’s an easy scapegoat that’s tied to older generations’ instinctive distrust of technology, screen time, and youth culture, and it’s very beneficial to institutions like the NRA and pro-gun politicians to have a scapegoat. Whenever video games are involved in a violent event, there is usually stunning hypocrisy on screen. After the El Paso shootings in 2019, Walmart removed displays of violent video games from its stores — but continued to sell real guns. Fox News, the TV channel that rigs Tucker Carlson and the big replacement theory with him, is happy to report that the mass shooting perpetrator played video games, while remaining oddly quiet about ideas. racists that shine through in these shooter manifestos. .
I’m not saying we shouldn’t examine violence in video games at all, or question it. Does every game of sneaking up on enemies need a free neck-breaking animation when you successfully overpower a guard? Why do games so often use violence as the primary method of interacting with a virtual world? Do we really need more violent media – couldn’t we play something more interesting than another military shooter? These are valid and interesting questions. But they have nothing to do with real-world violence.
what to play
In 1994, video game magazine Edge ended its review of Doom with this infamous line: “If only you could talk to these creatures, then maybe you could try to befriend them, form alliances. .. Now that would be interesting.” Nearly 30 years later, the “talk to monsters” jokes and memes continue to pop up, even though no one remembers where they came from.
Turns out the reviewer was right, though, as 2015 proved Subtitle, probably the most interesting anti-violent video game I’ve played. In this lo-fi role-playing game, you fight with many monsters, but instead of subduing them, you can win them over by talking to them and showing them mercy, which is often the most difficult option. In most games, there’s no question what you’re doing when a monster comes your way: it makes you wonder. I interpreted it at the time as a social commentary on pacifism and community, and looking back, I don’t think it was too over the top.
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Approximate playing time: 6-10 hours
What to read
I’ll start with a book this time: Lost in a Good Game: Why We Play Video Games and What They Can Do for Us, by Pete Etchells. A researcher and lecturer in biological psychology, Etchells’ perspective on video games is both relevant and extremely knowledgeable. It examines the evidence (or lack of it) behind all the most widely held beliefs about video games, and in the end, it argues that most of the effects they have on individuals and society are actually positive. . It’s a reassuring read that I often recommend to worried parents who don’t play games themselves.
Grand Theft Auto V, perhaps the poster child for morally bankrupt video games that are meant to corrupt the youth, has now sold 165 million copies, following its launch on PS5 and Xbox Series X earlier this year. This makes it one of the most popular entertainment products of all time across all mediums, and yet, strangely, in the nine years since its release, we haven’t seen the emergence of roving gangs. of teenagers looking to play out their chaotic gunfights on GTA Online. in real life. This is funny.
What to click
Gibbon: Beyond the Trees review – short, simple and fun to play
Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software workers vote to form industry’s first union
Block of questions
I will be back next week. If you have something you’d like me to answer, just email me at [email protected]!