Game Theory: Do Video Games Cause Violence? It’s Complicated.

whenever we see the news talking about videogames these days it seems like it’s always the same thing in the two decades since Columbine video games have been at the center of the controversy surrounding gun violence in America particularly violent video games and it has experts and some parents alarmed this includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace then again this type of alarm is nothing new role that early 90s VHS tape you can knock your opponent’s head off complete with electronic blood and guts the game is called Mortal Kombat one of the hottest video games going there feel like going out and beating somebody up after watching this game tell me true yes the more things change the more they stay the same right but to be fair our counter-arguments back in the early 90s were exactly the same too so you know what it’s time to change the conversation and that’s my goal with today’s episode to move beyond this he-said she-said style of argument that this topics been mired in for decades instead we need to get down to the real story the scientific fact do video games actually make people more violent [Music] hello Internet welcome to game theory a show where we talk about a lot of things that absolutely do not matter from the physics of Mario to the lore of haunted chuck-e-cheeses yep I know some people take these episodes a little bit too seriously and it’s especially hard if I’m talking about I don’t know your favorite hero and calling him evil the whole time but in truth it’s all for dumb fun at the end of the day whether or not Phoenix Wright is breaking the law and his pursuit for justice just doesn’t matter and by the way that was a terrible episode I am so sorry about that one anyway the long and short of it is that this show is meant to be entertaining first and foremost with some education sprinkled throughout I was lucky enough to have parents and teachers who got me excited about learning but so many others out there aren’t so fortunate so if I through this little web series here can get you interested in the way a computer works by talking about Mario maker or teach us something about gravity and astronomy through the lens of Minecraft well that’s great you had fun you learn a bit and the whole world is a slightly more positive place because you viewed a video but today for all the stupid extraneous topics that we talk about on this show today what we’re talking about really does matter in fact it’s more relevant now than it’s ever been do video games make the people who play them more violent and is there a connection between video games and the issue of gun violence in America since the 90s various politicians have invoked video games as this major contributor to the mass shootings that are in the headlines over and over again and now the president is even calling it out so I wanted to do an episode on the topic so we can get a definitive answer once and for all and see that’s the thing in this debate you have two sides that are so entrenched in their respective answer that no one is bothering to actually stop and do the research on one side you have people who are so convinced that it must be the media we’re consuming that’s causing this aggression that they’re eager to point the blame there because they’re biased against games they don’t understand them but on the other side you have people like me people who grew up playing video games where our knee-jerk reaction is like no duh I play video games I know a lot of people who play video games and we’re not violent the problem with that though is it’s not real proof it’s a small amount of anecdotal evidence it’s important to recognize that everyone’s brains function differently we’re biased too in this debate because we’re eager to defend this thing that we love that embodied our childhood neither side here is having a conversation because we’re both so certain that we’re right what I want more than anything is what I hope all of us want and that’s the truth if video games have no connection to real-world violence whatsoever I wanna have done my homework and have the receipts to prove it and then being able to show those receipts to other people who claim otherwise on the other hand if I were to find conclusive causal evidence that said video games our warping our minds are making us more prone to violent impulses and making us less sensitized to violence then I want us to hear that hard truth to it’ll suck yeah but it’ll be important for us to know because we can start figuring out a solution from there and that’s not me trying to get political or anything I don’t care whether you’re someone who believes strongly in gun ownership rights or the exact opposite on the most basic level I would hope that we’re all united in this same goal of trying to find the source of blame and how to correct it so that fewer people get hurt and die it’s as simple as that and if video games are to blame then great at least now we know that and now we can start correcting for it at the end of the day I don’t want my son to grow up in a world where he feels like he has to be on guard for people trying to hurt him at school at church at Walmart so to be clear my goal today is not to propose any sort of political solution I’m not qualified to do that at all but instead to just share some cold hard facts the scientific research done by trusted institutions presented to you and as unbiased away as possible the work that I’ve done for this episode has looked at the issue from three separate angles number one examining links between video games and crime number two looking at the profiles of many shooters and the role that video games played in their lives and number three exploring the psychology behind playing video games and how they affect our perspective on violence now admittedly or if you can’t tell by this point this isn’t gonna be my most lighthearted episode of game theory but it certainly is one of our most important let’s start with angle number one shall we looking at any links between video games and crime to start off with we have to talk a little bit about the history of some of the more controversial and violent video games you see if there is indeed a direct causal link between violence shown and video games and users becoming more violent in their daily lives then we would expect to see increases in violence spurred on by some of the most popular violent video games in history and well there are definitely some very early video games that had violent themes to them if we want to talk about true or realistic violence becoming popular in the mainstream while we’d probably have to look here the early 90s and mortal kombat which was released in 1992 as well as Wolfenstein 3d and doom in 1992 and 1993 from that point forward we’ve seen plenty of other violent video games get themselves bad press like the Grand Theft Auto series the Call of Duty series battlefield things like that but for the most part the availability of violent video games has been pretty constant since the mid-90s now this graph they see right behind me shows us the growth of gaming both in terms of pure number of games sold per year as well as the number of titles released per year and unsurprisingly they both start to take off here in the mid 90s with platforms like the PlayStation in Nintendo 64 really surging the popularity and then it explodes in the 2000s as they really hit their peak and it’s all started to taper off coming back down here in the mid 2010s as smartphones and mobile gaming have become more popular but it’s pretty clear that if the real surge in video games which would include violent video games occurred between the mid-90s and 2010 well if they’re influencing people to commit more violence in real life then crime statistics should show similar growth during those same periods but when you look at the data that’s the opposite of what’s happened the murder rate in the United States actually hits its peak in 1980 pac-man fever truly set in people’s minds into the rage mode but starting in the early 90s those rates went way down from 1991 through 2016 homicides in the US have actually gone down by forty five point five percent and it’s not just homicide that we’re talking about here we’re talking about all major crime categories across the board assault burglary rape all of them are down by at least 30% since 1991 the idea that the popularity of video games which again weren’t really all that commonly played until about the 1990s has contributed to making the United States a more violent society as a whole just doesn’t really show up in these sorts of statistics No maybe you think that since young people are the ones tending to play more video games that youth crime statistics would actually show the real impact of violent video games on our minds but those stats actually looked pretty darn similar the number of violent crimes committed by people ages 12 to 17 has plummeted since those early days in the 90s to a rate of about 1/5 of what it was at its peak so the overall data seems to tell us that crime isn’t getting worse even though someone watching the news nowadays we think that’s worse than ever and that’s probably less because crime as a whole is getting worse and more because incidents of mass shootings have gotten bigger and more prominent and more shocking in the media just exactly what constitutes a mass shooting creates a lot of disagreements it is shockingly difficult to define as everyone comes up with their own definition to kind of forward whatever statistics they’re looking to prove but in general I think a pretty common definition is that a mass shooting involves an incident where at least four people are killed by a shooter in a public place in that case from 1982 until 2006 there were approximately 1.6 mass shootings per year but in the years since 2006 it’s actually more than tripled 25.4 per year to put that statistic in another way from 1949 until 1998 there were 9 mass shootings in the US where at least 10 people were killed so that winds up being about one every five years in the last 20 years meanwhile there have been 18 shootings where at least 10 people were killed that translates to one per year five years per year by the same token though while the murder rate has indeed gone down the percentage of homicides committed using guns has been climbing steadily hitting 73 percent in 2016 so maybe the question that we should be asking ourselves isn’t whether video games make our society as a whole more violent but whether they’re causing select individuals from that society to suddenly snap and decide to become mass shooters like I said at the beginning of this episode everyone’s brains work totally differently so well 19 9.9% society might be completely unaffected by the violence and videogames all it takes is just that one person to have a bad reaction to what they’re playing so the second angle that we need to take a look at this issue is what kind of role video games have played in the lives of past mass shooters perhaps most famously the two Columbine shooters from 1999 they were both fans of the early first-person shooter doom the Sandy Hook elementary shooter owned a lot of video games as it was on record games like left 4 dead Dead Rising Grand Theft Auto and there was a Norwegian shooter which I know were focused on u.s. shooters but I needed to draw from as many data points that I could reasonably research back in 2011 he claimed that playing Call of Duty actually helped his aim and target acquisition both skills that he used during his attack now to be sure some mass shooters are fans of video games but you can’t take just these few examples and create a causal connection there especially since I could list plenty of other tragedies where those shooters didn’t have strong ties to video games in fact of the 18 incidents that I mentioned earlier that had more than 10 deaths my research actually tells me that only four of those shooters actually had noteworthy video game habits there are plenty of explanations for that but it all aligns with the report issued by the Secret Service back in 2002 which indicated that only 12% of school shooters expressed any sort of interest in violent video games now you could probably make a case for an interest in video games being a statistical coincidence given that most mass shootings are actually committed by young men and 72% of men under the age of 30 play video games 58 percent of men from 30 to 49 played video games as well it’s just not that surprising that young men who do evil things also happen to share habits with other young men who don’t do evil things other young men in their same demographic other traits that these shooters share breathing oxygen eating food wearing clothes but to call that out seems ridiculous right I don’t see anyone attacking the denim industry because these shooters tended to wear jeans it appears as though opponents to video games are mixing correlation with causation now as for that Norwegian terrorists claim that shooting games made him much more effective in his shooting those claims may have had some ground to stand on if they wouldn’t have gotten redacted over the years you see a study was published in 2014 that found people who practiced shooting games got more headshots in real world target practices by a wide margin but that study was retracted because the results couldn’t be replicated by outside researchers or the original researchers who conducted the experiment in the first place regardless there’s still one more piece of evidence that makes me think that video games aren’t the variable to blame for our epidemic of gun violence here the United States isn’t unique in its consumption of video games compare it to other nations with big gaming cultures though we are unique in how much gun violence we have the numbers absolutely backed us up well the u.s. is number one in money spent on video games per year the rest of the top ten includes China Japan South Korea Germany Canada Spain and Italy now China doesn’t release statistics on gun violence but the rest of them do and if you compare homicides by firearms and adjust for population size the United States actually has more gun deaths per year than all those eight other countries combined these countries aren’t immune to mass shootings but it’s awfully hard to believe that our consumption of video games is to blame for the gun violence in America when other nations wear those same games are popular don’t have anywhere near that same problem but still I am willing to consider the possibility that violent video games could be harmful especially since the American Psychological Association as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics have both come out against violent video games so do video games make us more violent in the long run or maybe they’re desensitizing us to real-world violence by simulating such graphic and often realistic violence in gameplay well there are a lot and I mean a lot of studies out there done on this topic the connection between playing video games and aggression and many of them do actually show a positive correlation between the two the trouble here though is that a lot of news outlets here hey this study shows a connection between video games and aggression but don’t understand the report or fully talk about the limitations of those sorts of studies to show you what I mean we need to think about how these sorts of studies are being conducted for instance how would you test aggression in the first place these tests have to be ethical after all can’t just give kids video games and then ask them to act them out by shooting things so instead the marks of aggression in these sorts of tests are things like whether the subject would be willing to subject their opponent to a loud noise or whether they would offer that subject hot sauce for some sort of advantage in the game look I’m not saying that these findings aren’t telling but it’s pretty hard to extrapolate someone’s willingness to give someone else spicy food into the assumption that they’re now suddenly more likely to shoot someone with a real-world gun I mean that’s a huge stretch it’s already a stretch to say giving them spicy food is aggressive behavior maybe they just like pranking the other person or maybe they think the other person’s hungry maybe they just really like spicy food another issue here is that the findings that are statistically significant aren’t necessarily statistically impressive you see when a study determines that there is a correlation between two things that are being tested that correlation is measured with a value between negative one and positive one now a zero value would say that the two variables are entirely unrelated to one another while a positive value would indicate that one predicts the other so a point three positive correlation for example would mean that one thing predicts another by a little bit whereas something like a point seven positive correlation means that one thing strongly predicts another positive one guaranteed I do X Y is gonna happen 100% now when it comes to our case of using video games violent behavior none of the studies I saw which claimed to show some level of connection between violent media and future behavior or immediate aggression seemed to correlate beyond a positive 0.3 which means that the studies can indeed sometimes indicate correlation but even in the best case scenarios it’s a very weak level of correlation and then that’s not even mentioning the conflicting studies that contradict all the ones that I just mentioned or the psychologists who write entire articles and papers talking about how overblown the idea of video games causing violent aggressive behaviors might be it gets confusing trying to figure out what findings are most valid which researchers might have conflicts of interest which ones are just putting out weak findings because they have to get published to keep their jobs but for me one of the most telling analyses of the state of psychological research on this topic violence in video games actually comes from an unexpected source the Supreme Court of all places in a 2011 case titled Brown versus the entertainment Merchants Association the Supreme Court ruled that a California law forbidding the sale of certain video games to kids was unconstitutional and they struck down that law with a vote of 7 to 2 part of the majority opinion written by the court stated this quote psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to behave aggressively any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media end quote what’s really encouraging about that message right there is that that majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia one of the most conservative members of the court but it was co-signed by one of the most liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor what I mean to say with this is that when you’re looking at gun violence it doesn’t have to be a partisan issue sure Supreme Court justices aren’t supposed to be a part of any political party but with how divisive discussions on gun violence gets it’s important to remember that looking at research and deciding what is and isn’t supported by sound scientific data isn’t a matter of politics it’s a matter of caring about the truth above and beyond everything else back to the cow and that’s one of my real takeaways from researching this episode the need for us to be able to put politics aside when we’re looking at these sorts of problems there’s a reason why I haven’t done this video in the last eight years of making game theory and that’s because I was afraid of what I would find I was afraid that the research would lead me to a conclusion that I was scared to tell you guys about and trust me there is still plenty more out there in the gaming community that we have to be concerned about like how video games might be shortening our attention spans or how certain mechanics and video games can be linked to problematic gambling there is still plenty more out there that people can point at video games and be like they’re not a good influence but in this case the fact of the matter is that there’s just very little sound causal evidence to suggest that video games are more likely to get people to commit violence or that playing video games get people to be more violent it’s important for us to remember regardless of where you stand politically on guns on video games or on whatever that we all want the same thing a safer less violent future for ourselves for our children and for our country just like I had to put some of my preconceived notions about video games aside to research this episode we’re not gonna find any solutions to the issue of gun violence in this country if we only hear the things that we want to hear I think decisions based on data nonpartisan research is the thing that’s gonna help us have a chance of making that happen it’s not about emotion it’s about the facts and I’ll do my best to keep an open but critical mind if any findings show us the path forward and I encourage you all to do the same it’s not so much a theory as it is a recommendation a game theory recommendation thank you for watching and for keeping an open mind

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