Video Game Violence Research

September 18, 2013

westlawnextYesterday’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard has some calling for restrictions  – not on access to guns – but to video games.  The gunman, Aaron Alexis, is said to have been a hard core gamer. Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University recommends in a piece for CNN.com that we limit access to violent video games:

We don’t have a lot of control over many of the factors that can contribute to violent behavior. But we have some control over violent video games. We can make it more difficult to get access to them. We can strengthen our laws against teens acquiring these games. Parents can keep the games out of their homes and help their children avoid them at friends’ houses.

Gun control advocates might also be asking themselves, “don’t we also have some control over guns?”

Mr. Bushman notes that video games were not likely the sole cause of Alexis’ rampage only a possible contributing factor. He argues that studies demonstrate violent video games promote aggressive behavior. However true this might be, the research hasn’t been compelling enough to sway courts considering laws which restrict the sale of violent video games.  In 2011, Justice Scalia wrote:

The State’s evidence is not compelling … 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 (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, “[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.” Video Software Dealers Assn. 556 F.3d, at 964. They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children’s feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.

Brown v. Entm’t Merchants Ass’n, 131 S. Ct. 2729, 2739 (2011)

Note that Westlaw now has a Freedom of Speech Key Number for violent video games: 92K1900.  See Headnote 13 in Brown. There are currently 17 cases nation-wide with the KeyNumber.

Failure to demonstrate a causal link is leading lawmakers to call for more research. Following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Senator Jay Rockefeller introduced S 134, “to arrange for the National Academy of Sciences to study the impact of violent video games and violent video programming on children.” The Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, has been described as a “deranged gamer.” Similar state bills have been introduced in the past.  We used the following search in current and historical bill text collections to find similar bills by year:

adv: (video online +2 gam! /s violen! /s effect! study explor! research!)

violent video game bills by year

A simpler, plain language search delivers excellent results in all content categories (cases, statutes, secondary sources…):

video game violence

For documents analyzing causation, try accessing secondary sources from this plain language search and filter for research /s caus! in the search within box.