For decades, the Entertainment Software Rating Board has rated video games based on their content. For even longer, the MPAA has done the same for movies.
President Trump doesn’t seem to know that either exists. During a White House meeting on Thursday, Trump suggested “ratings systems” for violent video games and movies, which he said play a role in warping young minds and contribute to mass shootings.
That the “ratings system” Trump proposes already exists is only the most obvious problem with his comment. The other issue is that there is no connection between violent crime and violent media.
“All we can really say for sure is that there does not appear to be a link at this time between violent video games and school shootings,” Villanova psychologist Patrick Markey told USA Today last week after Kentucky governor Matt Bevin parroted the same stale talking point. “And if there is a link, it goes in the opposite direction.”
Markey’s research suggests that school shooters are less likely to play violent video games than the average teenager. Instead, a school shooter is more given to “things that aren’t typical of their peers.” Markey expands on that point in Rolling Stone:
If you were to enter any school in America you would find that about 70 percent of the male students habitually play violent video games. If there is any link between violent video games and school shootings it is in the opposite direction expressed by politicians and researchers examining irritating loud noise exposure – those who perpetrate acts of violence in schools are more than three times less likely to play violent video games than an average high school student.
The supposed link between violent games and movies and real-life violence falls apart when considering the global nature of the entertainment industry. The same violent video games and movies available in the U.S. are available around the world and yet, the U.S. is the only country consistently cleaning up bodies from mass shootings.
The one area of research that does appear, at least at first, to support the link between violent media and real-life violence has found that playing violent video games can increase aggressiveness. Studies supporting that claim have found subjects who’ve played violent games more willing to blast loud noise through someone’s headphones or give hot sauce to a person who doesn’t like spicy food. But there’s a big gap between a willingness to annoy and an eagerness to kill.
If violent media made people more likely to kill, then the last couple decades, which have seen violent video games surge in popularity, should have been accompanied by a surge in violent crime among youth. Instead, violent crime committed by young people is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago.
But bloody video games that allow kids to splash guts all over their screens are an easy target, especially for people who don’t want to talk about guns. In 2012, after the Sandy Hook massacre, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre blamed the gaming industry, not guns, for Adam Lanza’s killing 26 people at the Connecticut elementary school. And it turns out that Lanza was obsessed with one video game, but not a very violent one.