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The Link Between Video Games And Mass Shootings Deserves A Second Look

(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of last weekend’s mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, some politicians and pundits are asking if media violence, particularly violent video games are fueling the rise of mass shootings.

While the debate about banning violent video games may appear to be over, the increasing amount of time kids are spending gaming, coupled with the rise in mass shootings, has led some to question the effect these games have on young, vulnerable Americans, who are now spending more time in front of a screen than ever before.

Prominent politicians, including President Donald Trump, Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and former Vice President Joe Biden have suggested recently that violent video games have played a role in the uptick in mass shootings. (RELATED: Donald Trump Condemns White Supremacy After Mass Shootings In El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio)

Mass shootings began to be part of American life right as violent video games became popular among young, white males, the demographic responsible for the vast majority of mass shootings. Between 1982 and 1997, there were 21 mass shootings in the U.S., according to data published by Mother Jones. Since 1997, there have been 96 mass shootings in America, with 19 coming in the past two years alone. (RELATED: At Least 9 Dead And 26 Wounded In Dayton, Ohio, Mass Shooting)

Violent video games began to be released in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The first Grand Theft Auto was released in 1997. First-person shooters also became both more popular and more realistic around the turn of the millennium, with games like Halo, which was created in 2001, or Call of Duty and Manhunt, which were released in 2003. There was even a game released in 2005 titled Super Columbine Massacre RPG! which simulated the 1999 Columbine shooting that claimed the lives of 12 high school students.

Mourners attend a memorial service in the Oregon District to recognize the victims of an early-morning mass shooting in the popular nightspot on August 04, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Mourners attend a memorial service in the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Recent studies have suggested that video games may play a role in the societal isolation of young men, something almost every mass shooter has in common. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified video game addiction as a mental illness last year.

A 2018 study from Pew Research found that 97% of teenage boys and 72% of men ages 18-29 play video games. As a result, the video game industry is experiencing record growth. Last year, video game sales reached an all time high, generating $43.4 billion, an 18% increase from 2017 sales. The industry is now worth $130 billion in total, more than six times what it was worth at the turn of the century. Research published earlier this year by Global Data predicted the industry will be worth over $300 billion by 2025.

Last year, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a warning to parents, advising them to reduce their children’s screen time. Kids between the ages of 8 to 18 spend an average of over 7 hours a day on screen time, CBS News wrote last year. The AHA recommended this be reduced to two hours a day for kids in this age range.

Whether it be video games, television, mobile phones, or computers, repeated studies have shown that too much screen time can lead to physical and mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, and obesity, all factors that tend to isolate people from society.

Additionally, as screen time for young men has skyrocketed, fertility rates and marriages have plummeted. Last year, the U.S. had its lowest birthrate in 30 years, with fewer and fewer Millennials getting married. This generation is a lonely generation.

To fill the void, many young Americans have turned to more accessible pleasures, including video games, and it’s not a stretch to question the healthfulness of a habit that involves lonely, anxious young men simulating violence through life-like video games.

A 2015 review by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that playing violent video games does lead to an increase in aggressive behavior.

“The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression,” the report stated.

The APA did not claim violent video games are the leading factor in increased violence, but made clear that it is a factor.

“No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently,” the report states. “Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor.”

Additionally, there is a well-established pattern of mass shooters who also happened to be avid gamers. Adam Lanza, who murdered 20 children and six adults during the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut, reportedly would spend hours in a windowless basement playing Call of Duty.

James Holmes, who in 2012 walked into a Colorado movie theatre and killed 12 people, would obsessively play violent video games such as “World of Warcraft.”

Lupe Lopez carries a photo Elsa Mendoza Marquez, a Mexican schoolteacher from Ciudad Juarez who was killed in the shooting, during an interfaith vigil for victims of a mass shooting which left at least 20 people dead, on August 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Lupe Lopez carries a photo Elsa Mendoza Marquez, a Mexican schoolteacher from Ciudad Juarez who was killed in the shooting, during an interfaith vigil for victims of a mass shooting on August 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Jacob Tyler Roberts murdered two people in Portland, Oregon in 2012 when re-enacting a scene from his favorite video game, Grand Theft Auto. Earlier that year, Anders Breivik killed 69 people in a mass shooting in Norway, and trained for the massacre by playing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.”

The list goes on, and also includes the two Columbine shooters, and white supremacist Dylan Roof, who four years ago, shot up a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is not yet known if the suspected killers in Dayton and El Paso were gamers, but the El Paso shooter did mention Call of Duty in his racist manifesto that circulated online shortly after the shooting.

Regardless of what results of the investigation into these latest killings, this established pattern is troubling and clear: Many major mass shootings have been perpetuated by gamers, and mass shootings in America skyrocketed just as these games saw their popularity rise.

In his speech to a grieving nation, the president proposed regulating the video game industry, acknowledging “gruesome and grizzly” games that can be found in households throughout the country. (RELATED: Democrats And Media Blame Trump For El Paso Shooting, Ignore Liberalism Of Dayton Shooter)

But, will the American people through their elected representatives take action against the video game industry, or will another mass shooting pass by without any course of action?

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Quinn, a Republican proposed a 10% tax on video games in order to fund school safety projects in the state. The proposal could serve as a model on the national level. The legislation would make violent video games harder to obtain, while funding security measures, without increasing the deficit.

While making violent video games harder to obtain won’t solve mass shootings in and of itself, it could reduce violent urges among young males, and therefore decrease the carnage that has ravaged America over the last two decades.

There are a variety of factors that have led to America’s epidemic of mass shootings and no one factor is to blame. Re-evaluating the link between violent video games and mass shootings, however, is a necessary step.