Trump Scapegoats Video Games and Movies for Gun Violence

In a discussion with lawmakers on Thursday about how to prevent gun violence, President Donald Trump pointed the blame at video games and movies, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support his assertion.

“We have to do something about what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it,” said Trump. “I’m hearing more and more people seeing the level of violence in video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.”

“And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies,” Trump continued. “You see these movies, and they’re so violent, and yet, a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved, and maybe we need to put a rating system for that…The fact is that you are having movies come out, that are so violent, with the killing and everything else, that maybe that’s another thing we need to discuss.”

Regarding the movies, it is not entirely clear what the President is suggesting, considering that the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) film rating system has been in place since 1968. The PG-13 rating was added in 1984 in response to concerns from parents about movies that were not extreme enough to warrant an R rating but nonetheless contained material that might be inappropriate for young children. In 1990, R-rated movies began including explanations of what specific type of content caused the movie to earn the rating.

In other words, the modern detailed rating system has been in place for about three decades, giving parents well-understood guidelines for what movies may be appropriate for their children at different ages.

Moreover, in this modern internet age, there are numerous websites and apps that provide detailed information about the content of movies that parents can review before deciding whether or not to allow their child to watch.

Besides Trump’s bizarre wish for a movie rating system that already exists — not to mention the similar system administered by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) for video games — the more important issue is that there is simply no scientific evidence linking watching violence in entertainment like video games or movies to committing violence in real life. 

As Brandon Morse reported earlier this month, Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY) made similar comments as Trump, condemning video games as “garbage” and “the same as pornography.” According to Bevin, video games “have desensitized people to the value of human life, to the dignity of women, to the dignity of human decency.”

Multiple studies have been conducted over the years examining children and violent video games, as Morse noted, but they have repeatedly failed to find a causal connection. Far more important was the child’s home life: how involved in the child’s life the parents are, and whether there was any violence happening in the home.

“The parenting measures in my study were some of the bigger predictors,” said Whitney DeCamp, a sociologist at Western Michigan University who conducted one such study on boys in grades 8 and 11. “The parental attachment between the youth and the parent, the monitoring activities of the parents—that is, whether the parents are aware of what the kids are doing—and parental enforcement of the rules were all strong predictors. Seeing or hearing violence in the home and experiencing violence in the home were also powerful predictors. So home life seems to matter more than just playing violent video games.”

A Hannover Medical School study found that video games did not reduce players’ ability to feel and show empathy.

Another study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture actually found positive effects from playing video games, including better academic performance and, for those who play online games that involve interacting with other players, improved real world ability to relate to other children. That same study did find a minor increase in the level of aggression shown by those who played more than three hours a day.

“Taken together, this suggests that quantity may play a larger role than the quality of games played — a counter intuitive finding for many focused on the violent contents of some gaming contexts,” concluded the researchers. “These findings do not support the idea that regular violent game play is linked to real world violence or conflict.”

Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson, who has studied the issue for years, was even more blunt in rejecting any connection between violence in video games and violent behavior:

[S]peaking as a researcher who has studied violent video games for almost 15 years, I can state that there is no evidence to support these claims that violent media and real-world violence are connected. As far back as 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that research did not find a clear connection between violent video games and aggressive behavior. Criminologists who study mass shootings specifically refer to those sorts of connections as a “myth.” And in 2017, the Media Psychology and Technology division of the American Psychological Association released a statement I helped craft, suggesting reporters and policymakers cease linking mass shootings to violent media, given the lack of evidence for a link.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker