President Trump: “We have to do something” about violent video games, moviesLast week, President Donald Trump tried to shift some of the blame for recent school shootings on video games and other entertainment, saying that “something has to be done” because “the level of violence on video games is shaping more and more people’s thoughts.” Trump expanded on those thoughts in a discussion with a bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday, bringing his own young son’s experience with violent media into the debate.
“The video games, movies, the Internet stuff is so violent,” Trump said during the livestreamed meeting with lawmakers, in response to parental concerns passed on by Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn (relevant section begins at 1:12:20). “It’s so incredible. I get to see things that you wouldn’t be—you would be amazed at. I have a very young son who I look at some of the things he’s watching and I say, ‘How is that possible?’”
How that’s possible in the Trumps’ case, of course, is that President Trump allows his “very young son” to watch and play these violent “things.” Trump didn’t make any mention of any media diet restrictions he put in place after seeing those “incredible” violent images his 11-year-old son Barron is watching, suggesting he’s not personally worried Barron will be one of the “more and more people” whose thoughts he says can be “shaped” by such media.
In this, Trump seems to be in the minority of American parents. An Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) study from 2016 found that 73 percent of parents say they regularly check ratings on video games they buy for their children. An independent Harris poll from 2013 found a similar 66 percent of households with children saying they use the ESRB system to guide their purchases.
Perhaps Trump is merely in the 75 percent of parents who told a 2013 Common Sense media poll they feel it’s difficult to shield children from violence in media, regardless of their own actions. If Trump feels he can’t control his child’s media consumption from the relative seclusion of the White House, and with what the FTC acknowledges is significant help from game retailers, the rest of us certainly have no chance.
Or perhaps Trump simply knows enough about his son to realize that violent media is unlikely to spur Barron to acts of real-world violence. That’s backed up by statistics showing that someone in Barron’s position is much less likely to be involved in a real-world violent incident than someone growing up in poverty or someone who has easy access to a gun.
The data is in
While Trump doesn’t seem worried enough to limit Barron’s media exposure, his general concern might still be valid for some other impressionable children. “It’s hard to believe that at least for a percentage, maybe it’s a small percentage of children, this [media violence] doesn’t have a negative impact on their thought process,” Trump said. “These things are really violent!”
Indeed, if even a fraction of a percent of the hundreds of millions of children that play violent video games worldwide were more likely to commit real-world violence themselves, that would certainly be a cause for concern. Unfortunately for Trump’s viewpoint, the data shows that just isn’t the case.
“When we look at violence as an outcome, I’d say that the research is pretty clear at this point that violent games and other media are not at all a cause of violent criminal behavior, not even in part,” Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson told Ars of his years of research on the topic. “We’ve looked at this in a number of studies, considering youth violence, bullying, dating violence, conduct disorder, and adult arrests, and can’t [find] evidence for effects. Research from other labs has mainly been finding the same thing.”
Ferguson says there is still some academic debate over media violence’s effects on short-term measures of lab-based aggression (such as “giving people hot sauce when you know they don’t like spicy food or little bursts of irritating white noise”). But on the wider issue of real-world impacts on violent behavior “surveys of scholars in the field suggest that only 10 to 15 percent of scholars agree that violent games contribute to societal violence, so scholars who’d support Trump appear to be in the minority,” Ferguson said.
Despite Trump’s stated concern, his prescriptions for dealing with the problem of media violence are still pretty vague. “I think you maybe have to take a look at it,” he said. “You know, you rate movies for different things, maybe you have to also rate them for terror, for what they’re doing and what they’re all about.”
But if the current media rating system isn’t useful enough for Trump, it’s hard to believe adding a “terror rating” would radically change the circumstances for him or other parents in his situation. Video games remain a convenient scapegoat, but societal violence in this country has deeper and more intractable causes. Is it too much to ask for politicians to stop being distracted by fake violence so they can focus more directly on real ways to prevent real violence?
More Info: arstechnica.com