Obama and the NRA Agree On One Thing in the Gun Control Debate: Blame Video Games

I am a gamer. In my 21 years, I have probably killed more Nazis than the Red Army, and de-brained more zombies than George Romero. I have read every issue of Game Informer from cover to cover for six years. I have played almost every Xbox game with a Metacritic score over 80.

So when I saw that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was pointing the finger for gun violence at video games, and that Vice President Biden was meeting with video game makers as part of his gun violence task force, I paid attention. The message that was coming across, to me, was: “Keep your hands off our guns, but for heaven’s sake take away the imaginary ones, they are way too dangerous.” (By the way, this didn’t stop the NRA from releasing its own violence-based video game, illustrating their mastery of the concept of irony.)

Thankfully, the only thing to come out of those meetings so far is calls from President Obama for additional research on their connection to violence. Why Obama chose not to also target movies, books, television, and all of entertainment history since Homer’s (incredibly violent) Trojan Epic Cycle is a good question. While it was unfortunate that the president singled out video games, I am not afraid of a little research. After all, research has always been on the favor of no link between violent video games and violent behavior.

As associate psychology professor Christopher J. Ferguson points out, youth violence has been on the decline while ever-more-violent video games have experienced record sales. While feelings of arousal and aggression tend to increase while playing a violent game (obviously), there is precious little data to suggest any long-term increase in violent behavior from frequent game-play. The evidence for a connection between violent games and behavior is so weak that the Supreme Court wouldn’t allow California to legally restrict the sale of mature games to minors, instead allowing for industry self-regulation, as with movies.

In fact — when enjoyed in moderation, as with anything — video games have been shown to be good for your mind, coordination, and balance. A great book, Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal, argues quite well that, as literal motivation machines, reality might actually have a few things to learn from game design in giving us happier, more productive, and healthier lives.

However, no studies or counter-examples will ever be able to convince many parents that it is OK for their kid to be able to quote from their Call of Duty game every type of military-grade rifle in active use, and the relative killing power of each. Game titles like SplatterhouseLollipop Chainsaw, and Bulletstorm similarly inspire moral panic.

And that is perfectly fine. I agree. We should enforce maturity ratings, and parents should be able to make personal decisions in their households about what their kids can play. However, just like with same-sex adoptions and prayer in schools, I do not think it is right for people to hold others — by law — to their personal moral decisions about what is appropriate for their kids.

Let them conduct their studies. Almost every one of my friends and I have played violent games throughout our childhoods, and we are some of the most peaceful people I know, in real life. I have every confidence in my favorite pastime, so bring it on.