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Guns and Games

The Relationship Between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America

JIM MORRISON, THE DOOR’S INIMITABLE FRONTMAN, struck a chord when he said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” Media violence has to be one of the most commonly repeated, and most misinterpreted, terms of our time. A needless flurry of fear stems from the sensational and inciting ways in which the media feed misinformation to the public. When an explicitly violent act occurs, we tend to experience what psychologists call confirmation bias, a string of cognitive preconceptions that involve an individual’s desire to relate the incident to previously held beliefs.

For example, on June 10, 2014, armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, Jared Padgett, a 15-year-old freshman student, entered Reynolds High School and shot a 14-year old classmate and then himself with the same weapon. Inquiries into Padgett’s background uncovered the fact that he liked first-person shooter games, which naturally led some pundits to focus on violent video games as a cause of school shootings, leaving people to wonder if this pastime encourages young people to engage in real world violence. The idea that video games cause violent behavior is especially applied to titles that are violent in nature—for example, the Halo series, the Grand Theft Auto titles, and especially first-person shooter video games.

Parents, of course, should supervise their children’s behaviors and pastimes, but the aim of this paper is to highlight the benefits of video games, including violent video games, and then suggest that the real cause of school shootings is America’s obsessive gun culture. Of the tens of millions of people who play video games, scientific research shows that very few commit acts of violence, certainly not enough to say that, statistically speaking, video games play any significant role in real-world violent behavior.

Cognitive Benefits of Gaming

The conventional, archaic, and incorrect beliefs about video games seems to be ever so slowly fading away. Scientific research has shown that certain games are anything but intellectually lazy or sedating. To the contrary, research shows that playing video games promotes a wide range of cognitive skills. A superior shooter video game requires a participant to display heightened and more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing, and enhanced mental rotation abilities.1

Further, a recent meta-analysis concluded that an average player’s spatial skills improve significantly after playing commercially available shooter video games, and that this improvement in skill awareness becomes more prominent as the participant becomes more familiar with the gaming requirements.2 A longitudinal study spanning some 25-years established the power of spatial skills in predicting achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).3 Unsurprisingly, as we live in an age dependent on technology, STEM areas of expertise have been repeatedly linked to long-term career success and are predicted to be especially critical in the next seven to eight decades. The benefits cannot be overstated, as preliminary research has also demonstrated that these cognitive advantages result in measurable changes in neural processing and efficiency. Take a regularly cited functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, for example. Carried out in 2011, it found that the mechanisms controlling attention allocation (e.g., the fronto-parietal network) were less active during a challenging pattern-detection task in gamers, as opposed to non-gamers. This finding led the researchers to suggest that, by using an intricate type of internal filter, shooter game players allocated their attentional resources more efficiently. An average gamer also displayed an ability to filter out irrelevant information more effectively.4 These enhanced cognitive abilities could very well be byproducts of the visually lush, three-dimensional navigational space, a prerequisite for most modern video games. The furiously paced environment of gaming demands very real, split-second decision making abilities, much like the fast paced, modern day work environment.

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About Skeptic

CONFIDENCE SCAMS EXCERPT: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it Every Time; ARTICLES: America’s Stonehenge: Did Highly Developed Europeans Build a Sophisticated Astronomical and Religious Monument on the American East Coast More than 3000 Years Ago?; Is It ET?: Is Star KIC 8462852 a Sign of an Extraterrestrial Civilization?; Hurricane Strikes as Divine Retribution—An Empirical Test; Ruins of Empires: Thomas Jefferson, Constantin-Francois Volney, and the Separation of Church and State; Winning the Vaccination War in California; Prophet Without Honor: Francis Galton and the Birth of Behavioral Genetics; When Cops Kill: An Insider’s Perspective; Guns and Games: The Relationship Between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America; More on Morals: On Science and Morality (1) Deontologists are Covert Consequentialists, (2) Expanding Science to Include Morals, (3) Clarifying Confusions; Alligators in the Sewers! COLUMNS: Who’s Crazy Now?: DSM-5 and the Classification of Mental Disorders; The Delicate Dilemma of Defining Rape; REVIEW: Red Team: How To Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy by Micah Zenko reviewed by David Priess; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Haunted Houses; Earliest Ghost Stories; Ghostly Evolution