New research suggests the moral panic over video games and gun violence is largely unsubstantiated — at least when it comes to light to moderate gaming. The study found that although excessive gaming is linked to adolescents bringing firearms into schools, light to moderate gaming appears to have a protective effect.
The new findings appear in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
“Like most of us, I was bothered by recent school shootings in the U.S., and in general with gun carrying to school. At the same time, I was intrigued by the question whether videogames can be, at least to some extent, a culprit, in that they help imprinting very aggressive and delusional mindsets, in which gun carrying everywhere is the norm,” explained researcher Ofir Turel, a professor of information systems and decision sciences at California State University and scholar in residence at the University of Southern California.
“This view has been propagated by various media outlets, and has even been discussed at the Supreme Court and in the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless, I was also aware of the fact that the literature on the link between videogames and guns has been inconclusive, with different studies reaching different conclusions.”
“This has led me to consider looking into this topic, using a different theoretical angle. Specifically, while most studies have taken a one-sided position blaming videogames for violent behaviors, I had a reason to believe that light and moderate gaming are actually protective, and can reduce the opportunities and motivation to engage in violent offline behaviors. After all, if a teenager is busy playing videogames, he or she has less opportunity and lower motivation to hang on the streets and engage in physical violence,” the researcher explained.
Turel analyzed information provided by more than 50,000 American adolescents in two anonymous surveys. The nationally representative surveys collected data from eighth and tenth-grade students from 2012 to 2017 regarding how many hours per week they play video games, among many other factors. Importantly, the surveys also asked the students to report the number of days during the last four weeks in which they brought a gun to school.
Alarmingly, about 1.5% of the students, meaning nearly 800 participants, reported bringing a gun to school. The data also supported the hypothesized U-shaped association between gaming and bringing a gun to school.
“The key message is that videogames can be associated with carrying guns to school, but only in teenagers who play videogames rather excessively (over 5-6 hours/day). In contrast, video gaming is protective against gun carrying behaviors in teenagers who play video games for less than 4.93 hours/day. As such, moral panic over normal video gaming (in my data, up to 4.93 hours/day) is largely unsubstantiated,” Turel told PsyPost.
“Specifically, I found that not playing video games was an equal risk factor to playing over 5.71 hours per day, for gun carrying to school. That is, playing videogames between 0.07 hours/day to 4.93/hours a day, has sheltered teenagers from gun carrying behaviors — it kept them busy and off the streets. In contrast, not playing video games, or playing for over 4.97 hours/day has elevate the risk for gun carrying to school.”
“The findings also imply that legislators and governments should not necessarily try to restrict video gaming time or adolescent access to even violent video games because (1) general video gaming associations with gun-related behaviors are small, and (2) at low levels of general gaming time such activities can be useful and shelter adolescents from other, undesirable behaviors.”
Despite the large sample size, more research is needed to untangle the relationship between gaming and gun violence.
“The findings, even though replicated in two large datasets, should be treated as preliminary. The reason is that data were cross-sectional, restricted in scope (e.g., it focused on all gaming time, and not just gaming time of violent games), self-reported, and focused on one specific problematic behavior. Thus, causality should be better established in future research. Moreover, a deeper examination of the specific video-gaming-related mechanisms that help, on the one hand shelter against violent behaviors, and on the other, drive them, is in order,” Turel said.
The study was titled: “Videogames and guns in adolescents: Tests of a bipartite theory“.