In the wake of the El Paso mass shooting this past summer, President Donald Trump pointed the blame towards "gruesome and grisly video games," arguing they glorify violence and desensitize people to killing. Not only has this link between video games and violence been wholly disproven time and time again over the past two decades, but a new study also suggests this narrative is laced with many assumptions about race.
Recent research has found that news stories and the public are more likely to blame video games as a cause of mass shootings if the perpetrator is white. If the perpetrator is African-American, however, video games are significantly less likely to be considered as a factor.
Reporting in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, researchers from Villanova University in Pennsylvania sifted through 200,000 news articles about 204 mass shootings over the past 40 years. The mass shootings were defined as having three or more victims, not including the shooter, that wasn't associated with gangs, drugs, or organized crime.
By their workings, video games were eight times more likely to be mentioned when the shooting occurred at a school and the perpetrator was a white male compared to when the shooter was an African American male.
According to the researchers, this different interpretation of similar events lumps Africa-American perpetrators with more responsibility for their crimes.
"When a violent act is carried out by someone who doesn't match the racial stereotype of what a violent person looks like, people tend to seek an external explanation for the violent behavior," lead researcher Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, said in a statement. "When a white child from the suburbs commits a horrific violent act like a school shooting, then people are more likely to erroneously blame video games than if the child was African American."
In another part of the research, 169 college students – 65 percent female and 88 percent white – read a fake newspaper article describing a fictional mass shooting by an 18-year-old male who was depicted as a hardcore video game fan. Half were shown a mugshot that showed the perpetrator as white, while the other half saw a mugshot of an African American shooter. They were then given a questionnaire that explored the factors that could have been behind the shooting.
The group who read the article with the photo of a white shooter were significantly more likely to blame video games as a factor in the school shooting compared to participants who saw the shooter as African American. The questionnaire also revealed that people who didn't play video games were more likely to cite violent video games for school shootings.