Only a Game: Why Censoring New Media Won’t Stop Gun Violence

Media Coalition issued the 13-page report, Only a Game: Why Censoring New Media Won’t Stop Gun Violence in response to recent claims that media causes violence. The report looks at social science research studying the link between aggressive behavior and video games with violent images and finds that the data on the claimed harms of violent video games are highly controvertible, and even those that can be found are negligible and short-lived.

Key Findings:

1. Crime statistics do not support the theory that new media causes violence.

  • While media consumption has increased, violent crime rates in the U.S. have dropped, according to the government’s National Crime Victimization Survey.
  • In national populations, including the U.S., more video game sales correlate with less crime, according to a 2012 Washington
  • Post review of the 10 biggest video game markets around the world. Profiles of mass shooters by the FBI and the Secret Service do not list an attraction to violent video games as a contributing or significant factor.

2. Research into the effects of video games on aggression is contested and inconclusive. Much of it suffers from methodological deficiencies and provides insufficient data to prove a causal relationship.

  • Reviews by the governments of Australia, Great Britain and Sweden have all studied the research claiming a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior and concluded that it is flawed, flimsy and inconclusive.
  • In striking down a California law aimed at restricting the sale of violent video games, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 noted that the scientific evidence the state relied upon had been rejected by nearly every court to consider it, and that “most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.”
  • Critics of these flawed studies have also noted a bias against publishing studies that find what scientists call “null effects”—that is, the experimental conditions they construct (e.g., “video games cause violent behavior”) yield no measurable reactions, least of all those hypothesized at the start.

3. Censorship is barred by the First Amendment, but industry self-regulation works.

  • “Video games qualify for First Amendment protection,” wrote the Supreme Court in the 2011 California case. “Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas.” The Court went on to find that violent content is protected in every medium, for adults and minors.
  • A Federal Trade Commission undercover shopping survey published in March 2013 showed that the Electronic Software Review Board’s rating system works: Retailers refused to sell M-rated video games to minors 87 percent of the time, up from 80 percent in 2009.

Conclusion: A majority of Americans may believe that fictional violence leads to violence in real life. But common sense and objective research does not show it.


Note: Only a Game confines itself largely to the issue of violent video games. A 2000 Media Coalition report, Shooting the Messenger: Why Censorship Won’t Stop Violence, examines at greater length the scientific claims of short- and long-term links between all kinds of media — movies, TV and music, as well as games — and violent crime. The report concludes with recommendations for helping kids to become smart media consumers and a reaffirmation of the American way of fighting offensive speech: not with censorship but with “more and different speech, informed speech, critical speech.”

Only a Game: Why Censoring New Media Won’t Stop Gun Violence is available here.

Shooting the Messenger: Why Censorship Won’t Stop Violence is available here.