Stropp's World

Games And Gamery

Correlation Is Not Causation

Posted by Stropp on March 23, 2009

Game Politics has a post up about how the head of the German police union is calling for violent video games to be banned — in the wake of yet another school shooting, this time in Germany.

Heini Schmitt is saying that every perpetrator of school shootings also has an addiction to violent computer games. As with other hysterical commentators of these terribly sad events (school shootings) the first thing they look for is if the perp owns a copy of a violent video game. If that’s the case, and it has been so far, the correlation of violent game to school shooting is inferred as causation.

The problem is that is not how things really work.

One of the things about humans is that we like to get answers to difficult questions, and we tend to do that by matching up patterns. Since we’re a little lazy too, we tend to go for the easy links. The problem is, the links don’t always tell the truth.

The links between cause and effect can be pretty ambiguous. Anything can be used. Don’t forget, pretty much every one of these school shooters has used a telephone at some time. “Aha!” I hear you say, “It’s proof! Violent acts are caused by telephone addiction!”

Would you really believe that? Nope. I wouldn’t either.

Then why do we automatically assume that violent games cause violent behaviour? There hasn’t been any decent peer reviewed research done that backs up this claim.

Now it could be that there is a link between violent games and violent acts. That link is the perpetrator. Think about it, if someone is prone to violence, then maybe they’d play violent games too. They might even fantasize about the violence in the game, or the violence on TV… the news…

That doesn’t make the game responsible for the actions of someone who is already violently predisposed.

And let’s not forget about the fact that nearly every teenager or young adult these days has a game console or computer in their home with at least one or more popular game. That the most popular games tend to have a violent theme, and the likelihood of a violent offender owning a game goes through the roof. 

The big problem is that most of the school (or other) shootings tend to result in the death of the perpetrator leaving only third parties to answer for him. There’s no one really left to tell us why it happened.

As a society we need to start thinking rationally about these things.

Correlation is not causation.


  1. DM Osbon Said,

    Religion is the biggest factor ever to be used in mankinds history when causing violent death, murder, genocide. It’s the biggest ‘easy link’ that we can all see but I don’t see the police trying to ban all known religions anytime soon.

    Lazy..?

    Nail on head, stropp.

  2. Katherine Said,

    It makes me want to get all the timid-looking women I can find (including myself) who enjoy playing mainstream (read: violent) computer or video games, and run an ad campaign. “Do I look like a killer? Violent media has not been shown to cause real-world violence”.

    Or a group of normal, inoffensive looking young adults “Every time you claim that violent media causes real-world violence, you’re accusing all of our age group of being killers.”

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