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Psychologists reaffirm that blaming video games for violence is ‘not scientifically sound’

The statement comes during a lull in the national dialogue on violent video games

A group of Fortnite avatars wielding a rotary grenade launcher and various melee weapons.
Fortnite was recently banned by the Kentucky high school athletic association following its surprise introduction by a technical partner, PlayVS.
Image: Epic Games
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

On Tuesday the American Psychological Association, the leading scientific and professional organization of its kind in the United States, reaffirmed its position on violence in video games. “There is insufficient scientific evidence to support a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior,” it said in a news release. The statement reasserts a resolution made in 2015, and was based on a review of the most recent literature on the subject.

“Violence is a complex social problem that likely stems from many factors that warrant attention from researchers, policymakers and the public,” said APA president Sandra L. Shullman, PhD. “Attributing violence to video gaming is not scientifically sound and draws attention away from other factors, such as a history of violence, which we know from the research is a major predictor of future violence.”

The statement did provide a caution, however, stating that there was some perceived link between violent video games and “aggressive outcomes, such as yelling and pushing.” But, it added, “these research findings are difficult to extend to more violent outcomes.”

The topic of violent video games in high schools recently made headlines when, in January, Kentucky’s high school athletic association banned Fortnite from varsity esports. Its technical partner, PlayVS, added the competitive third-person shooter to its platform in a surprise move overnight, causing confusion among coaches and players throughout the state. At the time, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) said it was working with PlayVS to resolve the issue.

In 2018, following a string of tragic school shootings, President Donald Trump came out strongly against violence in video games, saying that he was “hearing more and more people say the level of violence in video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.” He eventually set up a commission to study the topic, which ultimately had little to say about entertainment’s impact on school violence.

Polygon has reached out to several high school esports organizations for comment, including PlayVS, High School Esports League (HSEL), NFHS, and the North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF).

Update (March 4): Reached for comment, the HSEL was excited about today’s news.

“Finally, one key stigma associated with the video game industry is shown not to be based in fact,” said Mason Mullenioux, co-founder and CEO of HSEL. “We are hopeful that this allows us to move forward and focus instead on all of the great benefits video games do offer our youth.”

“HSEL also works with each member school to define its own acceptable content,” he continued. “Schools that still wish to exclude games that feature any type of violence are fully encouraged to set their own acceptable use policies as part of our structured, teen-focused esports curriculum.”

Update 2 (March 5): Reached for comment, the NASEF was similarly pleased to see the APA reaffirm its findings.

“At NASEF, the well-being and positive development of students is our utmost priority,” said a spokesperson. “We offer a variety of titles for clubs to play throughout the year. Titles are carefully vetted for appropriateness and approved by the Orange County Department of Education (CA). Additionally, every club around the world chooses what tournament to enter (or not) through the year. Because our focus is on the learning opportunities presented through esports, not only do we offer several tournament and gameplay options, we also have Beyond the Game creative and analytic challenges which present another way for students to be involved.”

NFHS CEO Mark Koski took a harder line against first- and third-person shooters.

“The NFHS Network is pleased to offer esports to schools nationwide,” he said. “Our stance that violent shooter games have no place in organized high school activities is firm. We respect the position of the medical professionals at the American Psychological Association but will not waiver [sic] on our policy of no shooter games in scholastic extracurricular activities.”

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