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Does Gaming Teach Kids That Gun Control Is a Bad Idea?

New research provides evidence supporting that troubling possibility.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Andreas Levers/Flickr)

Why can’t we get gun control passed in this country, even as the massacres mount? Many reasons have been suggested, some cultural, some political. But recent research offers another intriguing possibility: our love of violent video games, specifically the first-person-shooter variety.

A new study finds college students who have spent more time playing such games were less supportive of gun-control measures than peers who played them less frequently, or not at all.

“Video-game exposure may shape the gun attitudes of young people in small but important ways,” write Matthew Lapierre of the University of Arizona and Kirstie Farrar of the University of Connecticut. “If guns can help you succeed and keep you safe in the game environment, frequent players may adopt similar attitudes toward real-life firearms in real-world settings.”

The study featured 779 students from two American universities, one in the Northeast and one in the Southeast. Participants were asked “if they had ever played a video game using a gun controller that replicates a gun or firearm. More than half reported that they had.”

They were then asked how often they played such games, at home and in arcades, and how often they play other types of violent video games.

“Video-game exposure may shape the gun attitudes of young people in small but important ways.”

Participants indicated their level of support for gun control by noting their agreement with a series of statements, including “Anyone who wants to own a gun should go through a mandatory background check” and “Armed citizens are the best defense against criminals.”

The researchers report “students who spend more time playing violent video games, first-person shooter games, and use gun controllers more are less likely to support gun control policies.”

They add that this held true even after taking into account a number of variables that traditionally predict attitudes toward guns, including the participants’ political ideology.

“Frequent exposure to certain gun-based video games, and their repetitive positive portrayals of guns — particularly first-person shooter games using gun controllers — may teach players that easier access to guns is beneficial,” Lapierre and Farrar write in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. “In turn, these players may become less supportive of gun-control policies.”

Now, the study does not prove video-game exposure is a direct cause of negative attitudes toward gun control. It’s possible the people who are attracted to such games are also more likely to believe in gun rights.

Lapierre and Farrar suspect the equation works in both directions — gun lovers may be drawn to such games, and playing them may confirm and intensify their belief in guns — but establishing that will require further research.

Nevertheless, it’s good to see video-game research that expands the scope of study. It’s solidly established by this point that violent game play is linked to heightened aggression and other problematic behaviors. This research provides evidence it may also be one more impediment to passing reasonable gun control regulations.