This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — As a part of a KXAN series called “Stop Mass Shootings,” we asked viewers to send questions they have about guns, school safety and mass violence. The series is aimed at educating the public and lawmakers in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting.
KXAN received hundreds of comments and questions on social media, which we compiled and sorted for themes. The top three: Hardening schools, gun control legislation and mental health. On the last theme, a significant number of viewers paired mental health questions with remarks about video games and violent media.
There is significant research to show violent media, video games included, “does not make well people psychologically ill,” said Tom Grimes, a Texas State journalism professor who has a background in psychiatry and has published extensive research on the role of media and video games in violent behavior.
“That’s not to say that videogame playing doesn’t have psychological effects. But they aren’t psychopathological effects,” he explained. “Game playing can’t make well people sick. Would you shoot up an elementary school after playing a lot of videogames? The question and answer is that simple.”
Research does show that people with existing mental health illnesses may experience some impact from playing violent video games and consuming violent media, Grimes said, but a clinical child psychologist and UT Austin professor, Sarah Kate Bearman, also noted that “very, very few people who have mental health problems commit any kind of violent crimes.”
KXAN spoke to Bearman as Senate committee members gathered at the Texas State Capitol to talk about warning signs and mental health following the Uvalde mass shooting.
According to the Violence Project research, a National Institute of Justice-funded project which aimed to profile mass shooters, 26 of the 136 mass shooters since 1992 played violent video games. That’s just under 20%.
Meanwhile, among those who played violent video games, 22 of the 26, or 85%, had at least one mental health illness or there was evidence of a psychiatric disorder, though it had not been diagnosed. The overall rate of mental illness among all mass shooters since 1992 was roughly 70%.
It begs the question: If research overwhelmingly shows violent media does not create mental health problems in mentally well people, and if people with mental health problems are largely victims and not perpetrators, why do the conversations happening in the direct aftermath of mass shootings almost always involve video games?
Grimes has also published on the topic of media violence research and why, after Congress held hearings to address the impact of media consumption on rising crime rates, it has created what Grimes now describes as an industry, one that has financial incentives.
“They [early researchers] should have focused exclusively on people with a variety of mental illnesses, or people who were prodromal — floating on the edge of wellness and illness — that would have been far more productive,” Grimes said. “But the more interesting, the sexier thing to do is to hypothesize that perfectly well people will become ill in the presence of this material, and that’s always more exciting.”
People may, as a result, be falling victim to “the third person effect,” which is fear-based, he said.
“Video games aren’t going to harm me. They’re not going to harm you, because I know you well. But they’re going to harm those unknown, unnamed third people out there,” Grimes explained of the effect. “So we, you and I, must protect the third person with legislation.”