After a gunman killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart in August, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick laid part of the blame for acts of mass violence on graphic video games that teach “young people how to kill.”
On Wednesday, a gaming industry representative rejected that conclusion while appearing before a special Texas Senate committee that Patrick created to study violence and propose solutions to limit, if not stop, future attacks.
“Numerous well-respected authorities have found no scientific evidence to suggest any causal link between video games and real-world violence,” said Tom Foulkes with the Entertainment Software Association, which represents makers of video and computer games.
Although the same video games are played around the world, “the United States is the only industrialized nation that experiences gun violence at this level and frequency,” Foulkes told the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety during a hearing at the Capitol.
“Societies where the same types of video games are played just as avidly do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur here in the U.S.,” he said, adding that studies, metastudies and science do not point to the video game industry as the problem.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she was concerned that very graphic violence depicted in some first-person shooter games could make somebody with mental health problems more susceptible to violence.
“I don’t think there is anybody up here who is anti-video game, and we are trying to delve down and find if there is any connection at all,” Nelson said.
Foulkes said the great majority of those games are rated M for mature and are intended for those over age 17 because they feature more realistic action, while games rated T for teen typically feature cartoonish depictions of violence that lack blood and gore.
In addition, most games feature parental controls that can block them from being played, Foulkes said.
Nelson was skeptical.
“There are an awful lot of young people who are playing these games that are designated for mature audiences,” she said. “What we’re trying to figure out is if there is any connection to the violence that we’ve seen.”
While recent studies have found no direct tie between video games and violence, some have found an increase in aggression among players, prompting warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics and similar organizations.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he saw the focus on video games as “a diversion to what I see as the real problem.”
“There are some in this building who would like to make you and your industry the villain of the serious problem we’re facing,” he said, drawing attention away from “real solutions” such as better background checks before a firearms purchase.
The committee also heard from Google and Facebook representatives who discussed efforts to find and remove hateful or violent content. They also said both companies have 24-hour access to process subpoenas and court orders for information vital to investigations, with any potentially violent situations handled as soon as possible.
Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told the committee that social media companies have been very responsive to investigative needs.
There is, however, a need for more timely reporting of dangerous situations, with more pertinent information, McCraw said.
One company that McCraw declined to name warned law enforcement about potential violence but did not identify who made the threat or who was threatened, making it impossible for a proper response, he said.
Mental health experts also warned the committee against blaming mental illness for acts of mass violence — or using mental health conditions to try to predict future violence.
Other factors play a role, including exposure to violence and substance abuse, they said.
Tuesday’s meeting was the committee’s third in Austin. It also has met in El Paso and Odessa, where gunmen killed a total of 29 people and injured more than 50 in separate shootings in August.
More hearings will be held next year.