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Macron is far from the first leader to blame violence on debunked video game theory

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

Fueled by rage over the police killing of a teenager during a traffic stop in late June, throngs of young people in France have wreaked destruction on communities across the country. President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to dig into the root causes of the sweeping unrest. NPR correspondent Vanessa Romo reports that the French leader has come up with one outdated explanation - video games.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: President Emmanuel Macron has mostly blamed social media for the devastation. But he's also turned to a familiar refrain, claiming that video games have influenced the latest bout of violence and vandalism.

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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

ROMO: "It sometimes feels like some of them are experiencing on the streets the video games that have intoxicated them," Macron told reporters last week. He added that protesters are using Snapchat and TikTok to organize themselves and spread, quote, "a mimicking of violence" that he said leads to a kind of disconnect from reality.

Concerns that video games promote threatening behavior can be traced back to the 1976 release of an arcade game called Death Race. It's an almost comically lo-fi game by today's standards that puts players behind the wheel of a car to mow down humanoid figures for points. The video-games-equals-violence argument gained renewed traction in the '90s with the release of much more realistic first-person shooter games, and since then it's become an old bogeyman that politicians continue to latch onto in the wake of horrific tragedies. But it has become less common as tropes of studies have largely concluded there is no causal link between video games and violent behavior. Still, that hasn't stopped world leaders from attempting to draw a correlation between the two. Just three months ago, leftist Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva blasted video games for, quote, "teaching kids to kill." In 2019, following two mass shootings just days apart, President Trump had a similar complaint.

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DONALD TRUMP: We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.

ROMO: Christopher Ferguson, a professor at Stetson University in Florida who studied the impact of such games on the public, said he's surprised that Macron, who's 45 years old and of a generation raised with video games, would arrive at such an outdated conclusion.

CHRISTOPHER FERGUSON: Seeing him mention this is almost anachronistic. The evidence is very clear that whatever may be going on in France, whatever violence is occurring, it certainly is not due to violence in video games.

ROMO: He says factors that can serve as predictors of violent or aggressive behavior tend to be difficult family environments in which there is abuse or neglect, poverty and mental health disorders.

FERGUSON: Just, like, being in a bad neighborhood where your opportunities to get ahead and have an equal chance in society seem pretty remote.

ROMO: In other words, the sort of issues that require profound policy and societal changes.

Vanessa Romo, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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