Like any field of science, research about video games and violence can produce conflicting results. The few studies that have not found an effect can often be explained by major flaws in design or measurement.
Skeptics argue that there is no persuasive evidence that video game violence leads kids to commit serious acts of aggression in the real world. However, they overlook the fact that experiments have only tested short-term effects.
What is the relationship between violent video games and real-world violence?
The violent video game genre is broad, with titles ranging from online shooters like Fortnite to first-person exploration games like The Remains of Edith Finch. The genre also includes a variety of game platforms, with consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 playing host to a wide range of titles. Some gamers are drawn to the violence in these titles, with simulated gun play and hand-to-hand combat providing players with the opportunity to kill and destroy in virtual worlds.
The violence depicted in violent video games is graphic and disturbing. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his concurring opinion to a 2011 Supreme Court decision, players can “shoot guns, beat people with clubs and hammers, disembowel them, cut off their heads, burn them alive, and otherwise mutilate human beings.”
Some researchers have found a relationship between playing violent video games and aggression. A study by Anderson et al in 2010 found that playing these games was associated with increased levels of aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, and physiological arousal. Other studies have found that playing these games may also lead to desensitization to real-world violence and a lack of empathy. However, spikes in violent video games popularity are often followed by corresponding declines in violence.
A meta-analysis in 2018 by a group of researchers found no significant link between playing violent video games and real-world violence. The researchers used a method called preregistration to try and avoid the biases that have historically led to conflicting results.
Are violent video games a cause of real-world violence?
The question of whether violent video games cause real-world violence has been debated for decades. In the early 2000s, researchers and anti-media groups began using dubious research to stoke moral panic over games that supposedly encouraged violent behavior. This echoed historical patterns of moral panic, including those surrounding comic books and rock music.
Some studies claimed to have found a link between video game playing and aggression, but those findings have since been called into question. A reexamination of those studies using more rigorous methodologies found that the evidence supporting such a link is weak at best. Some studies, particularly those based on the General Aggression Model (GAM), tend to find small positive correlations between gaming and aggressive behavior, but these results are often inflated by chance or sampling errors.
Other studies have used different measures of gaming and aggression, and have found no link at all. Furthermore, the releases of new violent video games have been found to correlate with a decline in violent crime – not an increase. Those looking to prevent real-world violence should direct their efforts towards other, more significant risk factors for aggression and violence. They should also avoid jumping to conclusions based on the popularity of a certain type of media. After all, the vast majority of people who play video games are not violent or aggressive.
Do violent video games lead to real-world criminality?
There have been a few studies that claim to show a link between violent video games and real-world violence. However, most of these studies are correlational and do not prove causality. In addition, they are often based on questionable measures of aggression and game content (e.g., by asking players to self-report how often they shoot or kill creatures in a video game). Furthermore, there are many risk factors for violent behaviour that do not correlate with playing video games, such as genes, sensation-seeking personality traits, witnessing domestic violence, lack of parental monitoring, depression, peer pressure, and poverty.
Even when researchers take into account these limitations, they still find no evidence of a connection between violent video games and real-world violence. In fact, several studies have found that the release of violent video games correlates with declines in crime, indicating that these games may actually be helping to reduce violence.
There is also a growing body of research that shows that video games can help to increase empathy and morality in children. This is in part because video games offer an opportunity for kids to explore the consequences of their actions and develop their moral compass. Moreover, playing video games can be a cathartic activity for those who are predisposed to violent behaviour. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the Supreme Court has ruled that video games are protected speech and that attempts to censor violent content would violate First Amendment rights.
Are violent video games harmful?
While some studies have suggested a link between video game violence and aggression, others have found no connection. The results of many studies have been criticized for being prone to false positives (when scientists accidentally deem a result significant when it is actually due to chance or other problems with the study).
In addition, most research on video game effects relies on self-reported data from young people. This method is prone to errors and biases, such as mischievous responding (where participants try to exaggerate their responses) and non-reporting.
Researchers also have difficulty controlling for factors that may influence both the level of video game play and its effects. For example, the type of video game and the specific gameplay mechanics might influence a player’s behavior. Furthermore, video games can be addictive and players may spend more time playing than they intended to.
Violent video games often contain graphic images and language that is offensive to some children. It’s important to check the ESRB rating before letting children play any video game.
Some parents and politicians have expressed concerns that violent video games cause aggression in children. The evidence is mixed and the APA has not taken an official position on the matter. Research is ongoing. In the meantime, parents can use video game ratings and parental controls to limit the amount of violent video games their children play.