What effect does violent video games have on children, teens, and adults? Although many assume that computer game violence causes people to behave aggressively and violently in the real world, does the research actually back up this claim?
The answer is not as clear as originally thought.
Despite the fact that researchers have been looking at this question for over thirty years, the answer really depends on:
A. Who asks the question
B. How “violence” is defined
C. How strong the effects need to be before they are considered clinically significant
D. The population being studied
On one extreme are those who argue that computer games actually cause more aggressive and violent behaviors in those who play them. For evidence of this, look no further than individuals and groups who blame games whenever there are school shootings.
On the other extreme are those who completely deny that violent computer games have any effect whatsoever on those who play them.
Depending on one’s motivations and goals, it is extremely easy to find published studies, websites, case studies, and experts in support of either position.
As is often true, the real answer appears to lie somewhere in between these two extremes.
By reviewing published journal articles on the effects of violent video games it is possible to come to some general conclusions.
1. Television violence may be more harmful for children than exposure to violent computer games.
2. Physiological measures of arousal such as heart rate, brain activity, and skin conductance do seem to be activated by violent games.
3. For adults, there is almost no evidence that video game violence increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviors in the real world.
4. In free-play situations immediately after exposure to violent computer games, there is evidence that children show a short-term increase in physical aggression.
5. It is possible that there is a bias towards publishing research demonstrating negative effects of video game violence, compared to studies finding that there is no clear connection.
6. In studies that do find an effect of computer game violence, boys generally show a stronger effect than girls.
7. A person’s natural trait aggression is a better predictor of real-world violence than how much he or she plays video games with violent content.
8. Most players deny that playing violent computer games has a negative effect on them.
9. Studies completed in tightly controlled laboratory settings (compared to those in natural settings) seem to increase the odds that a negative effect of video game violence will be found.
10. People who are more aggressive by nature are more likely to play violent video games – suggesting the relationship between games and aggression is not simply “cause and effect.”