Are Violent Video Games Harmful?


Every time there's a mass-shooting or violent tragedy involving a kid or young adult, politicians seem to love drawing connections to video game violence.

 In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre last year, the reactions were no different. When it was found that Adam Lanza, the shooter, spent many hours each day playing violent video games, there was a media firestorm. 


Ralph Nader came out and publically denounced manufacturers of these games, referring to them as "electronic child molesters" that were partially to blame for the tragedy. Governors, mayors, and senators all over the country followed suit in voicing their disapproval. Vice President Joe Biden even went as far as proposing a tax on violent video games to try and discourage them from being purchased. Yet, in my opinion, very few people based their beliefs on scientific evidence. Instead, the connections being drawn seemed to be purely anecdotal and driven by people's natural impulse to act quickly to solve a terrible problem.


As a result, I became curious. Could video game violence actually be a cause of youth crime?


Ohio State psychology professor Brad Bushman, in conjunction with researchers in France and Germany, decided to use the scientific method to investigate this problem. In his study, 70 students from a university in France were assigned to play either three violent (Call of Duty 4, Condemned 2, and The Club) or three nonviolent (S3K Superbike, Dirt 2, and Pure) video games for 20 minutes per day on three consecutive days. Then, each day, participants were given the beginning of a scenario and asked to list 20 things that the main characters might say or do next. For example, "in one story another driver crashes into the back of the main character's car, causing significant damage." Whenever a participant predicted a violent or aggressive response to the scenario, the researchers recorded it as a measure of "hostile expectations".

Then, in the second part of the study, "Each student was told that he or she would compete against an unseen opponent in a 25-trial computer game in which the object was to be the first to respond to a visual cue on the computer screen. The loser of each trial would receive a blast of unpleasant noise through headphones, and the winner would decide how loud and long the blast would be". Researchers then compared the volume and duration of the noise chosen by the violent video game players to the non-violent as a measure of "aggression".

According to research, students who played the violent video games became more aggressive and expectant of hostility over the three-day period while those who played the non-violent games saw no change. Bushman concluded, "I would expect that the increase in aggression would accumulate for more than three days. It may eventually level off. However, there is no theoretical reason to think that aggression would decrease over time, as long as players are still playing the violent games".

Assuming aggressive people are more likely to commit crimes, these findings seem to support the claims that violent video games are a cause of youth delinquency. Yet, the credibility of Bushman's research must be carefully examined.  

The experimental design of the study seems to be moderately strong. Given the fact that 70 people isn't a huge sample size, the research was still carried out well. The subjects were even partially blinded to the true purpose of the research because in the beginning they were told that they "would be participating in a 3-day study of the effects of brightness of video games on visual perception." By doing so, researchers avoided some risk of participant bias. For example, if the students in this study knew that the effect of video game violence on aggression was being tested, they might have changed their answers in the scenario part of the study or their choice of punishment for the loser of the game in the second half of the research.


Yet, there were still a few issues that I had with Bushman's research.  In the first part of the study that involved scenario expectations, it was left up to the researchers to determine what responses qualified as "violent" or "non-violent". Therefore, it's hard to know exactly how violence was defined and the experiment may not be as easily reproduced. Another problem with the study that Bushman somewhat acknowledged is that it was only carried out over 3 days for 20 minutes per day. Even though the participants who played violent video games seemed to experience increased aggression in the short term, the long-term effect was unanalyzed. In addition, the results of this study could be due to chance. 


Reverse causation is also possible because its plausible that people are buying and playing violent video games because they already have aggressive personalities.


For these reasons, a rational person should not jump to the conclusion that video game violence leads to real life crime. While the theory seems logical, there is not enough scientific evidence to back it up. In fact, there doesn't even seem to be a correlation. 



I think that violent video games could certainly influence bad behavior, especially among younger children. There brains are the most underdeveloped and susceptible to being influenced. Certainly, games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto display numerous instances of violent behavior that could be imbedded into the brains of young children as acceptable. However, I think that saying that violent video games could be the direct result of violence is rather over-exaggerating. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our behavior and must choose our actions based on potential consequences. I have played many violent video games before and have never committed an extremely violent act. In fact, an article was written on this exact subject not to long ago, which can be found here:

Although violent video games can influence younger kids to make some poor decision, games like GTA5 have an Mature Audience rating to try to prevent the kids from participating. In my opinion, we should be putting more blame towards the parents who allow their young kids play these games, rather than the actual production of these games in general. When GTA5 came out, I habitually played until I physically could not think anymore, but I certainly did not feel the urge to blow up a car. Younger kids tend to imitate anything they hear or see, so parents should always make a conscience effort to keep these games away from them. If nothing is changed by parents, kids will develop many habits including cursing or even physical abuse to others. I am a strong advocate of violent video games, because lets be honest, they kick ass. But I am also a strong advocate of keeping these games away from kids who are not ready to see these vulgar actions.

I would agree that playing violent video games would change the behavior of children it is still up to the person to make their own decisions. I do not think that playing a video game would drive any average person into committing violent acts. For any extreme case there would have to be other third variables affecting the person such as environment and other factors.

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