Do Video Games Cause Violence?

As more and more cases of major acts of violence occur -- first the shooting at Columbine High School, then at Virginia Tech, then Sandy Hook, and far more in between -- I become more and more interested as to why this stuff is happening. Being an 18 year old male, I am well acquainted with violent video games such as Call of Duty, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto. People my age play these games hours on end, and for some, it consumes their lives. This makes me wonder if there is any sort of causal connection between playing these outrageously violent games and violence the real world. Do these games cause people to commit real-world violence, or at least cause them to be more susceptible to such actions?

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One study, conducted by Ohio State University professor, Brad Bushman, took 70 French university students and sat them down in a room. It was a single blind study where the students were told they would be participating in a study to measure the effects of video game brightness on visual perception, and that they would each be paid 10 euros a day for their efforts. This method allows the study to be more unbiased because the students will simply go about the experiment like they normally would, not knowing that the researchers are actually measuring aggressive behavior.

 The students were split into two equal groups, with each group being randomly assigned to play either a violent or non-violent game for 20 minutes a day for three days. After each session, students were told to write the ending of a random story. For example, in one story a driver crashes into the main character's car and basically destroys it. The student is then supposed to write what happens when the main character confronts the other driver. Additionally, each student was told to play a computer game in which they had to respond to a visual cue faster than their opponent. The loser would receive an awful sounding noise that combined scratching nails on a chalkboard, dentist drills, and ambulance sirens. The winner was able to choose the intensity and length of these sounds. The results found that the students who played the violent games were more likely to write violent-related stories and give out more intensified and longer unpleasant sounds. 

Bushman concludes that exposure to violent video games can be positively linked to aggressive effect and physiological arousal. However, this study only proves the link of short-term behavior. Longitudinal studies must be done to prove that there is a causal effect between violent video games and long-term aggressive behavior. 

Although this study appeared to be very well done and conclusive, I am not yet convinced that video games cause aggressive behavior. There are just too many third variables that can skew the research, such as the chance that kids who play violent video games also watch violent television and movies. Who's to say that the violent television isn't leading to violent real life behavior? Additionally, reverse causation definitely needs to be considered on this topic. It only makes sense that people who are already violent in real life have more of a desire to play video games that allow them to continue to be violent. As british psychologist Guy Cumberbatch says referenced by this article from Live Science, "Finding that people who enjoy violent media may also be aggressive is tantamount to observing that those who play football also enjoy watching it on television." What he is saying is that football players watch football because they enjoy the game of football, just as people who commit violence in the real world like to play violent video games because they enjoy the nature of violence. The article goes on to make another good point: While video games have become more violent over the last 20 years, violent crime has decreased significantly, with gun violence such as assaults, robberies, and sex crimes dropping 75% lower in 2011 than in 1933. 

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After researching this topic thoroughly, I have concluded that there is no doubt a correlation between violent video games and real world violence. However, correlation does not imply causation. Until there is conclusive evidence that these video games cause short and long term aggressive behavior and violence (which is nearly impossible considering the points I have made about third variables and reverse causation), I will not be convinced. So for now, Science 200, I say keep playing GTA5. Just don't kill anybody. 

But enough of my opinion, what do you guys think? Have you been playing violent video games all your life and now consider yourself a violent person? Or has it had no effect whatsoever? It would be interesting to here how this topic has impacted you guys personally. 

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