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Violent video games not shown to cause real-world violence

Call of Duty screen shot
callofduty.com
Studies have consistently found that violent video games like 'Call of Duty' do not harm the human brain or increase the likelihood of violent acts.

On Saturday, the town of Southington, Conn., will be collecting violent video games, CDs and DVDs from its residents in exchange for gift certificates from local businesses. The items will be tossed into a dumpster and later burned.

Southington is a 30-minute drive from Newton, the site of last month’s tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 20 students and six teachers were killed. Unconfirmed media reports have suggested that the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, played violent video games, including the best-selling Call of Duty and StarCraft.

Soon after the shootings, many politicians and media pundits began calling for tougher regulations of video games. Outgoing Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., led the charge. Citing such games as a “causative factor” in real-world violence, Lieberman told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that Congress needed to take steps to make the producers of the games — and of violent movies as well — “tone it down.”

“Thank God, not all of them [people who play violent video games] become murderers,” he said on the Senate floor. “But some of them do, and we have to ask why.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., agrees. He introduced legislation last month that would instruct the National Association of Sciences to investigate and report back to Congress on the effects of violent video games on children.

“Recent court decisions [especially a 2011 one from the California Supreme Court] demonstrate that some people still do not get it,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians and psychologists know better.”

What the evidence shows

Press reports suggest that Rockefeller’s bill is unlikely to find much support in the Senate — and, perhaps, for good reason. For, as psychologist Vaughan Bell points out in a recent article in the British newspaper The Observer, the effects of violent video games have already been widely studied.

Those studies have consistently found that although these games may seem repugnant to many of us, they do not harm the human brain or increase the likelihood of violent acts.

In fact, fast-moving action video games are associated with positive cognitive outcomes. “We now have numerous studies on how playing action computer games, as opposed to puzzle or strategy titles such as The Sims or Tetris, leads to an improvement in how well we pay attention, how quickly we react, how sensitive we are to images and how accurately we sort information,” Bell explains.

Nor do studies suggest that video games lead young people to act out violently in real life. Writes Bell (using British spellings):

[U]sing randomised controlled trials, research has found that violent video games cause a reliable short-term increase in aggression during lab-based tests. However, this seems not to be something specific to computer games. Television and even violence in the news have been found to have a similar impact. The longer-term effects of aggressive gaming are still not well studied, but we would expect similar results from long-term studies of other violent media — again a small increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviour in the lab.

These, however, are not the same as actual violence. Psychologist Christopher Ferguson, based at the Texas A&M International University, has examined what predicts genuine violence committed by young people. It turns out that delinquent peers, depression and an abusive family environment account for actual violent incidents, while exposure to media violence seems to have only a minor and usually insignificant effect.

A country-by-country examination

After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Washington Post reporter Max Fisher looked at the world’s 10 largest video game markets and found “no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings.”

In fact, he says, the evidence suggests that gun violence slightly decreases in countries as video consumption increases.

“[V]ideo game consumption, based on international data, does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence,” writes Fisher. “… [C]ountries where video games are popular also tend to be some of the world’s safest (probably because these countries are stable and developed, not because they have video games).”

What the data does show, he adds, is “that America’s rate of firearm-related homicides is extremely high for the developed world.”

A link to poor health

Excessive video game playing is correlated with two bad outcomes: an increased risk of obesity and general poor health, says Bell. And some individuals who spend long hours playing video games may be using that form of entertainment to avoid “uncomfortable life problems,” he adds.

But “this can easily apply to books as video games,” Bell points out.

“The verdict from the now considerable body of scientific research is not that video games are a new and ominous threat to society but that anything in excess will cause us problems,” Bell concludes. “The somewhat prosaic conclusion is that moderation is key — whether you're killing aliens, racing cars or trying to place oddly shaped blocks that fall from the sky.”

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Comments (5)

A distraction

“Thank God, not all of them [people who play violent video games] become murderers,” he said on the Senate floor. “But some of them do, and we have to ask why.”

As the article suggests, substitute “people who read books,” “people who cook for recreation,” or “people who raise livestock,” for the operative “people who play violent video games,” and the rest of the statement is equally true. Correlation is not causation, and in this context, there isn’t even correlation. Some of the gentlest people I know are wizards at “first-person shooter” video games, and I play an occasional combat simulation myself. Playing violent video games doesn't equate to murderous impulses – or acting upon them.

Burning / crushing / otherwise destroying video games after a mass shooting like Newtown or the Aurora theater is a hysterical reaction. It may make the participants feel better, but it does nothing to increase public safety. More sensible would be some public policy decisions that actually affected the availability to the general public of real (as opposed to electronic) military-style semi-auto weapons and real large-capacity magazines.

I find all these studies flawed by two things

First, the violent video games studies are flawed because they ONLY look at a direct correlation between the games and mass killings of the exact same individual. However, the biggest problem with them is that they are a part of American culture. Nobody thinks twice of someone going to another person's home to find two children blasting up stuff on TV. But it's just wrong. It's a destructive and frankly infantile waste of human effort. We as a society seem fascinated by this kind of carnage and no one seems to care. Whether they find a direct link - like murder A played X number of hours in Black Ops and then killed X number of people - it is a part of a careless, life-is-cheap culture.

Second, the press is so prejudiced against anything that could maybe, possibly, hint at being against some hugely broad concept of the First Amendment that it - collectively - never wants to look at anything that could deal with freedom of expression. Even if someone found a link, the press would make them out to be crazy or incompetent. I agree that with modern servers we could never stop people from gaining access to the games. But until we start interviewing guys who created the newest weapon on Assassin like he is some sort of rock star, this will only get worse.

As a former journalist and a current gun owner, I can tell you that the zeal of First Amendment backers working at news organizations shames the zeal of the biggest gun nuts I've ever met. I worked for an editor at a major daily newspaper who thought it should be legal to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater. That slippery slope, you know.

This is a cultural problem. You can remove the hardware, and it will just make people be more creative. Until we stop the concept that a movie is no good unless somebody "gets blowed up" this violence will not stop.

Then why don't other countries have the same problem?

If these games cause violence, then any country with video games should be having the same problems we do, but they don't. If you're going to say it's something different about American culture, then the problem is something in American culture, not the video games. If these studies looked not just for a violent effect, but for a cathartic effect, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they found it.

I would agree there is something different about us. There is one glaring difference between us and everyone else. We have enormous numbers of guns and ready access for dangerous people. I'm fine with another study of video games, provided it isn't an excuse for once again pretending our problem isn't the bloody obvious.

The other problem is

The fact that people immediately blame violent video games for the killer's training is very untrue. This is because doing something virtually and in reality are two different things entirely. Holding a gun in a video game is weightless and every time you pull the trigger there is minimal recoil. While in real life guns are heavy and not that easy to use. There is massive amounts of recoil just from simply squeezing the trigger and letting a couple of bullets go. Therefore it is better to say that the violent video games influenced his actions and not really training him.

This has been researched for

This has been researched for the past 40's years in some sort or fashion- rather it be music, TV, or video games, it has been researched.. a lot. Professionally, I hold very little merit to media (any kind) CAUSING violence or aggression. The data is not there. With that said, any viewing of violence (at school, at home, video games) can have a correlation to aggression/violence if poor parenting is involved. What is a better predictor of violence is parenting (including parents behavior) and bullying.