Violent video games: One factor among the many

Video games (along with music and movies) are common scapegoats society will blame these days after a violent crime has occurred. What does the science currently say? Is it fair to point the finger? It’s more complicated than you think.

Studying the Effects of Playing Violent Video Games – NYTimes.com.

Social scientists have been studying and debating the effects of media violence on behavior since the 1950s, and video games in particular since the 1980s. The issue is especially relevant today, because the games are more realistic and bloodier than ever, and because most American boys play them at some point. Girls play at lower rates and are significantly less likely to play violent games.

A burst of new research has begun to clarify what can and cannot be said about the effects of violent gaming. Playing the games can and does stir hostile urges and mildly aggressive behavior in the short term. Moreover, youngsters who develop a gaming habit can become slightly more aggressive — as measured by clashes with peers, for instance — at least over a period of a year or two.

It is not clear if a video game habit increases the likelihood that a person will commit any violent crime, let alone a mass shooting. These types of events require forethought and planning and are not typically impulse events. They are also too rare to study in a rigorous way, researchers noted.

The piece explains the different types of experiments that are going on today. Remember, in a good science experiment, the question is VERY specific. In the real world, our environments are extremely complex with many interactions and factors at play. So a lab experiment that shows people are slightly more aggressive after a short stint playing video games does not translate into violent behavior in the real world. Maybe they left their console and petted the cat, immediately dissipating that feeling. Or perhaps they can disengage from the game entirely.

One important take away from this piece (and I encourage reading it, it’s very good), “the proliferation of violent video games has not coincided with spikes in youth violent crime”. So politicians and activist groups need to STOP saying that it does.

This seems to be the majority of opinion (though not everyone agrees):

“None of these extreme acts, like a school shooting, occurs because of only one risk factor; there are many factors, including feeling socially isolated, being bullied, and so on,” said Craig A. Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State University. “But if you look at the literature, I think it’s clear that violent media is one factor; it’s not the largest factor, but it’s also not the smallest.”

Therefore the factors remain. In order to prevent another such incident DOES NOT means eliminating this one factor, it means a comprehensive understanding of why some individuals do this. Not simple. At all.

  6 comments for “Violent video games: One factor among the many

  1. Chris Howard
    February 12, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    Clergy molest children, therefore religions create pedophiles.

    Or

    Do pedophiles go where the children are?

    It’s probably the same scenero with video games. Most kids who play violent games, and view violent content are well adjusted, and don’t commit acts of violence.

    People who are more prone to violent behavior probably gravitate to violent media content. The content may reinforce their already violent tendencies.

  2. RDW
    February 12, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    The number of mass shooters is small. Did any of them play violent video games ?? The number of shootings from gang- type violence or smaller scale, rage related violence is quite a bit larger. What percentage of those shooters played violent video games ?? I’d think the answers would be : some, and a rather large percentage. There might not be causation occurring very much, though. I would tend to believe, though, that for people who aren’t shooters, who play violent video games, it might be dulling some of the significance of the heinous acts, such as the Newtown Massacre. Not based on Science, just an opinion, but it seems like a lot of people are willing to just slip back into a “What EVER” type of mindset after something like that happens, and I think their saturation in violent media might very well be to blame. A roomful of children rendered into… something other than a roomful of children, such as occurred in Newtown, is just another violent memory, grouped in with a lot of other memories. It becomes like a drop of water, flowing away in a river of memories, towards an ocean of …. not remembering.

  3. Sean A. Elliott
    February 12, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    There are a few problems here. First, video games are played by many adults, it is a hobby that extends well beyond childhood. Secondly, what kind of games are we talking about? Somehow I doubt SimCity would drive anyone to violent outbursts. There seems to be an outdated view of the medium among the general public. There is plenty of diversity in gaming, and a wide range of genres.
    This all seems a bit alarmist, and reminds me of Dr.Frederic Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent” about the dangers of comic books. This was instrumental in the creation of the Comics Code, a tool for censorship that harmed the creative potential of the artists and writers, essentially stalling the growth of the medium.
    It is clear that as a culture, our entertainment has become increasingly violent, coarse and frankly, stupid. I think this is a reflection; a product of a society out of balance and not the cause.

    • Brian
      February 12, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      I used to torture my Sims in a manner most horrifying.. :-D

      “It is clear that as a culture, our entertainment has become increasingly violent, coarse and frankly, stupid. I think this is a reflection; a product of a society out of balance and not the cause.”

      I agree completely. Actually, our culture and society is violent, coarse, and incredibly stupid. Tho the stupid begets everything else, I believe.

  4. February 14, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    My father said it best when I was a senior and Columbine happened, “Violent games may not affect you, but that stimulus may be deeper for the right kind of brain.” I doubt that an all inclusive study could take place that would give us a better answer as to how simulated violence is processed by everyone or potential risk citizens. As school shootings are still rare when you look at the ratio of the number of schools Vs incidents per year, we may never have the data we need.

  5. Flucksy
    March 2, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    Seeing as people killed and ate animals (sometimes each other) for thousands and thousands of years before we figured out how to Ben farm, I’d say that killing is more hard wired in us, rather than learned by watching flashing lights.

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