Do violent video games make its players more violent?

Do violent video games make its players more violent?

This is a hotly debated subject, and I may as well say this straight away, I do not offer any conclusive answers in this post. What I do offer is a brief insight into the research conducted.


Generally we see a lot of people usually connected to the gaming industry as creators or gamers, who argue against games and media making people more violent. On the other side are the people who are sceptical towards the amount of violent media we consume nowadays, and the concern is only growing in pace with games becoming more realistic.

Now I am trying to keep my own opinion out of this post. But still, for the sake of clarity, I will say that personally I do not believe we can blame violent video games directly for any violent acts that go on in the world. This is not to say that violence in video games don’t affect the people playing them. There is definitely evidence to show that this is the case, but in which way exactly they affect people is harder to say, especially when it comes to longer lasting effects on the player’s perception of themselves and their surroundings. I added this part to the post in case my own opinion influences the angle of it. At least now you, the reader, are aware of where I stand in all of this when looking at some of the arguments and research on the subject.

The main issue to do with video games, violence and aggression is explained very well by Christopher Ferguson:

‘There is nothing unscientific about the hypothesis that video game violence may cause aggression. The hypothesis is a perfectly reasonable empirical question. Further, I wish to be careful not to paint with an overly broad brush. Some scholars who have found links between video games and some aspects of aggression have been very careful to speak within the limits of their data (e.g. Giumetti and Markey 2007; Williams 2013), and I have nothing but respect for their work. The issue is when scholars speak beyond their data in pursuit of moralistic or advocacy goals’.

So as he mentions, the hypothesis in itself is fine, and some links have been found, but the difference between what we can call “good” and “bad” science is whether a study, as Ferguson puts it, ‘speaks beyond their data’. Sadly, attention to this does not often seem to be given, as claims of evidence that video games generate violent behaviour frequently surface, despite the fact that the evidence found in the studies is not vast enough to support the claim.

It especially seems to be an issue in the United States, and it is spread effectively. One thing is that we see the APA (American Psychological Association) warn against the violence of video games, but a somewhat more publically prominent person such as Dr. Phil is of the same opinion:

‘The number one negative effect is they [children who play violent video games] tend to inappropriately resolve anxiety by externalizing it. So when kids have anxiety, which they do, instead of soothing themselves, calming themselves, talking about it, expressing it to someone, or even expressing it emotionally by crying, they tend to externalize it. They can attack something, they can kick a wall, they can be mean to a dog or a pet’

Now my problem with this is for one, there are no sources offered for this claim, and two, it strikes me as slightly un-nuanced to place all the blame for a child’s violent conduct on the games he or she plays. I do not have a degree in psychology, but even I am aware of the fact that a person’s behaviour is a result of many different stimuli, and not just a single such as the violence in video games. Again, this is not to say that children are not affected by the games they play, to some degree they most probably are, but I find it problematic that violent video games appear to be a scapegoat for bad behaviour.

There is good research out there. Research that plays an important role in increasing our understanding of video games and how they can affect us. Some of the more promising studies have been related to how video games can affect the player’s empathy, which is a really interesting area that I can only recommend you read more about. ( Another study that yielded interesting results was one on how the state of flow affects players experience with violence (Matthews, 2015).  As part of the conclusion Matthews wrote:

‘The debate surrounding video game violence is perplexing, as studies yield divergent conclusions. The reason for these differences is unclear; yet, the current study posits that skill level may be an overlooked variable capable of contextualizing some of these discrepancies. The work reveals a complex relationship between skill, flow, perceptions, and aggression related outcomes. Subsequent video game research may benefit from continuing to investigate this relationship in hopes of bridging the disparate conclusions on the effects of violent video game content’

See this is better, meant in the way that Matthews is more cautious in his conclusion, not exaggerating his findings and what they offer to tell us. He also acknowledges the complexity of the issue at hand. And it is a complex matter, as is much science, not the least all research to do with video games. So please, this is the take home message of today’s post, how video games affect us and our aggression levels is a complex matter!

In truth we don’t exactly know how video game violence affects us. There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that is can damage a person’s perception of violence, and chance his or her understanding of what is acceptable and what is not. On the other hand there are indications that violent games do indeed affect us, at least in the short term, and it is therefore always wise to have this in mind – if you find it best, then show whatever caution towards these products as you see fit.

What is not helpful is when people with the one or the other opinion spread loose rumours about games effects based on unsubstantial evidence.

Okay so yeah, I ended up including my own opinion somewhat through this post. In truth, with a subject such as this one, it is difficult not to include one’s own opinion. It is a hotly debated subject. I myself am generally just an advocate for caution. Things tend to be more complicated than we anticipate, this subject is no exception. I have a great respect for all the people who study games and their possible effects they may have on us. As games become increasingly popular, deepening our understanding of games and their effects become more important.

Do video games make their players more violent? There is evidence to show that this is possibly the case, at least in the short term, but the question is what happens in the long term. We don’t know yet. But with further research, I am sure we will.


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