Since the release of Death Race in 1976, people have been up in arms about video game violence in some form or another. Games like #GrandTheftAuto, #MortalKombat, Silent Hill: Homecoming and Manhunt were banned or censored for their content out of fears that they would negatively influence minors, and even relatively violence free games have come under fire. Politicians and pundits alike have claimed that playing violent video games is the first step onto a slippery slope that leads to mass-murdering psychopathy and stabbing grannies, and called for them to be banned. But is it true?
Do Violent Video Games Cause Violence?
The answer? A little, but not really.
If that seems like a confusing answer, it's because the results themselves are pretty confused. Multiple studies have been conducted over the years, some funded by anti-gaming groups and government watchdogs, others by private universities and journals. The results have been mixed, but have generally fallen into two distinct groups which mostly seem to differ based on what kind of results the group conducting the study wanted to find and their methodologies.
Can Video Games Make You More Aggressive?
This was a common finding touted by several high profile studies into video game violence. The studies commonly claimed that subjects who were exposed to violent video games behaved more aggressively than those who were not.
While these results seem to confirm that violent video games can increase one's short term aggression, there's been few, if any, links found to link this short term increase to any subsequent violent or criminal activity. The best that studies can find is that violent video games may be a minor risk factor for those who are predisposed to violence due to multiple other factors.
Maybe They Can't- Studies Show Weak Link Between Games And Aggression
A recent long term study by Oxford University, as well as another led by Psychologist Christopher Ferguson, have reached some very different conclusions. Looking over scores of other studies that had previously been undertaken revealed serious flaws in their methods.
Ferguson's study found that previous studies measured aggression by exposing subjects in lab conditions to brief clips of violent media, then deciding whether they were aggressive via actions like "filling in the missing letters of words" and "delivering nonpainful noise bursts to a consenting opponent,” none of which is actually particularly aggressive behaviour in any kind of real world context. Unless you believe that the crossword is a scene of vicious gladiatorial combat.
The Oxford University study also pointed out that previous studies comparing violent to nonviolent games had failed to use games with similar levels of competitive or difficult gameplay. This means that competition and the stress of challenge, rather than viewing violence, may actually be what fuels aggression.
So Violent Video Games Don't Cause Violence?
Probably not. The two large scale studies found that there was no historical link between times when the most violent games were available and rates of violence. On a personal level, they also found that there was little correlation between the violence in a video game and rates of aggression. Children who played one or fewer hours a day of video games, no matter whether they were violent or not, were actually on average less aggressive than children who played no video games. On the other end, children who played more than three hours of games a day were more aggressive, again without any link to how violent the games are. The conclusion was pretty definite:
“These findings do not support the idea that regular violent game play is linked to real world violence or conflict.”
So relax fellow game fans, your hours spent playing violent video games as a child haven't warped your mind, even if long hours of Goldeneye 007 may have permanently callused your thumb. Now we can all get back to the grotesque gore of games like Resident Evil 7 without worrying too much about whether it'll make us do anything more violent than solve a crossword wrong.