ByAna Valens, writer at
Writer and games critic. As seen at the Daily Dot, Waypoint, Kill Screen, Bitch Media, and ZEAL.
Ana Valens

Good news, maligned gamers. There's more proof out there that violent video games don't actually turn gamers into aggressive, violent monsters. Nice to see the scientific world finally catching up with what we've all known for some time.

A new research paper in the publication Brain Imagining and Behaviour reveals that hardcore violent video game fans actually don't experience any emotional desensitization from playing violent games.

Researchers compared 14 first-person shooter fans to 14 people who don't play violent games. In the study, scientists placed subjects into a brain scanner and studied some of their emotional reactions to positive, negative, and neutral photos. And as it turns out, there was an identical amount of neural action and emotional sensitivity between participants who played violent games and those who didn't.

"Our results suggest [a need] to rethink the desensitisation hypothesis," researchers concluded.

The research study is a pretty significant one for psychological studies of video games. The gaming industry has long been under siege from researchers, counselors, and parents arguing that video games make kids violent. But it appears that simply isn't the case. And while there may be various factors that go into how people relate to games (and whether they can become addicted), this latest study means there's a pretty optimistic future ahead for research on gaming.

There's A Long History Of Researchers Attacking Video Games, Though

[Source: Steam]
[Source: Steam]

The 1990s brought renewed public interest into the world of video gaming. As computer graphics became more advanced, became much more violent. Titles like Doom and Mortal Kombat popped onto the market, freely spraying blood and gore everywhere. Parents started to take notice. And researchers did, too.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, psychologists started turning an eye to violence in gaming. One 1998 study reported back that children who played violent video games developed a "hostile attribution bias." Another 2000 press release from the American Psychological Association said that video games could "increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior both in laboratory settings and in actual life." And then in 2002, a Secret Service report said 12 percent of school shooters played violent video games—an exceptionally low percentage, but considering the sensitive, hot button topic, only helped fan the flames.

There was an all-out war on video games, and the research seemed to suggest that violent video games were causing problems in society.

[Source: Ubisoft]
[Source: Ubisoft]

But modern science has since caught up with '90s and 2000s parents' anxieties about video games. The American Psychological Association has since clarified some of their beliefs on playing graphic video games, and has critiqued psychologists' research on the matter. Other studies have flat-out refuted the claim that violence in gaming causes aggression. In recent years, video game research has matured into a more nuanced discussion.

For example, one 2017 study found that violent video games do not cause a change in empathy among players. Another study revealed that young children playing violent video games were not necessarily likely to become aggressive as they grew older, nor did games cause attention deficit problems or socialization issues. Modern scientific studies just aren't demonizing gaming the same way that they tended to do 20 years ago. Or at least, there's not as much bias anymore.

That doesn't necessarily mean video games do not affect players, of course. Video game addiction is relatively well documented, and some studies have linked video game playing to mood disorders like depression and anxiety (though whether it's a cause-and-effect scenario is inconclusive). However, it's safe to say that researchers are looking at video games from a whole new angle these days. Research is much more fair, and there's plenty of positive literature out there alongside the negative takeaways.

It's an important evolution. The gaming community has already been fraught with enough negative press over the years, thanks to things like Gamergate and sensationalized studies that have played upon parents' fears of the unknown—just as they alway do every time a new medium for teenage entertainment goes mainstream. There's a lot of good to be found in video games from a psychological perspective; it's good to see researchers are finally starting to get on board.

Do you think people are starting to change their minds on violent video games? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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