The age-old question “Do video games lead to violence” springs to life again. I have previously discussed this question before but not as in-depth as I could have gone. I covered the basics of what surrounds this topic, but the questions still linger. Now, I will go more in depth, I will survey multiple studies, gather the evidence and come to a conclusion that video games do not directly cause acts of violence, instead, they cause more aggression.
Before I get into the specifics of the data, I will go over some key terms that will help clear up any misunderstandings. Aggression is hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another. Aggression is used in a bunch of research and is very relevant to this topic because it is being compared and contrasted with violence. Violence is behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. A video game is a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or other display screen.
The first thing to discuss is why are video games the main point of discussion? Somebody can make the argument that watching violent television programs can have the same effect? A very well constructed scholarly review by Jodi L. Whitaker and Brad J. Bushman titled A REVIEW OF THE EFFECTS OF VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES is going to be our best friend when it comes to figuring out these answers. In their review, they state “people learn better when they are actively involved” (Bushman 1035). An example I’d like to bring is would you rather watch a basketball training video and that be it or actually do the exercises in the training video? LeBron James didn’t become great by watching Michael Jordan, he put the work in to be successful. In this scenario, at a young age or even any age in general, by playing the video game you are controlling the person that is doing the shooting, fighting or killing. Not only do you get put into the perspective of the person in the game, in some cases you get rewarded for doing certain actions. In the same review, they say “It is well known that rewarding behavior increases its frequency” (Bushman 1036). The theory behind this is if you tell people that what you are doing is good and that you are on the right track, then more people will do it. You don’t get rewarded for what someone else does on a television show. Also, in the article, they state “Experimental studies have shown that playing violent games directly causes players to behave more aggressively” (Bushman 1037). Long-term effects of built-up aggression lead to physical and verbal fights with others. People also have more aggressive thoughts as well. They aren’t the only ones to think that way too.
The APA (American Psychological Association) also has their own review. Their main object in their review was to let the public know of the effects of violent video games on children. They state that these video games increase aggression and have a negative impact on prosocial behavior. They also agree with Bushman in his review of the fact that playing the violent video game is bad because they are interactive unlike television shows or movies. The APA also writes an article about how violent video games are more harmful than violent movies and television because they are interactive.
PBS has also commented on this topic in their own post. They discussed how scientists went about studying this topic. Similarly to other studies, they had kids play violent video games for a few minutes and then see if their behavior changes. They also tested to see if the kids had more aggressive thoughts by showing “the word “explo_e” as explode rather than explore” (Keim). This is an interesting theory. As I read through that part of the article, the first word I thought of was explore. Of course, I was calm at the time of reading so I decided that I would play a violent video game a day later and see if anything changed. Even after playing the violent game I still thought of the word explore. That may be because I had that thought of the word explore previously but I thought I would see what I thought a day later. Anyways the results from the 130,000 people studied is that they saw an increase in aggressive thoughts and feelings. Who was the person who did these tests? Our boy, Brad Bushman. Here is a plot twist though, “To Bushman, video games aren’t likely to be the sole source of violence, but an amplifier” (Keim).
You see these studies done by him and you think that he must think these games cause violence. These studies were done and they proved that these games cause increased in aggression. That doesn’t answer the question if they cause acts of violence though. In an article by Ohio State arts and sciences department, Bushman talks more about this topic. Some background on Bushman, he has been studying this topic for about 30 years now and has conducted more than 50 studies on violent media effects. In 2010 he conducted a study across the world with others to determine what the effects of violent video games had on people. The results of testing more than 130,000 people show an increase in aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and physiological arousal. That means increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Clearly while going through this you definitely see that these games cause increased aggression. However, playing one game isn’t going to make you violent. I love the analogy that Bushman comes up with comparing violent video games to smoking. Bushman says that “A single cigarette won’t cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression.” I absolutely love this comparison because, think about it, it is true. For the purpose of testing, they only play for a bit. If they played for a while it would most likely have a greater effect on them just like smoking would. In fact, Chris Furguson would even go as far to say these games help reduce violence.
In a CNN article, Chris Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University. He goes as far to say that these violent video games cause less violence. Furguson says that “you keep them off the streets and out of trouble” (Scutti). That is an interesting proposal but one that I could understand. If they keep playing these games they wouldn’t think to cause acts of violence because they would be entertained by the game. He even says that these testing methods are outdated and that new studies with better methods failed to find a correlation between acts of violence and increased aggression. Wow, bold statement. I mean I do understand why he would say that. You would have to test over a long period of time but, the results do show increased aggression in this kids. With increased aggression at a young age, that increases their chances of becoming violent adults.
So there it is a summary of some scholarly studies and some thoughts of some professors on this topic. So, what should be the takeaway? The takeaway is that these games do cause you to become more aggressive and do not directly cause a person to make a violent act in society.
To wrap this up I thought I would give my perspective on this situation. I personally feel like these games can definitely make you more aggressive but, that is if they make you upset. I’ve been playing violent video games since I was 12 and I do not consider myself aggressive, nor do my friends and family. Have I gotten upset with these games? Absolutely. However, I play other games like Madden and FIFA and those upset me sometimes too. I’m not doubting the research, I just think to put the blame solely on violent video games isn’t completely fair. Do they cause people to be more aggressive? The studies prove that. I feel that if parents monitor their kids’ behavior and don’t let things get out of hand, then everything should be fine.