Video game violence: is it causing an increase in violent behaviour?

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With video games becoming more and more a part of our culture, concerns increase about the negative effects it may be having on young people. Riya Khan investigates whether or not video games are the cause of violent behaviour.

The golden age of gaming saw the introduction of video games into mainstream pop culture and resulted in an unprecedented increase in consumption of this form of media.

Three decades on, an estimated 2.4 billion people game in some way either through consoles, personal computers or mobile phones. Because of this increase in exposure, concerns about the effects of video games have been brought to question.

Players of violent video games experience less physiological arousal to real-life violence...

Research on the effects of movies and television on violence have shown that youth exposed to violent media showed an increase in aggressive behaviour immediately following exposure. Critically acclaimed and popular games such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, the latter which belongs to a genre known as first person shooters, both simulate large amounts of violence and gore using realistic graphics. As over 85% of video games contain some form of violence, this can become concerning particularly when considering its effects on more impressionable members of society such as children and adolescents.

As such, recent studies have begun to explore the relationship between video games and violence, with the majority concluding that no such correlation exists. For example, York university found that video games do not ‘prime’ players to specific behaviours. ‘Priming’ is a form of learning whereby exposure to a concept, in this case simulated violence, should make those concepts easier to carry out offline.


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

Participants in this study were exposed to a car-themed game and then asked to identify images of vehicles from non-vehicle objects. If priming was to occur, participants should have been able to categorise vehicle images faster than participants who did not play the car-themed game, however there was no difference in reaction time between the two groups. While this study does not focus on violence specifically, it may suggest that those who play violent video games are not being encouraged to enact their virtual escapades in real life as priming is unlikely to occur.

In Germany, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate whether empathy was decreased in long term players of violent games. No such relationship was found as these players exhibited the same neural response to emotive images as non-gamers. While empathy was not shown to be decreased, another study did suggest that some form of desensitisation to violence was indeed taking place.

Targeting the video game industry appears to be a scapegoat for dealing with arguably more impactful issues...

Gaming results in physiological arousal, a normal response of the body to tense and exciting situations, and it was found that players of violent video games experienced less physiological arousal to real-life violence relative to those who did not play violent video games. While it is an interesting finding, this does not mean that violent video game players will then go on to commit violent acts, as using this logic it would not be too farfetched to claim that playing Fifa or Farming Simulator will turn you into a footballer or an agricultural God. Rather it highlights that exposure to violent video games during childhood may need to be restricted in order to avoid future desensitisation to real-life violence.

Overall, video game consumption has increased since the 90s, but violence has conversely decreased in this time. While countries like the US do have legitimate concerns about youth crime rates particularly those involving firearms, targeting the video game industry appears to be a scapegoat for dealing with arguably more impactful issues such as gun laws.

It is also important to note that claiming that all video games cause violence is too broad a statement. Regardless of the degree of correlation between these two factors, if there is one at all, video games like other forms of digital media consists of many genres. It is more appropriate to suggest that it may be specific components of video games from specific genres e.g. first-person shooters that could contribute towards encouraging aggressive attitudes, and it is not unlikely that those with a predisposition to violence or aggression will pursue gaming as a hobby.


Photo by Rebecca Oliver / Unsplash

Genres such as massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) including the likes of World of Warcraft have been reported to foster a sense of community and belonging to those without an offline support network, and many other positive effects of gaming have also been observed. It may be worth narrowing the discussion so more effective research methods can be applied and more meaningful conclusions can be drawn, especially if the end goal is to influence public policy.

As video games have been consumed on a large scale for only three decades, the impact of this relatively new technology on society has yet to be fully understood. Further research must be carried out if we are to make informed decisions about the future of this growing industry.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Nikita Kachanovsky


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