Violent Video Games
Pros and Cons
Video exploring critical thinking and how it leads to great citizen involvement
Last updated on: 10/6/2014 2:08:29 PM PST

Do Violent Video Games Contribute to Youth Violence?


PRO (yes) CON (no)
The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American Psychiatric Association, wrote in a July 26, 2000 "Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children" available at www.aap.org:
"Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts. Children exposed to violence are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.

Viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization towards violence in real life. It can decrease the likelihood that one will take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs. 

Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place. Viewing violence increases fear of becoming a victim of violence, with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and a mistrust of others. 

Viewing violence may lead to real life violence. Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed. 

Although less research has been done on the impact of violent interactive entertainment (video games and other interactive media) on young people, preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies, or music."

July 26, 2000 - American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry  
American Academy of Family Physicians 
American Academy of Pediatrics 
American Medical Association 
American Psychiatric Association (APA) 
American Psychological Association 

Craig Anderson, PhD, Director of the Center for the Study of Violence, wrote in a 2009 article "FAQs on Violent Video Games and Other Media Violence," available on psychology.iastate.edu:
"The results, overall, have been fairly consistent across types of studies (experimental, cross-sectional, and longitudinal) and across visual media type (television, films, video games). There is a significant relation between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior. Exposing children and adolescents (or 'youth') to violent visual media increases the likelihood that they will engage in physical aggression against another person. By 'physical aggression' we mean behavior that is intended to harm another person physically, such as hitting with a fist or some object. A single brief exposure to violent media can increase aggression in the immediate situation. Repeated exposure leads to general increases in aggressiveness over time. This relation between media violence and aggressive behavior is causal."

2009 - Craig Anderson, PhD 

David Greenfield, PhD, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said in a Sep. 20, 2013 panel discussion titled “Growing Up GTA” available at huffingtonpost.com:
"My opinion on video game violence, which has a very powerful reward system wired into it, is that continued exposure desensitizes people to the experience of violence. But the other big issue, along with the reward structure, is that it teaches them a skill set that they might not otherwise develop, especially the first person shooter games. I have a real problem with giving people, in the name of entertainment, a technology that desensitizes violence, and then teaches you how to commit violence more accurately … and then elevating people's levels of dopamine…

[T]hose studies have been absolutely supported. When you put people on a PET scanner or an functional MRI, their brain lights up like a Christmas tree when they're doing these games, especially when they hit the reward points that are designed by the gamers to… keep people gaming because that's how these games make their money.

Nothing is engaged in at the levels that I see gaming at, as a form of entertainment or dopamine elevation, unless it's a narcotic like cocaine for instance. How could you be exposed to something this toxic and have it not affect you?"

Sep. 20, 2013 - David N. Greenfield, PhD 

Leland Yee, PhD, State Senator (D-CA) wrote in a June 22, 2009 amicus brief filed with the US Supreme Court for Video Software Dealers Association v. Schwarzenegger:
"The interactive nature of video games is vastly different than passively listening to music, watching a movie, or reading a book. With interactive video games, the child becomes a part of the action which serves as a potent agent to facilitate violence and over time learns the destructive behavior.

This immersion results in a more powerful experience and potentially dangerous learned behavior in children and youth...

Just as the technology of video games improves at astonishing rates, so to does the body of research consistently demonstrate the harmful effects these violent interactive games have on minors. Over three thousand peer-reviewed studies, produced over a period of 30 years documenting the effects of screen violence (including violent video games), have now been published...

These data suggest very strongly that participating in the playing of violent video games by children and youth increase aggressive thought and behavior; increase antisocial behavior and delinquency; engender poor school performance; desensitize the game player to violence."

June 22, 2009 - Leland Yee, PhD 

Brad Bushman, PhD, Professor of Communication and Psychology at The Ohio State University, stated the following in a Feb. 18, 2013 article titled "Why Do People Deny Violent Media Effects?" available at psychologytoday.com
"People want to believe that if millions of people play violent video games and they don’t all become killers, then those games must be harmless. Unfortunately, that’s not true.  We haven’t 'proven' video games directly cause violence because it can’t be proven. There is no way to ethically run experiments that see if some threshold of playing a violent game like Call of Duty may push a person into violence. But that doesn’t mean we are left without evidence. We know that video game violence is certainly correlated with violence – just like smoking is correlated with lung cancer. However, this does not mean that the research does not show causal effects; in fact it does, over and over again. We recently conducted a comprehensive review of 136 articles reporting 381 effects involving over 130,000 participants from around the world. These studies show that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and aggressive behavior. Violent games also decrease helping behavior and feelings of empathy for others. The effects occurred for males and females of all ages, regardless of what country they lived in. So the question then becomes why people and journalists repeatedly shrug off this compelling body of work."

Feb. 18, 2013 - Brad J. Bushman, PhD 

Pamela Eakes, Founder of Mothers Against Violence in America (MAVIA), wrote in an article titled "Do You Know What Video Games Your Children Are Playing?" on www.pbs.org (accessed Oct. 6, 2014):
"Parents do know that children learn by observing, imitating what they observe, and acting on the world around them. According to child psychologist Michael Rich, children develop what psychologists call 'behavioral scripts.' They interpret their experiences and respond to others using those scripts.

One can easily see how repeated exposure to violent behavioral scripts can lead to increased feelings of hostility, expectation that others will behave aggressively, desensitization to the pain of others, and an increased likelihood of interacting and responding to others with violence.

Violent video games are an ideal environment in which to learn violence. Violent video games:

  • Place the player in the role of the aggressor and reward him or her for violent behavior.

  • Allow the player to rehearse an entire behavioral script from provocation to choosing a violent resolution of conflict.

  • Are addictive - kids want to play them for hours to improve their playing skills, and repetition increases learning."

Oct. 6, 2014 - Pamela Eakes 

L. Rowell Huesmann, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, was quoted as saying the following in his Jan. 9, 2008 interview titled "Violent Video Games Incite Teen Violence," available at larouchepub.com:
"[T]here are now many cases, recent cases, where kids have behaved very violently and obviously have been influenced by violent video games, one way or the other. There have been cases where kids have apparently followed scripts of video games in shooting a policeman, for example. So I think those clearly have an effect...

I think we know two things. We know that video games teach specific behavioral scripts: how to shoot.  They can teach how to land an aircraft, but they can also teach how to teach how to shoot--the muscle movements, the cognitive decisions that you need to make. And we know that they also emotionally desensitize, which makes it easier to shoot, because you don't have the negative emotional feelings that would arise in any of us, if we started to point a gun at another human, and thought about the results of that..."  

Jan. 8, 2008 - L. Rowell Huesmann, PhD 

The American Academy of Pediatrics's Council on Communications and Media wrote in a Nov. 1, 2009 policy statement titled "Media Violence" that was published in the journal Pediatrics:
"Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed…

Correlational and experimental studies have revealed that violent video games lead to increases in aggressive behavior and aggressive thinking and decreases in prosocial behavior. Recent longitudinal studies designed to isolate long-term violent video-game effects on American and Japanese school-aged children and adolescents have revealed that in as little as 3 months, high exposure to violent video games increased physical aggression. Other recent longitudinal studies in Germany and Finland have revealed similar effects across 2 years."

Nov. 1, 2009 - American Academy of Pediatrics 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry wrote in an Aug. 2006 article "Children and Video Games: Playing with Violence" published in their Facts for Families information sheet series:
"There is growing research on the effects of videogames on children... Studies of children exposed to violence have shown that they can become: ‘immune’ or numb to the horror of violence, imitate the violence they see, and show more aggressive behavior with greater exposure to violence. Some children accept violence as a way to handle problems. Studies have also shown that the more realistic and repeated the exposure to violence, the greater the impact on children. In addition, children with emotional, behavioral and learning problems may be more influenced by violent images.

Children and adolescents can become overly involved and even obsessed with videogames. Spending large amounts of time playing these games can create problems and lead to... aggressive thoughts and behaviors."

Aug. 2006 - American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry  

Bill Clinton, JD, 42nd US President, said in his Apr. 24, 1999 President's Radio Address following the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, CO:
"As Hillary [Clinton] pointed out in her book, the more children see of violence, the more numb they are to the deadly consequences of violence. Now, video games like ‘Mortal Kombat,’ ‘Killer Instinct,’ and ‘Doom,’ the very game played obsessively by the two young men who ended so many lives in Littleton, make our children more active participants in simulated violence.”

Apr. 24, 1999 - Bill Clinton, JD 

Joseph Pitts, MEd, US Representative (R-PA), stated at a June 14, 2006 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection:
"I think it is safe to say that a wealthy kid from the suburbs can play [the video game] Grand Theft Auto or similar games without turning to a life of crime, but a poor kid who lives in a neighborhood where people really do steal cars or deal drugs or shoot cops might not be so fortunate. And I should add that this isn’t a hypothetical question: Grand Theft Auto is one of the best-selling video games in America. There is almost certainly a child somewhere in America who is going to be hurt by this game. Maybe his dad is in jail, or his big brother is already down on the corner dealing drugs. Maybe he has just fallen in with the wrong crowd. But this game could be all it takes to nudge him on to the wrong side of the fence."

June 14, 2006 - Joseph Pitts, MEd 

The Economist, in its Apr. 4, 2005 editorial "Chasing the Dream," stated:
"The opposition to gaming springs largely from the neophobia that has pitted the old against the entertainments of the young for centuries. Most gamers are under 40, and most critics are non-games-playing over-40s. But what of the specific complaints - that games foster addiction and encourage violence? There's no good evidence for either…

Most of the research on whether video games encourage violence is unsatisfactory, focusing primarily on short-term effects. In the best study so far, frequent playing of a violent game sustained over a month had no effect on participants' level of aggression. And, during the period in which gaming has become widespread in America, violent crime has fallen by half. If games really did make people violent, this tendency might be expected to show up in the figures, given that half of Americans play computer and video games. Perhaps, as some observers have suggested, gaming actually makes people less violent, by acting as a safety valve."

Apr. 4, 2005 - The Economist 

In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in a 7-2 decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia on June 27, 2011, available at www.scotusblog.com:
"California... cannot show a direct causal link between violent video games and harm to minors… California relies on the research of Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively (which would at least be a beginning). Instead, '[n]early all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology' [quoting from Video Software Dealers Association 556 f. 3d, at 964] "

[Editor's Note: This decision overturned a law passed in California that restricted the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.]


June 27, 2011 - Brown v. EMA (485KB)  

Christopher Ferguson, PhD, Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology at Stetson University, wrote in a Dec. 7, 2011 article titled "Video Games Don’t Make Kids Violent" in TIME magazine:
"Quite simply, the research just hasn't panned out. For one thing, even while video game sales have skyrocketed, youth violence plummeted to its lowest levels in 40 years according to government statistics. Secondly, it has been increasingly recognized that much of the early research on violent video games linking them to increased aggression was problematic: most studies used outcome measures that had nothing to do with real-life aggression and failed to control carefully for other important variables, such as family violence, mental health issues or even gender in many studies (boys both play more violent video games and are more aggressive). More recent research has not found that children who play violent video games are more violent than other kids, nor harmed in any other identifiable fashion. A recent longitudinal study of my own, following 165 10- to 14-year-old boys and girls over a three-year period, now in press with Journal of Psychiatric Research, finds no long-term link between violent video games and youth aggression or dating violence.”

Dec. 7, 2011 - Christopher Ferguson, PhD 

Lawrence Kutner, PhD, and Cheryl K. Olson, ScD, co-founders of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, wrote in their 2008 book Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games:
"It’s clear that the ‘big fears’ bandied about in the press - that violent video games make children significantly more violent in the real world; that children engage in the illegal, immoral, sexist and violent acts they see in some of these games - are not supported by the current research, at least in such a simplistic form. That should make sense to anyone who thinks about it. After all, millions of children and adults play these games, yet the world has not been reduced to chaos and anarchy."

2008 - Lawrence Kutner, PhD 
Cheryl K. Olson, ScD 

Guy Cumberbatch, PhD, Director of the Communications Research Group and chartered psychologist, wrote in the 2004 report "Video Violence: Villain or Victim?" available at www.videostandards.org.uk:
"The evident weakness in the individual studies and the general pattern of inconsistent findings would not normally lead us to expect researchers to make any strong claims about video games. However, this is far from the case. As with other research on media violence, some of the strongest claims are made on the most flimsy of evidence...

The real puzzle is that anyone looking at the research evidence in this field could draw any conclusions about the pattern, let alone argue with such confidence and even passion that it demonstrates the harm of violence on television, in film and in video games. While tests of statistical significance are a vital tool of the social sciences, they seem to have been used more often in this field as instruments of torture on the data until it confesses something to justify a publication in a scientific journal. If one conclusion is possible, it is that the jury is not still out. It’s never been in. Media violence has been subjected to lynch mob mentality with almost any evidence used to prove guilt."

2004 - Guy Cumberbatch, PhD 

Henry Jenkins, PhD, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at University of Southern California, wrote in an article titled "Reality Bytes: Eight Myths about Video Games Debunked" on www.pbs.org (accessed Oct. 6, 2014):
"According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers - 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts.

According to a
2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report (1.3 MB) , the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester."

Oct. 6, 2014 - Henry Jenkins, PhD 

In Video Software Dealers Association v. Schwarzenegger, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a 3-0 majority opinion written by Consuelo Callahan, JD, ruled on Feb. 20, 2009:

"In sum, the evidence presented by the State does not support the Legislature’s purported interest in preventing psychological or neurological harm. Nearly all of the research is based on correlation, not evidence of causation, and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology as they relate to the State’s claimed interest. None of the research establishes or suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm, and inferences to that effect would not be reasonable. In fact, some of the studies caution against inferring causation."


Feb. 20, 2009 - Video Software Dealers Association v Schwarzenegger (136 KB)  

The Office of the Surgeon General, through Director of Communications Damon Thompson, was quoted in the Jan. 22, 2001 article "Video Games: Bad, But Not All Bad," in USA Today:
"Media violence - specifically video games - are not a major risk factor for violence. We did find rising links between media violence, television violence, and short-term aggressive behavior. But that is significantly different from violent behavior allegedly caused by playing video games...

In children, there is a difference between aggressive behavior like pushing or shoving, and real violence - like hitting - which causes bodily harm. But the key factor regarding video gaming is that we simply don't have enough research at this point to form conclusions."
 

Jan. 22, 2001 - Office of the Surgeon General 

Guillaume de Fondaumiere, MA, former President of the French National Video Game Association, stated in an Nov. 16, 2009 interview with Digital Games on digitalgames.fr:
"Playing a violent game won't turn you into a psycho, a murderer or a serial killer. Most studies show that very clearly on the contrary violent games allow players to express themselves. It's like an outlet for them in a way. All these violent actions that are said to have been inspired by playing violent video games are nothing but the expressions of issues unrelated to video games."

Nov. 16, 2009 - Guillaume de Fondaumiere, MA 

Carly Kocurek, PhD, Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities and Media Studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, said the following in a June 2013 interview titled "Playing Video Games vs. Acts of Violence" on The Gil Gross Show, available at sparklebliss.com:
"The percentage of Americans in particular that play video games is very, very high, so if they were the root cause of a lot of these things, the sole cause, we'd be seeing a much more profound spike in violence…

It's easier to blame the games because the games seem like something we could regulate, we could curtail, we could take away. Whereas if we start talking about violence in the family, or bullying at schools, or things that involve human factors that gets much more complicated. We have this conversation with a lot of different types of media at a lot of different points in history. The comics code is kind of infamous. That dates back to the mid-century and that just came apart a few years ago. I think if we heard today that someone really read a lot of superhero comics and maybe that was why they had these behaviors people would think that was really peculiar to pick up on. I'm sure there will be some point in the future where people say ‘oh this person played video games' and everyone will say ‘so what?' That's clearly not it. Reading Superman didn't do it, playing ‘Call of Duty' probably wasn't the only thing going on here either…

One of my favorite studies is… on what in games made people the most aggressive or made them the most violent. There are two things. One is, when people play games they're not good at, when the game is too hard for them, people get very agitated and very upset. The other is when the technology fails. So if you're playing a game and your X-box crashes or your PC crashes you're very likely to get very angry and very upset. Those are the two things that have the most direct effect on how people respond to games and neither of those has to do with the tone or content of the game."

June 2013 - Carly Kocurek, PhD 

Frank Gaskill, PhD, and Dave Verhaagen, PhD, Founding and Managing Partners of Southeast Psych, in an Oct. 11, 2009 article titled "Do Violent Video Games Cause Violence and Aggression?" at www.southeastpsych.blogspot.com, wrote:
"...Correlations are just relationships between two variables; you can never say one causes the other. We could say that during the season when ice cream sales increase, shark attacks also increase. But we could not say the more ice cream you sell, the more you cause shark attacks. 

Why would a couple of child psychologists come to the defense of violent video games? Because some legislative initiatives and public opinions across the country are based on fallacious assumptions, personal biases, political posturing and weak science. One recent systematic analysis of the research literature found 'insufficient, contradictory and methodologically flawed evidence on the association between television viewing and video game playing and aggression in children and young people with behavioral and emotional difficulties. If public health advice is to be evidence-based, good quality research is needed,' (Mitrofan, Paul, Spencer, 2009). Another extensive study found 'no support for the hypothesis that violent video game playing is associated with higher aggression,' (Ferguson, 2007). In fact, that same study found some positive benefits of playing violent video games, particularly improvements in visual-spatial thinking. While there are studies that find people who play violent video games may have a brief increase in violent thoughts and feelings, newer research finds that these thoughts and feelings typically last less than four minutes (Barlett, Branch, Rodeheffer, & Harris, 2009). And remember, having a violent thought is a whole lot different than actually committing violence."

Oct. 11, 2009 - Frank Gaskill, PhD 
David Verhaagen, PhD 

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