Do Video Games Cause Violence? An Old Argument Revisited

The idea that violent video games can create violent behavior is not a new one. Certainly, it has come up occasionally over the last several years, particularly when it was revealed that Sandy Hook Elementary school shooter Adam Lanza had logged 83,000 kills on the video games that had consumed so much of his life. However, one of the most comprehensive studies to date on the issue of whether video games cause violence has come to light, and it will no doubt heighten the call for tighter controls on violence in games. A report recently released by the American Psychological Association task force now states that violent video games might be a link to future violent behavior and aggression in general.

Naysayers have already hit social media slamming the study about whether video games cause violence. Some have argued that the argument goes back three decades and should not focus solely on video games themselves.

The APA’s task force, which was announced two years ago, was met with displeasure then. Now that the report has been released, the backlash is growing. That said, the study as to whether violent video games cause violence is quite complex and comprehensive.

The study took a look at 150 research studies from 2009 to 2013 and found that while some video games cause violence, video games can not be cited as the sole causal factor in aggressive behavior. Task force chair Mark Appelbaum noted that his task force really wanted to find concrete evidence as to whether violent video games actually cause aggression.

“Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence,” said Appelbaum. “However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field.”

The task force noted that another common finding in the research was that in the increase in aggression that was noted, there was a corresponding decrease in “prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity to aggression” for some time after the violent game was played. The study was careful to point out that while it is possible that violent games cause violence, they cannot be used as the sole explanation.

The Escapist notes that video game rating systems, designed to prevent violent video games falling into underage hands, were put into place to effectively discourage parents from allowing their children access to the possibility that these games cause violence. The website references a 2014 study released by the Entertainment Software Association, which states that the majority of video gamers in the United States are adults, with only a possible 29 percent of these being under the age of 18.

The APA’s study into whether games cause violence may be one of the most comprehensive to date, but it has the additional benefit of sparking a new debate of how much responsibility lies with the parents or guardians in their children’s gaming choices.

(Photo by AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)