Here is a position paper that I had write for one of my university courses. The subject is about whether if violent video games promote real-life aggression, a topic that is riddled with controversy so it’s always fun to talk about. I took the “no” stance for this paper, although I think this topic is a lot more about opinions than facts. Take a look if you are interested.
Do Violent Video Games Promote Real-Life Aggression?
The connection between violent video games and real-life aggressive behaviour is a topic that has received a lot of attention from the media and academic community in recent years. Ever since the infamous Columbine shootings in 1999, violent video games and their effects on people have become an often discussed and highly controversial topic. There have been other highly-publicized shootings linked to violent video games and many studies have been conducted on this topic. However, the connection between violent video games and real-life aggression is still far from conclusive, and therefore we cannot assume that violent video games promote real-life violence and aggression in general.
A tactic often used by advocates against violent video games is to try to relate video games to violent youth crimes. Many advocates will cite various incidents such as the Columbine shootings or other highly-publicized incidents to illustrate their point. The intense media coverage on incidents related to violent video games gives the perception that the availability of violent video games has led to an increase in youth violence. However, this is simply not true. According to the US Department of Justice, violent crime rates have been on the decline ever since 1994 (2006). The rate of juvenile violent crimes in the US has also reached a 30 year low (Jenkins, 2003). While it is true that video games have been linked to school shootings and other acts of violence, we must remember that these incidents make up a very small percentage of total violent youth crimes. It is also true that the likelihood of a young offender being a video game player has increased, but that’s because more youths play video games than ever before, and the vast majority of youths who play video games do no commit violent crimes. So the point is while video games have been linked to a number of tragic incidents, there is little evidence to suggest that violent video games have become a notable cause of youth crimes in general.
As video games become more popular and receive more mainstream media attention, the study of video game violence has also become a hot topic for the academic community. Many published studies have found a correlation between playing violent video games and increased levels of aggression (Anderson, 2003). The results of these studies are often used by media or advocates to demonstrate that violent video games promote real-life violence. This is however an invalid assumption, because finding a correlation is not the same thing as finding causal relationship, and many studies on video game violence have been questioned on methodological grounds (Jenkins, 2003).
Most studies conducted on video game violence are either experimental studies, which focus on the short-term physiological effects of playing violent video games in a laboratory setting, or correlation studies, which involves participants filling out surveys (Porter & Starcevic, 2007). One problem with experimental studies is that they analyze only short term effects right after the participants play violent video games, which does not necessarily reveal anything about whether if violent video games make the participants more aggressive in the long term (Porter & Starcevic, 2007). Some other problems with experimental studies include small sample sizes, arbitrary definition of which games are violent and which are not, and inability to control certain variables such as the level of excitement of participants (Porter & Starcevic, 2007). Correlations studies have fewer problems in terms of methodology, but they are affected by certain biases depending on the group of respondents that were sampled (Porter & Starcevic, 2007).
The most important problem with both experimental and correlation studies is that their results are up to interpretation. Many experimental and correlation studies do not account for important factors such as the participants’ personality and prior experience with video games. Laboratory experiments also fail to recreate the usual conditions under which most people play video games (Goldstein, 2003). Moreover, experimental studies also tend to have arbitrary and ambiguous measures of aggressiveness, due to the fact that real aggressiveness cannot be observed in an experimental setting (Goldstein, 2003). Are blasting some stranger with white noise or killing characters in video games accurate measures of a participant’s aggressiveness? Not necessarily. Because various factors are not controlled or accounted for, the results of many studies can be interpreted in many ways. For example, we can’t really tell if a subject’s increased aggressiveness is a result of playing video games or just a personality trait that was brought forth during game-play (Porter & Starcevic, 2007). The relationship between violent video games and real-life aggression is very complex, and studies such as the one conducted by Wallenius and Punamaki have shown that the effects of playing violent video games are dependent upon many personal and situational factors (2008). The point is that while many studies have shown correlation between violent video games and increased aggressive and violent behaviour, they do not prove that violent and delinquent behaviour is caused solely by the exposure to violent video games.
There is a third type of study, called a longitudinal study, that overcomes some of the flaws of experimental and correlation studies. Longitudinal studies try to link habitual exposure to violent video games to level of aggressiveness one or two years later, and at the same time controlling variable such as personality traits and other risk factors (Anderson, 2003). These characteristics make the results of longitudinal more relevant to the question of whether violent video games promote real-life aggressiveness. Unfortunately, the current number of published longitudinal studies is very small compared to the other types of studies (Anderson, 2003; Porter & Starcevic, 2007). Some longitudinal studies such as the one conducted by Hopf, Hubert, and Weib (2008) also include the effects of violence from films and other media rather than focusing just on video games. Until more longitudinal studies are published, we cannot conclude anything about the long term effects of violent video game exposure because most of the current published studies do not focus on this issue.
In conclusion, the current research has not resulted in conclusive prove that playing video games promotes real-life aggression. While studies have found an association between violent video games and increased aggression, researcher cannot yet determine if the increased aggression is a sole consequence of playing video games or something else such as the personality trait of the person being studied. We also should not buy into the perception that violent video games cause violent youth crimes, because there is little evidence to support these claims. From the results of the current research, we can make the recommendation that adolescents with certain hostile traits or history of delinquency should be discouraged from playing certain violent video games. We should also further our efforts to educate youths and their parents about games that may encourage violent behaviour.
In order to find a conclusive relationship between violent video games and human behaviour, the academic community needs to develop more advanced research techniques and to conduct more long-term studies such as longitudinal studies. Until we have a clear understanding of the relationship between video game violence and human aggression, we should not and cannot conclude that playing violent video games will make a person more aggressive as a consequence.
Anderson, C. A. (2003). Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions. Retrieved October 31, 2008, from APA Online Website, http://www.apa.org/science/psa/sb-anderson.html.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2006). Violent Crime Rate Trends. Retrieved October 31, 2008, from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/viort.htm.
Goldstein, J. (2001). Do Violent Video Games Cause Aggressive Behaviour? Retrieved October 31, 2008, from Cultural Policy Centre, University of Chicago Website, http://culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu/conf2001/papers/goldstein.html
Hopf, W. H., Huber, G. L., Weib, R. H. (2008). Media violence and youth violence: A 2-year longitudinal study. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods and Applications, 20(3), 79-96. Retrieved October 18, 2008, from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pdh&AN=jmp-20-3-79&site=ehost-live.
Jenkins, H. (2003). Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked. Retrieved October 31, 2008 from PBS Website, http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html
Porter G., & Starcevic, V. (2007). Are violent video games harmful? Australian Psychiatry, 15(5), 422-426. Retrieved October 18, 2008, from http://apps.isiknowledge.com/full_record.do?product=WOS&search_mode=GeneralSearch&qid=3&SID=1BPmM58oEoPB8kgIPaL&page=1&doc=10
Wallenius, M., & Punamaki, RL. (2008). Digital game violence and direct aggression in adolescence: A longitudinal study of the roles of sex, age, and parent-child communication. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 29(4), 286-294. Retrieved October 18, 2008, from http://apps.isiknowledge.com/full_record.do?product=WOS&search_mode=GeneralSearch&qid=3&SID=1BPmM58oEoPB8kgIPaL&page=1&doc=3.