Do Violent Video Games Generate Violent Behavior?

Do you know what current research says about violent video games? We'll tell you here.
Do Violent Video Games Generate Violent Behavior?

Last update: 25 October, 2022

There are many stories, news, and hoaxes that circulate on the Internet about young people who kill their parents because of violent video games. For example, recently, in the town of Elche (Spain) a young man killed his parents after they cut off his internet access because of his poor grades. Like the video game, Katana Zero, this story is terrifying. However, is it true that violent video games generate violent behavior?

The answer is complicated. Many studies and professionals have claimed for years that video games, especially the most violent ones, generate violent behavior in children and young people. Nevertheless, the latest research demonstrates that many other factors come into play when explaining the violent behavior of an individual.

A cause-effect relationship between violence and video games?

In 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) claimed that “there is insufficient scientific evidence to substantiate a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior”. Therefore, could it be said that the consumption of violent video games can lead to an increase in aggressiveness and violent behavior? The answer is yes, but it seems that there’s no direct cause-effect relationship. In fact, there are other factors such as the environment or the history of violence that come into play.

Violence is a complex social problem that likely stems from many factors that warrant attention from researchers, policymakers, and the public”, said APA president, Sandra L. Shullman. “Attributing violence to video gaming is not scientifically sound,” she continued. In fact, she suggested that this assumption “draws attention away from other factors such as a history of violence”.

Violent video games

Firstly, we need to establish what’s meant by violence in video games. It’s clear that war and shooting games, such as Call of Duty, have an undeniable violent component. That said, there are also other more general video games. For instance, any of the GTA saga, in which racist behaviors, explicit sex, or other content that should be age-restricted are reproduced.

“Attributing violence to video gaming is not scientifically sound and draws attention away from other factors such as a history of violence, which we know from the research is a major predictor of violence.”

-Sandra L. Shullman-

Another aspect to assess is the concept of competition, on which many video games are based. Titles such as FIFA or Rocket League may not offer violent content, but the simple fact of them encouraging competitive behavior could also influence the appearance of violent conduct.

The APA ruling acknowledges that there are links between violent video games and “aggressive outcomes, such as yelling and pushing”. In the case of video games that don’t contain explicit violence, these behaviors could be as equivalent to those that might occur in real life after, for example, a soccer game. There’s a relationship between certain video games and these behaviors, but not enough to establish a direct cause-effect relationship.

Teenager with video games
Competition in some video games can lead to violent behavior.

Do they generate violent behavior or not?

How can violent behavior in children and young people be explained? While it’s clear that video games should be taken into account, there are also others such as the social and family environment or the history of violence. Research on the subject published in recent years claims that in many investigations, the importance of these other factors hasn’t been taken into account.

In fact, a study conducted in Germany in 2019 analyzed the behaviors of 90 volunteers aged between 18 and 45 years. They were split into three groups. One group played, on a daily basis, Grand Theft Auto V, the second played Sims 3, and the third group didn’t play a game at all. At the end of the experiment, the researchers conducted a series of surveys focused on aggressive and violent behaviors. The results didn’t show any difference between the three groups.

Therefore, it appears that the violent behaviors presented in certain children and young people can be explained by many other factors. That was the conclusion reached by a study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization conducted by scientists from the University of London. The study focused on children between the ages of eight and 18 who played the video game, Call of Duty.

Although some parents claimed that their children were more likely to break things after playing this game, it didn’t appear to have a direct relationship with violence. According to the study’s lead author, Agne Suziedelyte, this may indicate that these types of video games leave children more agitated, but not necessarily that they incite violence. After all, the subjects weren’t more aggressive toward other people.

Asian boy playing video games
Most studies don’t indicate a direct relationship between video games and violence.

The difficulty of measuring violence

Another fundamental aspect of this debate is the difficulty of measuring violence. For example, to what extent can a direct relationship be established between violent behavior and either breaking a certain object or handling a toy weapon?

It’s evident that the content consumed by children and young people determines many of their behaviors. However, when analyzing violence in this population group, it’s more appropriate to analyze other more serious factors related to the sociocultural level or the history of violence in the family.

Any content can generate an influence on certain users, especially among the youngest in society. Perhaps, instead of viewing video games as negative, we should consider them as powerful educational weapons that are capable of enhancing cognitive abilities. For example, creativity, concentration, attention, and visual-spatial performance, among many others.

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