Since I was 12, I have spent thousands of hours playing violent video games. I have killed various things in various ways. Accordingly, I was reluctant to accept the theory that playing violent video games caused people, on average, to become more violent.
But its time to admit that violent video games cause real harm. I reviewed the research examining the effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior. After doing so, I frustratingly had to change teams — from denier to believer. I want parents and others to understand the effect violent video games can potentially have on their children and others.
People who play violent video games generally find ways to deny this possibility. They create explanations that help them avoid believing the proposed link between violent video games and aggression. That is, they process information in a manner that confirms their preexisting beliefs.
Specifically, when somebody confronts them with the science surrounding violent video games, they might respond in any of the following ways:
• I’ve played a lot of violent video games, and I’m not a violent person.
• I know lots of people who are violent who never played violent video games.
• Yeah, well lots of things are bad for you. Maybe you should stop eating Twinkies.
These types of responses might allow people to continue believing that violent video games do not generally cause harm.
Craig Anderson is one of the leading researchers on media and aggression. In his article, “An Update on the Effects of Playing Violent Video Games,” he concluded “Exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, increases arousal, and decreases helping behavior.” Anderson based this conclusion on a statistical analysis of several scientific studies examining this issue.
The influence of violent video games on violent behavior is substantial. Playing violent video games has a tangible negative effect on society. Anderson noted that the link between violent video games and aggression is greater than the link between exposure to passive smoke at work and cancer.
The relationship between playing violent video games and aggression was evident across age groups and gender. This relationship could be seen using participants under 18 years of age and using participants 18 years of age and older. Similarly, the link between violent video games and aggression occurred for men and women.
The link between violent video games and aggression is also consistent with a more general link between media violence and aggression. Naturally, one could argue that video game violence is somehow different so the comparison does not apply. But it seems naive to think controlling a character that is behaving violently would have less connection to aggression than merely watching a character who behaves the same way.
This is not to say that children and adults must stop playing violent video games. Many activities, like drinking alcohol, can be harmful; it seems silly to ban all of them.
Still, research suggests that cutting back on violent video games would be beneficial.
People shouldn’t hold onto beliefs just because they don’t want to admit that they are wrong. I used to be one of these people, but the science about video game violence and aggression has proven me wrong. It’s time to pull the plug on my unreasonable defense of violent video games.
Jordan Maldonado is from Spring Grove, Pa. He is majoring in behavioral sciences and leadership at the Air Force Academy. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.