Lessons from a gamer: the danger of violence in video games


Timothy Rush | Staff Columnist

Grand Theft Auto V is the third best selling video game in history (only being bested) by Tetris and Minecraft. Unlike its fellow top 3, the Grand Theft Auto series is among the most controversial video game franchises in history because of its inherently violent nature. Violence in video games has been a common point of contention in modern society, particularly over whether these games encourage aggressive or violent behavior.

Is there an association between violence in video games and aggressive behavior? Yes, many studies have confirmed that violence in video games has a direct link to increased aggressive behavior.

According to the American Psychological Association, “scientific research has demonstrated an association between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, aggressive cognitions and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement.”

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of 17,000 adolescents, a link was found wherein playing violent video games led to increased physical aggression. This analysis took place over 24 different studies from several different countries, and the finding was relatively consistent across national lines. To clarify though, this study did not find an observable link between aggressive criminal behavior and video games, but rather aggressive behavior in general. To use a quote from the study, “playing violent games equates to about twice the risk of being sent to the principal’s office for fighting during an eight-month period.”

From this, there comes a crossing point of contention. In this discussion, we are so prone to jumping to violent video games that cause things like mass shootings or violent crime. The evidence doesn’t inherently point to that; there is insufficient evidence to suggest that violent video games lead to increased potential criminal activity, even though there is strong evidence to suggest heightened aggressive behavior.

So, what does this mean for us? For parents, this should mean that you take an active role in moderating your child’s use of video games and monitor their behavior. If you see your child shows increased aggression, limiting factors that encourage that aggression is a good avenue — one such factor is violent video games. For people who play violent video games, it’s as simple as simply moderating your own behavior and weighing that against your use of video games. Acknowledge that hobbies like these can affect your behavior. If you find that such hobbies have such an effect on you that it negatively impacts your own life, it may be for the best to limit that hobby.

Furthermore, just because someone does play violent video games doesn’t inherently mean that they’re violent, either. While we can confirm that there is a trend, there are also many people who play games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty that are perfectly normal non-aggressive people. Just because your friend regularly plays violent video games doesn’t mean that they are inherently aggressive.

And just to further note, this wasn’t my opinion a month ago. If you told me that violent video games increased aggression before the New Year, I would have likely dismissed it. I decided to write this article because I originally wanted to write an article that was going to say the opposite of what I’m saying now. When I started researching for this piece, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of research and evidence that there is. Enough that it completely changed my viewpoint and I realized that this article can’t be about dismissing it. I’m about evidence, and the evidence is clear on this matter.

Violence in video games doesn’t make mass shooters or criminals. There’s no significant evidence to suggest that. But there is more than enough evidence to show that violent video game consumption does impact behavior, it does lead to increased aggression in many people. This is something that we should, as a society, look at and acknowledge what it is.

I’m not saying we should ban them; I’m not saying we should necessarily even push regulation to limit them. What I’m suggesting is that we actively consider moderation for ourselves, our children and those around us. I’m suggesting that we examine behaviors and make sound judgment acknowledging the evidence that there is. One thing is certain, there is a statistical trend that shouldn’t be ignored, and we need to stop ignoring it.