In the wake of the Newtown shootings, a variety of people are trying to connect violent video games and mass murder. Like most 12 year old boys, my sons love playing FPS games on the Xbox. Their mother and step-mother aren’t big fans of allowing this, which means I’m out-voted, so I have limited what they can and can’t play over the last few years, much to their chagrin.
Like everyone else in my generation, i grew up watching violent films and playing video games. Obviously the technology has changes a lot over the last ten years, and playing Black Ops II is a world away from playing Frogger or Doom, Wolfenstein and Duke NukeEm which were available when we were in our 20s. But the same Chicken Little cries that video games are making kids violent is what we heard about Arnie movies and rap music in the 80s.
Now I love violent movies, the bloodier and gorier the better. I love rap music too, particularly of the NWA / Dr Dre / OG variety. Yet I don’t have a violent bone in my body. I also love classical music, art, poetry, philosophy, art-house films, Shakespeare and kittens. But perhaps I’m the anomaly?
So I keep an eye on the research every few years, looking to see if there is a conclusive link between violent movies and games and violence in real life.
I recently read a report on the Australian Government’s classification site called “Literature review on the impact of playing violent video games on aggression” from September 2010. I actually opened this report expecting it to be critical of video games, however it’s conclusion states:
Significant harmful effects from VVGs have not been persuasively proven or disproven.
There is some consensus that VVGs may be harmful to certain populations, such as people
with aggressive and psychotic personality traits. Overall, most studies have consistently
shown a small statistical effect of VVG exposure on aggressive behaviour, but there are
problems with these findings that reduce their policy relevance. Overall, as illustrated in this
review, research into the effects of VVGs on aggression is contested and inconclusive.
The report suggests that the evidence shows that kids with aggressive family situations or prior aggression of any kind may be more affected by VVGs than other kids, which makes sense.
If there was a correlation between video games and violence, we should see similar levels of violence in all countries where video games are popular – which is ALL of them. And that just isn’t the case. Levels of violence have been dropping in most countries over the last couple of decades – the United States being a major exception.
Dr Christopher Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and communication at the University of Texas,
What are we to conclude from all this?
1. There is no conclusive evidence that violent video games lead to aggression or violence.
2. People suggesting that they do are either a) ill-informed or b) trying to distract people from the real issues driving mass shootings in the USA – easy access to semi-automatic weapons and ammunition and lack of access to mental health treatment.