We should stop caring if video game violence makes people more violent in real life. I don’t say that to be callous or incite anarchy. It’s simply not worth the effort to find out. Two reasons why:
- There is no problem. There is no significant increase in crime or mental health problems since the advent of violent video games.
- It’s not worth the effort. There is no ethical and realistic research setup that can prove video game violence makes people more violent in real life.
Bold claims, you say? Let me prove it to you.
Violent video games have been around awhile, but it’s reasonable to say that only around the mid-nineties did they look ‘realistic’ enough to pose any threat to our own aggression levels. Now take Grand Theft Auto. It’s a fairly violent game played by many, many people. CBSNews covered a story back in 2003 where GTA developer Rockstar got sued for “training” Devin Moore to shoot 3 officers. They lost the case.
Nonetheless, stories such as this one are horrific and can easily scare people into concluding that violent video games are indeed murder simulators. However, if that were really so then crime rates should have gone up with our increased exposure to more violent and realistic games throughout the last decade. Yet no amount of googling shows any such link. The same argument holds for mental health problems. All in all, we can conclude that even if violent video games make us more violent in real life, then it must be so little that it does not matter.
Still, I agree, it would be interesting to know what link does exist and what the details of it are. So far we know that there is a link between playing violent video games and acting violent. The link is weak, but there. A book called “Grand Theft Childhood” contains some interesting findings concerning this. Note how their research was only focused on children. The findings do not generalize to grown-ups.
These correlations are of course interesting in themselves, but one of the first rules of good research is: “Correlation is not causation”. The fact that violent people play violent video games does not automatically mean that video games made them that way. There might have been a third factor that both makes people violent and want to play violent games. Another option is that people who are violent in the first place like to play violent video games.
So how do you find out if violent video games really make you violent? You’d have to take non-violent people, make them play violent video games, and then see if they commit real life violent acts. All of this should take place in a controlled environment and with a representative sample and control group. I wonder how many people would sign-up for research that aims to find out if it can turn you into a violent offender. Any volunteers?
Despite this, there seems to be enough research out there that claims to support the causal link between violence in games and real life. However, none of them hold up to scrutiny. “Don’t shoot” is an especially interesting article where the writer concludes that all research supporting the causal link between violent video games and real life violence is flawed. Now the interesting bit: she also claims that enough flawed research put together actually proves the point anyway. Powerful reasoning!
There is a research paper that almost convinced me though. They did all the right things (sample size, control group, controlling for base aggression levels, etc.). In their design, subjects would play violent video games against each other. The winner got to “punish” the loser by blasting a loud sound at them. The winner could control the volume and length of the blast. The researchers found that more violent video games made subjects more “violent” blasters. What’s wrong here?
Blasting a horn is not real life violence. Even though a long and loud blast might be unpleasant for the loser, it will not hurt him. It can all be taken in good sport and seen as part of the game. And here is the real problem with any research on the topic. This is why I say: “Don’t bother”. It would be unethical to use a measure of actual real life violence in our research, but substitutes don’t prove anything.
Of course, maybe there is some expensive and convoluted way of researching this issue anyway , but why bother? There isn’t a real problem in the first place.
As a parting note, while researching this article, I found this case study about a child that benefited immensely from gaming. It’s on a psychiatric practice website, so no bogus-miracle-story. Check it out if you’re interested in that sort of stuff. Scroll down to the bold text three quarters down the page: Children and Video Games: How much do we know?