The Final Showdown: Violent Video Games Are Not The Problem
As time goes by and more violent video games continue to be made, the research on how these violent video games affect the behavior and emotions of children is never-ending. I have found that many of the researched case studies fall short of their goal of trying to link violent adolescence to violent video games. I’ve looked at countless studies about violent video games and the aggression or violence that said video games “cause,” however; even the most famous studies that most of us cite are flawed.
The most popular suggestion on google scholar when looking up “violent video games cause violence in youth” is a study conducted by Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman at Iowa State University called Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature. Anderson and Bushman are two professors at Iowa State University in the psychology department. Their credentials are very credible as we would trust a professor from a university to have high knowledge of the subjects they talk about and the research they present to us. Anderson and Bushman start off their study by discussing three school shootings that happened around the time they wrote their article. They state that “the one positive result of these tragedies is the attention brought to the growing problem of video-game violence, from the newsroom to the U.S. Senate (2000).” They are using a highly emotional situation to lead us to secretly conclude that violent video games were the fault for why these shootings happened. They stated that the teens who committed these shootings were inspired by Doom, the teen’s favorite violent video game that involved shooting. However, that comparison is a biased exaggeration of the truth as their multiple reasons why a school shooting would happen, such as the shooter could have a mental illness or a problem with a student or staff member of the school. It was also never told the reason for the school shootings that the teens committed so we can not conclude a definite reason why the shootings happened. Anderson and Bushman then go on to state that video game companies are in denial about the harmful effects their games have but then a paragraph later saying that “there is one grain of truth in the industry’s denials. Specifically, the fact that some highly publicized school killings were committed by individuals who habitually played violent video games is not strong evidence that violent video games increase aggression.” Their opening few paragraphs even agree with the sentiment that it’s not enough evidence to convict violent video games as the source of increased aggression just because a few bad apples happen to play violent video games before doing a heinous crime like a school shooting.
The main focus of the study is to establish a link between violent movies and tv media aggression to violent video game aggression. Anderson and Bushman talk about 3 experiments that supposedly show links to violence after consuming violent media but we are never given actual figures of the supposed aggression level changes that Bushman and Anderson claim to find. They claim there is a model that shows how violent video games lead to aggression, “Situational input variables (e.g., recent exposure to violent media) influence aggressive behavior through their impact on the person’s present internal state, represented by cognitive, affective, and arousal variables. Violent media increase aggression by teaching observers how to aggress, by priming aggressive cognitions (including previously learned aggressive scripts and aggressive perceptual schemata), by increasing arousal, or by creating an aggressive affective state.” They tell us that by seeing aggression, we learn how to be aggressive. I have watched almost every single episode of Cobra Kai and I still have not learned how to karate chop someone or flip them onto their butts with a swooping leg kick, that is no different with violent video games. Millions of children and adults play violent video games and most of them never kill others, fight someone for no reason, or do aggressive behavior just for liking, playing, and watching violent media.
Anderson and Bushman start to end their study with what they call the key problems with violent video games. A question asked and answered by them was, “How can exposure to violent video games increase aggression? This question requires an examination of underlying processes, especially the three routes in the model: cognition, affect, and arousal. But only the cognitive route is specifically tied to the violent content of violent video games. Even nonviolent games can increase aggressive affect, perhaps by producing high levels of frustration.” We have all been there when playing a friendly game such as Mario Kart when suddenly Luigi who is ahead of you releases a banana peel and your character runs it over. You get frustrated because you’re desperately trying to catch up and win. Does that mean you’re aggressive because you’re frustrated and will do anything in the game such as take a shortcut or throw banana peels at the players in front of you so you’ll win? The answer is no. By trying to insinuate that almost any game can cause aggression is less about the game and more about the individual playing the same. Most of us have a normal reaction of just trying to catch back up to speed. Someone who is already violent would take their Nintendo Switch system and throw it at the wall because they’re a violent person, the video game did not make them that way.
Every study on this topic has its flaws. At the end of it all, there is no significant evidence that video games cause aggression or is the number one factor for aggression in adolescence. This false narrative has been a hot topic since violent video games first became popular and it’s time we stop looking at violent video games as the main culprit and start looking into the issues adolescents may have that are causing their violent behavior.
Anderson, Craig A., and Brad J. Bushman. “Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature.” Psychological Science, vol. 12, no. 5, 2001, pp. 353–359.,