Do violent video games cause violent behavior? A look at both sides

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By Natalie Bracco

Have you noticed that whenever any kind of gun tragedy occurs, there is always a renewed interest in where to cast the blame for violence in society? Many have said that video games where players are encouraged to kill other people are serving as a model for violent gunmen (most likely from those who don’t play themselves). Whether this is true or not is still up for debate, but have you really checked out both sides?

Evidence that Video Games Cause Violence

One of the more famous studies analyzing the effects of video games on behavior is the 2001 study by Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman. This study concludes that depictions of violence in the media will increase instances of aggressive behavior. These depictions could come in the form of movies, TV programs, or video games.

This study came after the Columbine shootings, and was incited partly due to the fact that the student shooters responsible for the 13 murders at Columbine High in Littleton Colorado were known to play violent video games as a habit. Specifically, they played a special version of the game Doom where victims couldn’t shoot back, and where there were two people doing the shooting. The fact that these conditions are so similar to what happened in real life was not lost on Anderson and Bushman.

The study involved 3,033 participants, and found that video games affected the behavior of youths and college-aged individuals in an aggressive direction. It went on to say that exposure to violence in video games will make it more likely that a child will become aggressive down the road.

Mario beach stomp

More Recent Studies for Video Game Violence

A more recent study in Ohio claims that the more time you spend playing video games in a row, the more aggressive you become. The study focused on 77 French students and showed that their aggression went up day to day when they were playing video games over a three day period. Many have criticized the study, however, for having such a small sample size.

The study makes a comparison to smoking cigarettes. Smoking just one cigarette won’t lead to adverse effects all by itself. It’s the habit of smoking cigarettes over many years that ultimately leads to severe health effects. In the same way, the researcher of the study, named Brad Bushman, argues that the results indicate that long term exposure to video games will have an eventual effect on making young people more violent.

Evidence that Video Games Don’t Contribute to Violence

According to a recent statistics survey, there is no correlation between gun violence and video games when analyzed on a national basis. The survey charts per-capita national game sales versus gun violence. As it turns out, countries with the highest gun-related murders also have the lowest video game spending.

The United States has over 3.59 gun-related murders per 100,000 people. According to the study, this statistic places the United States at over 3 times the number of gun related deaths than any other country. In some cases, this number is closer to around 10 times more than in other countries. Yet, when measured against other countries in terms of video game spending per capita, the U.S. is nowhere near the top, with some other countries spending up to 3 times more per capita than the United States.

One study conducted over a three year period indicated that in all likelihood, any correlation between video games and aggression was actually the “byproduct of other processes occurring in the life of the child.” So basically, children who are aggressive are drawn to aggressive games, or the way they interact with violent video games makes them violent just because of other psychological factors.

A Complex Situation

A recent book from the last few years entitled Grand Theft Childhood talks about how nearly all adult men have played violent video games at some point in their lives. Since gun violence in the United States isn’t high enough to include all adult males, logically the situation is more complex than hard-line proponents of either side may admit.

In fact, even the studies don’t do more than say that video games contribute to a correlation with aggression. It’s not so cut and dry as “X video game always causes Y gun violence.” Most of the time, the studies simply show a higher tendency for aggression on a societal level, rather than an individual one.

The book puts it this way: “…that violent video games make children significantly more violent in the real world; …[is] not supported by the current research, at least in such a simplistic form.” The fact that millions of children play these games without society completely falling apart is testament to the complexity of the situation.

Overall Effects of Violent Video Games

Games that have been included as examples of causing violence include the following:

  • Doom
  • Halo
  • Call of Duty
  • Wolfenstein
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Duke Nukem
  • Street Fighter

Yet, these games are some of the most popular games of the last few decades. You would think if there was a direct one-to-one correlation then there would be certain games that only violent gunmen play and not the rest of the entire population.

violent game

Overall, if anything, the studies seem to indicate that the overall effect could depend on the person. It’s probable, according to writers like the author of Grand Theft Childhood, that all new technology and media present new challenges on how they affect us, especially when games can be played on a constant basis via on mobile devices and android tablets. However, the emergence of video games may not be much more of a challenge than television was when it first started coming out, and the important factor is the individual.

Ultimately, whether or not video games actually cause violence, is up for you to decide. While the reporting studies do make a compelling connection that surrounding yourself with violence can lead to aggression, the evidence isn’t definite, making the verdict still open for debate.

Do you think video games cause aggression and violence? Comment below.

Images courtesy of,, and

Resources: Research News

Natalie Bracco is a techie writer and an amateur gamer. One of her favorite intro songs is from the Kingdom of Hearts, and she still can’t find the red chocobo from FF XII. You can follower her on Twitter @NatalieBracco.

NR Team

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  • DJ Miller

    Video games definitely don’t cause violence!

    • Drew

      I disagree. I think when a person is exposed to violence on a regular basis they become desensitized to it, which in turn leads to more acts of violence with no emotional guilt.

      • DJ Miller

        so eliminate violence from movies then.. while you’re at it why don’t you eliminate physical contact in sports..violence has been an integral part of our society from creation its not like it suddenly came into existence whenever we started playing video games.. people just use it as a scapegoat for idiot’s actions.. video games don’t kill people.

        • Agt_Pendergast

          There’s been violence ever since people have done cave drawings. The obvious answer is to ban all cave drawings, they’re the cause.

    • Natalie Bracco

      Hi DJ! I personally agree, but it’s definitely interesting to note both sides and the “facts” to back up whether you’re for or against the notion that games result in violence. Thanks for reading!

    • Natalie Bracco

      Hi DJ! I personally agree, but it’s definitely interesting to note the “facts” of both sides of whether you’re for or against the notion that playing games = violence. Thanks for reading!

  • avgjoegeek

    Considering I’ve been playing video games (violent and non-violent) for over 30 years? That answer would be no. The only time I am violent is in a video game! :)

  • Nefarious Ninja

    I think violence in media can act as trigger for people that are already at risk of being violent in the first place

  • Casey Jordan

    Well in my mind, video games are visual stimulus. We play them, but do they create depression and other mental problems that cause you to not understand reality vs. fantasy? I believe that the people who go on a killing spree in real life already had something mentally unstable about them to begin with. Their parents should have limited their time on video games or paid attention to how their children were acting in regards to the visual violence… but to blame video games for real life violence is naive.

    Here’s a question I’d like to pose to people who are so adamant about blaming video games for violence: What can we say of people who watch or play football or any other contact sport? That is humans actually doing harm to each other, yet you have people jumping up from their couches when their team loses and punching out their TVs and around a wrestling ring or a boxing ring, the crowd is raging!

    Violence is in the world. Blaming video games for the mental state of a killer is irrational.

    • Natalie Bracco

      Hi Casey, Great points about contact combat sports. I completely agree! Thanks for reading~

  • Murphy Jenkins

    I played most of the games listed there as a child along with many other violent ones. I don’t think I’m a violent person.

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