The Effects of Violent Video Games: Blasting the Myth

In defence of his client Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the snipers who terrorized the greater Washington area during October of 2002, attorney Craig Cooley said that his client’s mind state was altered by extended playing of violent video games (VVG). While this defence was not enough to keep Malvo from being convicted of the charges laid against him in a court of law, the relationship between antisocial behaviour and VVG appears to be quite strong in the court of public opinion. From the nightly news desk to the United States Senate (Anderson & Bushman, 2001), the message is clear: society needs to know the full effects of VVG.

With sales total of $800 million in the first 24 hours of sale of its most recent title, the Grand Theft Auto video game series is one of the most profitable titles of all time. Also famous for its violence, it remains one of the only games where a player can solicit the services of a prostitute and then stomp her to death to get back the money. Due to its popularity and the level of violence, the game is often the focus of attention during these debates (e.g. Kutner & Olson, 2008). The public wants to know what effect playing VVGs like Grand Theft Auto 5 will have.

One of the most popular games in recent history, Grand Theft Auto 5 is also known for its violence.

Here is the critical question: if a youth murders a woman in a virtual world, does that action have any relationship to actions, thoughts, or behaviours in the real-world? The National Rifle Association (widely known as NRA) has an answer for us. After a gunman killed 26 in an elementary school shooting in 2012, top lobbyist for the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, pointed to the video game industry to explain the violence. LaPierre called the video game industry a “shadow industry” that “sows violence against its own people,” singling out Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and Splatterhouse. Does LaPierre’s explanation make sense? Do video games make killers?

Considering that 97% of adolescents play video games (Blumberg, Altschuler, Almonte, & Mileaf, 2013) for an average of seven hours a week (Janssen, Boyce & Pickett, 2012; some estimates are as high as 13 hours, see Adachi & Willoughby, 2011) and those who engage in extended video game play are more likely to prefer violent video games (Anderson & Bushman, 2001), empirically determining the impact of VVGs like Grand Theft Auto has never been more important.

Video Games
97% of adolescents play video games for an average of seven hours a week.

What do we know about the effects of violent video games? Broadly speaking, we have two main messages from the research on VVG. The first message, that VVG play can improve performance of cognition tasks (e.g. visuo-spatial competences; e.g. Boot, Kramer, Simons, Fabiani, & Gratton, 2008), is widely accepted. The second message, that VVG play prompts aggression (e.g. Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Sherry, 2001), is hotly contested and generally misunderstood.

Benefits of VVG Play

As mentioned, the benefits of video game play are uncontroversial. It is widely believed that the inherent characteristics of the video game can improve learner motivation (MacCormack, 2013), allow active participation rather than passive reception (Buckley & Anderson, 2006), and promote development of skills through repeated practice (Anderson & Dill, 2000). Learning games can be designed to specifically teach isolated skills or foster broad outcomes like problem-solving.

A video game designed by cognitive psychologists called Space Fortress was shown to improve competences in novel tasks such as piloting skills (Gopher, Weil, & Bareket, 1994) and measures of physics knowledge (Frederiksen & White, 1989). A wealth of findings from clinical studies consistently shows that expert VVG players outperform those who do not play VVGs on spatial and perception tasks (Boot et al., 2008). For example, the shot accuracy of expert VVG players is so much higher than those who don’t play VVGs, military training programs include components of video game training in real-world training (e.g. Israeli air force, Gopher, Weil, & Bareket, 1994; United States Marines, Buckley & Anderson, 2006).

Aggression and VVG Play

This leaves the question: do we have evidence that VVG play can cause aggression? Here’s the quick answer: well, yes and no. Players of VVG display short-term aggression, a phenomenon known as “violent video game effect” (Sestir & Batholow, 2010). These effects don’t last long and don’t seem to change the personality of choices of the players. Aggressive feelings and thoughts last less than four minutes; aggressive behaviour and increased heart rate last until nine minutes (Barlett, Branch, Rodeheffer, & Harris, 2009).

Carnagey and Anderson (2005) designed a study to look specifically at how violence is treated in the game. The participants played a violent racing game called Carmageddon 2. In the game, the player races to a finish line while attacking other racers with weapons. The participants played in three modes which handled violence differently. For the first mode, violence was rewarded; in the second mode, violence was punished; and in the final mode, violence was absent. Carnagey and Anderson found that when violence is rewarded, aggressive emotion, thinking, and behaviour increases. When violence is punished, aggressive emotion is increased, but aggressive thinking and behavior were not increased (Carnagey & Anderson, 2005)

While the phenomenon of short-term violent video game effect has been held as truth since the 1980s when studies focused on participation at arcades (when at-home consoles were rare), studies conducted in the last few years have started to look at game features other than violence as the primary cause of aggression. New generations of video games are much more sophisticated than previous generations. Whereas early study designs had a very short list of games title to choose from, modern games can choose games that best represent the exact recipes required (e.g. high competition, low violence; high frustration, low violence; high cooperation, high violence). The extended range of game types has allowed studies to control for features to determine their exact inter-relationship. Currently, researchers are focusing on three features as the most important components to explain aggression in video games: (i) competition; (ii) hardware; and (iii) social features.


Although there are exceptions to the rule, violence and competition are usually packaged together in video games. Most of the games listed as violent are also highly competitive so it has been difficult to see if violence or competition is the most salient component (Adachi & Willoughby, 2013). To remedy this flaw, researchers have been designing studies to specifically look at the role that competition plays in aggression. Aggressive behaviour is predicted by competition in video games irrespective of the games’ violence (Adachi & Willoughby, 2013).

In one study, Schmierbach (2010) used three game modes of the same video game HALO. In the first game mode, the single player played against computer-controlled alien enemies (solo). In the second game mode, the player worked with other human players against alien enemies (cooperation). In the final mode, the player played against other human players (competition). Schmierbach found that playing competitively against other humans caused the most aggression and playing cooperatively with humans caused the least aggression. These findings align with other studies that have shown that competitive play modes were better predictors of aggressive behaviour than cooperative or solo modes (Adachi & Willoughby, 2011; Schmierbach, Xu, Oeldorf-Hirsch, & Dardis, 2012).

Halo 3 Gameplay
Aggressive behaviour during HALO play was more closely related to game mode (e.g., co-op versus competitive) than the level of violence.


The findings of research on the effect of the hardware have been mixed. Whether the player has a controller in hand or a model of a gun affects the level of aggression. The use of the light gun increased aggression levels (Barlett, Harris, & Baldassaro, 2007) which is consistent with research on effect of visual representation of weapons in priming for aggression “weapon effect” (Börsche, 2010). Some studies have found that the more realistic the depiction of violence, the more aggression is created. In that way, the development of technology creates a deeper emersion into increasingly realistic virtual environments and is a proxy of level of aggressive cognition (Sherry, 2001). Other studies have found the opposite: that the quality of the depiction of the video game (e.g. graphics capacity of the console) does not mediate the aggressive response to violent video games (Barlett, Rodeheffer, Baldassaro, Hinkin, & Harris, 2008).

Aggression may be related to the controller. More realistic controls can cause the “weapon effect.”

The next step in technology will likely be the mainstream use of immersive virtual environment platforms. The displays of immersive virtual environment platforms are not through a screen like typical game experiences. Immersive virtual environment screens are head-mounted displays that track head movement and body actions. Use of immersive virtual environments for violent games increased aggression compared to violent games using screen-based outputs (Persky & Blascovich, 2007).

Social Features

Despite the stereotype of a lonely youth playing video games in the basement of his parents’ home, video games are a social activity. Web interfaces like provide platforms for gamers to share content and communicate. This new level of game-related socialization demonstrate that gaming is not a solitary activity. Unfortunately, there has not been much attention paid to the social benefits of membership in gaming communities in the research. Moving forward, social researchers will know more about online interactions and how gamers co-exist in these communities.

Furthermore, studies show that enjoyment is significantly improved by cooperative play with another human regardless of relational ties (Schmierback et al., 2012). In game behaviour can be a factor in whether the overall effect is positive or negative; for example, coordination in role-playing games increases prosocial behavior (De Simone, 2013). Cooperative play of video games with no other prosocial content increases prosocial behavior (Sestir & Batholow, 2010) Video games with prosocial content increased prosocial behavior (Greitemeyer & Osswald, 2010). Aggressive outcomes are mitigated when violence in video games is a part of a prosocial context (e.g. protecting a loved one from danger; Gitter Ewell, Guadagno, Stillman, & Baumeister, 2013).

NOTE: if you’re interested in knowing more about how behaviour is rated as aggressive or prosocial, you may want to know how it is measured in the lab. Commonly used aggression measures fit broadly into two categories: ambiguous and unambiguous measurements. An example of an ambiguous measurement is a lexical test. The participant is asked to complete a word with letters missing (e.g. “K I _ _”). Participants who have recently played VVGs are more likely to respond with words like “kick” or “kill” than words like “kiss” or “kiln” (Bösche, 2010). An example of an unambiguous measurement is the Hot Sauce Paradigm. The participant is asked to season a plate of food for another person who does not like spicy food using one of four hot sauce varieties. Participants who have recently played VVGs are more likely to season the plate of food with the spiciest sauce.

Ask your grandmother what happens to kids who play violent video games and you may be told that Call of Duty Black Ops 3 changes docile adolescents into rage-hounds. It’s not just your grandmother; perhaps we all believe that a little bit. The problem is that it is not true. While violent video games may cause aggression, the “violent video game effect” is temporary and does not transfer to personality. Furthermore, the culprit in VVG is not the violence. People become agitated because of game types, devices, and the social aspects of video games. Think of the last time you rage-quit HALO. Was it because the inherent violence of the narrative finally wore you down? Or was it that a 13-year old from Wisconsin noob-tubed you while shouting homophobic insults?

Granted, consuming countless hours of unfettered blood and gore can’t be healthy. Of course, no one is recommending you decorate your 5-year old’s birthday party with a Witcher 3 theme. But let’s agree on this point: although it’s tempting to assume that violence in video games translates to the real world, there is simply not enough evidence to support it.

Works Cited

Adachi, P. & Willoughby, T. (2011). The effect of video game competition and violence on aggressive behavior: Which characteristic has the greatest influence? Psychology of Violence, 1, 259-274.

Anderson, C. & Bushman, B. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggression behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science,12, 353-359.

Anderson, C. & Dill, K. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 772-790.

Barlett, C., Branch, O., Rodeheffer, C. & Harris, R. (2009). How long do the short-term violent video game effects last? Aggressive Behavior, 35, 225-236.

Barlett, C., Harris, R. & Baldassaro, R. (2007). Longer you play, the more hostile you feel: Examination of first person shooter video games and aggression during video game play. Aggressive Behavior, 33, 486-497.

Barlett, C., Rodeheffer, C., Baldassaro, R., Hinkin, M. & Harris, R. (2008). The effect of advances in video game technology and content on aggressive cognitions, hostility, and heart rate. Media Psychology, 11, 540-565.

Blumberg, F., Altschuler, E., Almonte, D. & Mileaf, M. (2013). The impact of recreational video game play on children’s and adolescents’ congition. In F. C. Blumberg & S.M. Fisch (Eds.), Digital Games: A Context for Cognitive Development. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 139, 41-50.

Boot, W., Kramer, A., Simons, D. Fabiani, M. & Gratton, G. (2008). The effects of video game playing on attention, memory, and executive control. Acta Psychologia, 129, 387-398.

Bösche, W. (2010). Violent video games prime both aggressive and positive cognitions. Journal of Media Psychology, 22, 139-146.

Buckley, K. & Anderson, C. (2006). A theoretical model of the effects and consequences of playing video games. In P.Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games – Motive, responses, and consequences (pp. 363–378). Mahwah, NJ:LEA.

Carnagey, M. & Anderson, C. (2005). The effects of reward and punishment in violent video games on aggressive affect, cognition, and behavior. Psychological Science, 16, 882-889.

De Simone, J. (2013). What is good can also be bad: The prosocial and antisocial in-game behaviors of young video game players. Atlantic Journal of Communication, 21, 149-163.

Frederiksen, J. & White, B. (1989). An approach to training based upon principled task decomposition. Acta Psychologica , 71, 89-146.

Gitter, S., Ewell, P., Guadagno, R., Stillman, R. & Baumeister, R. (2013). Virtually justifiable homicide: The effects of prosocial contexts on the link between violent video games, aggression, and prosocial and hostile cognition. Aggressive Behavior, 39, 346-354.

Gopher, D., Weil, M., & Bareket, T. (1994). Transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to flight. Human Factors, 36, 387-405.

Greitemeyer, T.& Osswald, S. (2010). Effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Personality, 98, 211-221.

Kutner, L. & Olson, C. (2008, April 8). Violence and video games. Toronto Star. p.1. Retrieved from

MacCormack, J. (2013, Fall). Toys as tools: Using e-games for learning, ETFO Voice, Retrieved from:

Persky, S. & Blascovich, J. (2007). Immersive virtual environments versus traditional platforms: Effects of violent and nonviolent video game play. Media Psychology, 10, 135-156.

Schmierbach, M. (2010). “Killing spree”: Exploring the connection between competitive game play and aggressive cognition. Communication Research, 37, 256-274.

Schmierbach, M., Xu, Q., Oeldorf-Hirsch, A. & Dardis, F. (2012). Electronic friend or virtual foe: Exploring the role of competitive and cooperative multiplayer video game modes in fostering enjoyment. Media Psychology, 15, 356-371.

Sestir, M. & Batholow, B. (2010). Violent and nonviolent video games produce opposing effects on aggressive and prosocial outcomes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 934-942.

Sherry, J. (2001). The effects of violent video games on aggression: A meta-analysis. Human Communication Research, 27, 409-431.

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  1. The studies brought up here seem to suggest a slightly more subtle point. Namely, video games have mechanics that incentivize certain forms of behavior. Some times that behavior is competition and aggression. Those effects are short term in the lab, but what would happen with repeated exposure over an extended period of time? (Since no IRB in the country would ever sign off on that sort of study, the debate will never entirely die down)

    The key mechanism under debate is that while we recognize certain behavior is appropriate in certain settings (dominance behavior in video games), we do not entirely shed those behaviors when we enter a new one, especially if they have been conditioned as heuristics and routines useful in some way. In fact, this is also the argument in favor of video games as having salutary benefit. (Being more sensitive to environmental cues in problem solving, improved coordination, etc)

    It doesn’t take a lot to recognize that playing a lot of competitive Call of Duty and then picking up an assault rifle to shoot up a school is farcical but playing a lot of competitive Call of Duty and then acting more like a d-bag is believable. It is the difference between saying eating a large steak will cause you to die from a heart attack, versus saying eating a large steak will increase the cholesterol and fat in your blood stream after consumption.

    In fact, Craig Anderson, the most cited researcher in this article is essentially distinguishing between all these points in the studies on video game exposure being quoted here. Essentially, playing a lot of video games is going to affect us and some of the ways in which we are affected is outside our control.

    Saying video games do not cause anything deleterious effectively requires us to assume they do not matter and/or we can always compartmentalize our experiences perfectly from one another. It is a variant of the broader argument that media does not affect us, unless we want it to. That we are in full control of how we engage with the world. If you believe that to be true, then the article will sway you of its merits. If you don’t, then articles like this sound more like preaching to a choir. (That’s what it felt like to me in a red-meat-isn’t-bad-for-you, in-fact-it-has-nutrients, sort of way)

    As someone who grew up playing video games and continues to enjoy them (As well as a lot of steaks), the most compelling account for the relationship of video games and violence is Randall Collins take on the Sandy Hook shootings.

    The relationship is more complex than many of us may want to acknowledge.

    Really, I don’t think we’ve “blown away” anything about this debate. Even this article ends on the conclusion that perhaps the evidence isn’t there rather than claiming it is categorically wrong. More that the smoke hasn’t cleared and depending on who you are, you may or may not like what you see when it does.

  2. Nice read. While there is still cultural debate and moral panic over games causing violence, academia has been examining this topic since the late 1980s and failed to present any valid, convincing evidence that temporary increases in aggression following video game exposure carry over to the real world (or have any lasting effects at all). So far, the only opposing voices are spurious psychologists like Craig Anderson, who know very little about the culture of video games and still labour under the misconception that, firstly, all gamers are anti-social teenage boys and secondly, games themselves have not matured past Mortal Kombat and the original GTA.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      Bohn, thanks for saying so! It’s hard to say what Anderson knows. Even if I may disagree with some of his conclusions, I’m glad he and other researchers are looking into this. I think you have a point about the sociology of gamers though. I’d love to read an analysis of the societal intricacies of gaming communities.

    • jnxvjnxjvdjjnkdf

  3. Video games are just interactive entertainment and don’t influence peoples behaviour.

  4. trishie

    Instead of video games causing violence perhaps they are just reflecting the violent world we live in.

    Many people who see Call of Duty in the press day to day probably don’t know that it started life as a WW2 franchise in 2003, its no coincidence that as the events of the last decade have played out the franchise has evolved into the modern day masochistic war on terror gun fest that it is today.

  5. viulete hay

    I can see a short term increase of aggression but this would go hand in hand after watching a boxing match or a film.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      True true! And those media also get accused of causing aggression and violence as well.

    • Exactly. Watching a couple of drunks fight on a friday night does the same, as would are ancestors and other animals in a fight or flight situation. I,ve killed more pixels in a year than an average American invasion, my violent peers at school where from rough areas with very bad up bringings. Our long term experiences have more of an effect.

      Children brought up in war torn countries like somalia wouldn’t have the local media mention C.O.D as a factor in a violent society.

    • Charlton

      Absolutely. Once, after a big Gran Turismo session, I was given a lift by a friend and found myself constantly having thoughts like “He’s way off the racing line here” and “he was late accelerating there” and “he’s going way too slowly”. I wouldn’t have been a safe driver at that point. Didn’t happen later in the day though.

  6. There’s been no suggestion made that video-games alone can cause players to become violent, only that they could raise levels of aggression…the fact that they could act as a fuel to existing aggressive tendencies in some people is surely cause for concern.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack


      Thanks for your comment! I disagree with your statement. In fact in my article, I cite two people (Craig Cooley and the NRA lobbyist) who make that exact claim. As strange as it sounds, some people believe that VVGs singularly cause violent actions.

    • They do not fuel aggression any more than anything else that makes people angry and they certainly don’t fuel aggression in everyone so I don’t think it is a cause for concern. And there are people who say that video games make people violent, there’s been a lot of press over the years about people who want any games with violence banned.

  7. James Zhan

    I have heard people, especially parents, complaining that VVGs are just too violent and it will influence kids in a bad way. Maybe it could, but I don’t agree.
    First of all I am not a gamer – I’ve played quite a lot of games just for the sake of trying to find why people like them so much, and I often lost interest in a week.
    Action games are the funnest to play, in the list of games I have played and they never have any influence on me. I never think about “oh it would be so awesome if I can just shoot some people” or something like that.
    If a person is easily affect by VVGs, even if he doesn’t play any games, he would get triggered somehow in his life, goes violent and end up committing a crime.

  8. ahjmaria

    I think it’s probably safe to say a video game, or any entertainment piece, is not going to make someone kill or be violent. So many factors figure into decision that violent person makes for it to be so simple as saying oh its cause they played GTA. Many people including myself have and yeah i never murdered anyone. But my child life was a loving and nurturing environment. Violent behavior has many reasons and I’d guess it has much more to do with how you grew up and what environment that took place in, than what you do with your free time.

    That said, i can def speak to the part about competitive play. I play mostly FIFA soccer and dam when I play other people online I can find myself acting like a total lunatic for god knows why. I’ll throw my controller at the ground and then my five year old will look at me and it hits, like wtf is wrong with you, is this really how you want to teach you kids to act? I never got that agitated when playing solo that’s for sure.

    One thing I think that could be further looked into is the effect of violent games, and you tube vids, etc, that kids these days are able to access that I never was. I wonder like what the long term effect of seeing a beheading at a young age, or any number of insane and in human (yet clearly human) acts has on kids now. Does it make them desensitized as adults? Does it make them more depressed? The world where innocence in children seemed to exist is quickly ending. Maybe that s a good thing. I always felt being lied to as a kid made me sour. Being protected from the harsh truths of the world made me bitter once I discovered them for myself. So perhaps knowing the truth is good. But could it also be sad? Could it be disheartening. Could it make you grow up feeling hollow?

    Overall very interesting topic.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack


      Thanks for your reply! As a parent, I tend to agree with you about not lying to kids. I told my kids the truth about Santa early on. That said, I think that there are very real developmental differences between kids and adults. Developmental psychologists tell us that young children may not have the emotional strategies or societal context to make sense of abject violence.
      Thanks again for the discussion!

      • ahjmaria

        haha, that’s funny. As a parent, I feel like I’m probably going to follow my parents lead to be honest. As much as I was bitter, I feel like I have a pretty good world view. And dam it just seems so heartbreaking to tell my kids Santa isn’t real… how old were your kids when you told them? How did they react?

        • Jeffrey MacCormack

          Early early on. I don’t think they were too upset about it. I had never told them that Santa was real so it wasn’t a shock.
          It would be like me saying to you: “hey ahjmaria, there’s no such thing as Zordorf the Great. Lots of people think that Zordorf is real, but he’s not. It’s just a fun thing to think about.” They were like “ah, okay.”

          • ahjmaria


            My five year old already has a firm grasp on this elusive “Santa” concept. But im sure if she knew the presents would still be coming thats all that shed care about. My 2 year old wouldn’t blink twice…

  9. Sunbro

    Always a great topic to see addressed. Unfortunately most people that need to read articles like these don’t.

  10. Grace Maich

    Great article! I actually had one of the authors you cited (Adachi) make a presentation to my social psychology class last year and he pointed out that violent behaviour is just as likely to occur after playing a competitive children’s game like Mario Kart (which, in my experience, I’m pretty inclined to agree with – people always joke about games like Mario Kart ending friendships, and that really highlights how frustrating they can be).

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      Thanks for posting a reply here! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I’m glad to hear that you received a similar message from Adachi’s talk. As a knowledge mobilizer, it is always my goal to represent the researcher’s position and not just cherrypick their findings as they suit my end needs. Do you know what I mean? It’s so easy to pull from a study what is most convenient for your overall position, and completely ignore the heart of the research findings. That is something I try to avoid!
      Can you tell me where you attend(ed) school (i.e., where you heard Adachi speak)? I’m always curious to know where my writing is being read! 🙂

      • Grace Maich


        I totally agree, I think academic studies are really misrepresented a lot of the time. So often people will throw out studies to back up their arguments but looking at the original article, the author had completely different intentions. As a student, I understand the draw and it’s not always done on purpose but that sort of thing can so often lead to huge misconceptions in society!

        I attend Brock University in Ontario, Canada which is where I heard Adachi speak. It was a really good talk.

  11. Personally, I have always experienced an increased agitated emotional state as a response to repetitively failing at a task in a video game. That ranges between all modes whether it be single player stories, co-op based play, or multi-player arena based matches. Most of the games that I own, and plan to own in the future, do involve violence in some capacity. But very rarely do I feel angry or a form of an increased agitated emotion every single time I play one of those games. I think what consumers need to be aware of is that Violent Video Games have the ability to increase aggressive moods and/or emotions. That does not mean it will happen; or, if it does, it does not mean that an individual will possess those feelings outside of the environment that they have already experienced, which is the game itself.

    The biggest time of impact that Violent Video Games can have, I believe, is during childhood. Too many times have I seen parents in front of me at my chosen Video Games retailer buy Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto or other games like those, for a child that is no older than 10. I think more attention needs to be paid to the rating system that ESRB as put forth. There is a reason that certain games are rated M for Mature, and it is simply because those games are not designed to be played by anyone younger than the recommended age. I’m not trying to tell parents and guardians what decision to make, but I want to encourage them to consider why a game is rated a certain way and how it can impact a child.

  12. H4zel

    I think it really depends on the time of person who picks up these games. If a child/adolescent/young adult is prone to violent or angry behaviour, then you would definitely need to consider the types of games they’re playing. Personally, I only find myself growing agitated when, like the previous comment, I’m continuously failing, but that’s on my own behalf. It never drives me to violence, maybe a couple cuss words but never to the point of using force.

    On the other hand, you get games like Hatred, which thrive off a just pure violence senselessly with no objective and no goals to work towards, which I don’t understand at all. I see games as a point to tell stories, to have an experience and to just have plain fun sometimes, but where is any of that in ‘Hatred’ ?

    Great article, worth the read!

  13. Perhaps it’s the alienation and detachment that inevitably comes with gaming; the classic picture of the loner nerd, locked away in his darkened room for hours/days/weeks at a time, staring slack-eyed at his computer screen, feverishly fingering his console, attempting (and failing, miserably) to console himself about the bitter, twisted loneliness and social exclusion of his pathetic, insignificant little life by indulging himself in a fantastic, lurid bloodbath of revenge, death and destruction..

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      Yes but, POPE, that’s an outdated and inaccurate representation of gamers. 21st century gamers are integrated, connected, and very social.

    • spradlin

      The alienation and detachment that comes with gaming is obsolete: just look at the panoply of social-networking, co-op, and online features that the latest console generation is foisting on us poor loner nerds. Sure, I’ve spent hours/days/weeks on my own, but that’s nothing compared to the time that MMO players put into their games (and, yes, their relationships with other players).

  14. This reminds me of the argument that Dungeons & Dragons encouraged Satan worship. And I’m sure we all remember the giant rise in the number of Satanic rituals that were performed during the 1980s, along with the collapse of society that brought about blah-blah-blah.

    • The same thing was supposedly true of comics in the 50s, video nasties in the 70s, and television in virtually every decade.

      In other words, it’s largely bollocks (to use a technical term). What it’s mostly about, IMO, is the snobbish classes looking down their noses at forms of mass entertainment. We really should never have taught the labouring classes to read, don’t you know. It’s ended in tears!

  15. First Reich

    I am in my mid forties and have been playing video games since the early days of Space Invaders and the ZX Spectrum. Love the odd horror film also.

    As pc specs got higher and things like Doom and Duke3D came out I really took enjoyment in playing FPS (First Person Shooters).

    These days I love playing a sniper game and blowing some poor b*****ds pixelated brains all over before going to the allotment for a spot of digging or vice versa.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      Folks like you make the data difficult to interpret. You’re obviously a lover of VVGs and get a lot of pleasure from the sensory experience of destroying skulls. The critical question is whether you liked blowing brains out because you played video games, or are aggressive type people drawn to play VVGs? Thanks for posting!

  16. Michael

    Great study.

    I help create games, and I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that the content I produce is within the age guidelines for the various certificating boards.

    And then a parent or grandparent buys a game for little Johnny with an 18 certificate and then immediately “does a Keith Vaz” if it’s not all pink ponies and snowflakes.

    Age ratings are there for a reason. Please pay attention to them.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      Thanks for posting a reply!
      Any chance you could tell us a bit more about what you have created? Also, how do you produce content that is specific to an age guideline? Do you have a maximum number of pools of blood? Or a quote of swear words? There must be a recipe for an E-rated game written down somewhere. I’m so curious!

  17. Gil Seibert

    Humans are like animals. We were violent before computer games, we were violent before tv.

  18. I’ve often felt that video games are a good way to let off steam and vent aggression. If I’ve had a shit day at work, sniping off a few baddies on COD usually does the trick!

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      That makes sense. Some studies show that VVGs can reduce stress and anxiety for people like yourself. In those situations, VVGs may actually reduce aggression!

  19. This article is the first balanced view I’ve seen, good stuff.

  20. Jenna Mae

    While I do believe violent video games can fuel aggression, I agree with your statement about how it does not change a person’s personality. Reactions are dependent on the person/personality therefore, reactions will differ and what extracts strong, aggressive emotions from one gamer may not have the same effect on the next.

    I enjoyed the comparison of studies you’ve shown! Interesting article:)

  21. I believe video games have little influence on a person’s behavior given that my brother and I have been playing them for years now and are still the most calm and least aggressive of the lot. Violent video games allow one to take out a lot of the stress, anger or frustration that one might have and seep into a world of unrealistic yet comforting virtual being.

  22. Very interesting. I work with college-age students whose cultural references are centered on games, movies, and social media, and what strikes me is not their aggression but their alternating passivity/anxiety. Of course, anxiety is over-determined in this culture. Radhika and others noted the calming effect of games, and I can see how that might work. But it seems to me that over the years my students have become more passive, but are also more apt to spike quickly into reactive modes when another student or some issue gets them going. They also seem to have more trouble with debating and arguing their views. In spite of the supposed “science” orientation of our culture, the concept of evaluating “evidence” seems to be lacking — instead, reactions tend to remain on a personal level. “Personal” may be a good start, but in order to have an effect, it has to be followed by broader understanding of the situation. So I wonder if gaming may be part of a cultural arsenal that programs people for short-term emotional reactions rather than sustained critical evaluation.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      What is your work with college-age students?

      • I teach East Asian history and religion, both of which have a lot of human and non-human characters that show up in modern fantasy media. 😉 But there’s also a long history of Chinese debates on sticky ethical issues that are still with us….

      • Example of an ethical issue related to this discussion — in the Analects, Confucius says that someone should be trained in use of weapons by someone who knows what they’re doing for at least 8 years (or is it 6, I forget?) anyway — before they are allowed to bear arms. Now, does this mean that the aristocracy has a moral responsibility to train their foot-soldiers? Or does this mean that only aristocrats with the time for martial arts should be allowed weapons? It’s not clear from the text.

        • should mention, given the context, “training” includes moral training…

        • Jeffrey MacCormack

          Very interesting question. At first glance, I would have presumed that Confucius recognized that a little education is a dangerous thing and novices should be trained by someone with enough experience to understand the value of restraint and control. I see now how the societal context would add a layer of ethical ambiguity.
          I think I’d love to take your course! 🙂

          • Well, thank you, and I’d like to take a course on video games! Here’s the passage, in case anyone wants it:

            Lunyu 13:29 (ca. 5th-4th cent. BCE)

            Wing-tsit Chan trans., p. 41: Confucius said, “When good men have instructed the people for seven years, they may be allowed to bear arms.”

            子˘曰¯:「善`人´教¯民´七¯年´, 亦`可˘以˘即´戎´矣˘。」
            My trans: A good man instructs people for seven years before they also may then use arms/engage in warfare.

  23. Hi Jeffrey,
    Thank you for the well-researched and well-balanced disquisition on VVGs! If I may, I think there’s another dimension to consider: how strongly does a player want/need to play? (Or as the apocryphal grandmother might say: “strength of addiction”) For this dimension, there are a couple of findings. (1) Andrew Przybylski, from Oxford U, draws a distinction between players who “want to” play versus those who “have to” (i.e. are obsessed) with playing. His recent work [Psych of Popular Media Culture] finds a correlation for children who play video games for more than three hours a day—they are more likely to be hyperactive, get involved in fights and not be interested in school. (However, note: correlation does not mean causation.) (2) Israeli researcher Aviv Malkiel Weinstein writes [Am J Drug and Alcohol Abuse] that “psycho-physiological mechanisms underlying computer game addiction are mainly stress coping mechanisms …. Computer game playing may lead to long-term changes in the reward circuitry that resemble the effects of substance dependence.” In other words, you’ve made good points about pluses & minuses of VVGs… and I’m saying the depth of desire to play VVGs affects the outcome, too, whether it is a net benefit or drawback.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      You’re right. Gamers are not a homogeneous group. We need more research into who gamers are, how they socialize in networks, and how much they play.

  24. Trujillo

    If there is a link between video games and behavior and I think there probably is its the same as books or movies in that the link is derived by your own analysis and thinking on the subject matter. Art can be a powerful thing but it is not a simple causation effect its a process of response that is embedded in a wider social construct and cultural patterns.

    So video games don’t make you violent but they may make you think about violence and your wider society if it is one of its key narrative themes the arguments of a direct link ignore peoples capacity for contextual analysis it is the story not the method that is important and the themes on display.

  25. The news is the most violent thing I see on my TV nowadays.

  26. The massive increase in video gaming over the last decade or so has coincided with the biggest drop in violence in the West on record; surely, given the vast numbers of people who play games, any increase in game consumption would lead to rising levels of violence in our societies, not diminishing levels.

  27. Jeff MacLeod

    This is an excellent article. I do wonder, though, if something more subtle is going on? The narrative which disturbs me is the lack of consequences for behaving badly in GTA. I agree that every player who rapes a character in GTA is not a rapist in the primary world, but does it open the door to the possibility of performing immoral acts without consequences elsewhere? To me, it is about dehumanizing the other and I think the effect is difficult to measure through quantitative theory. It is not as simple as determining a direct casual relationship, it is also about forming a meta cultural narrative, and if the message is: kill and rape without consequence in-world they maybe that translates to other media and real world action in some way? Anyway, I’m not sure, but it is worth more serious reflection on the part of the industry.

  28. otis rayburn

    The US system for background checks on guns is pathetic and what one might call a system is broken.

  29. DoloBick

    The Washington Shooter may have spent an inordinate amount of time playing Candy Crush or Virtual Sailor.

  30. Interesting. It’s the same idea as getting an aggressive kid to channel his rage into hitting a punch bag – taking it out on an inanimate object is preferable to seeking physical revenge on those who have caused you distress/anger.

  31. If games like COD and GTA caused acts such as what happened in Washington wouldn’t there be more of them.

    I play COD and GTA yet can’t drive and wouldn’t be a very good shot with a pistol or rifle. I reckon the guy in Washington reservist training was more of a factor.

  32. Videogames being the newest form of media must have this discussion. Not because of any relevance on fact but simply because the subject of morality and consumption of information is simply part of the natural evolution of media. Imagining there is no heaven had a song banned from the radio. Comics had to abide by the comicd code. For a long people have tried to subvert media that does not agree with their world view and each tune art had to rage on and tackle things of substance or risk being irrelevant.

    Books and comic books were banned because they at one point were considered to subway the youth. Catcher in the Rye and other books that challenged the conformity post world war two. The Catcher in the Rye challenge the percent system of 1950s America but did not challenge segregation, racism our have much violence. It simply didn’t fit into the Rockwellian depiction of America.

    While some games truly are violent, the question is do they make people more violent, has yet to be answered scientifically. In the book “Grand Theft Childhood” the writers final conclusion was inconclusive.

    I recently wasted a passthrough of the game “Hatred” many argue that it is sadism our murder simulators. The argument is that it has the player commit the cruel killing; the counter argument cab be said that books make people imagine themselves in the role of the killer. While reading doesn’t the reader have to imagine the world and hear descriptions of the characters and try to cast them with people that may know. Don’t they often cast themselves as the lead?

    It is this bias that makes this issue get studied worth every new “Grand Theft Auto” title. That books are for the sophisticated and game players are a completely different demographic. While “Hatred” could have been designed to illustrate how two many bad days, a system rigged against them and a society riddled with hypocrisy can create a diseased individual like the main character, it just plays through the psychopathy.this makes the game route for attack. Compared to written form though it can find it’s comparison to sensationalism. The construction and meaning of violence in games should be critiqued more because the content without context is usually the larger issues when looking at the convergence
    narratology and ludology.

    The issue is that as a young medium and lack of experimentation many developers feel that they need to be sensationalists to stand out and be seen and they lack the sicial conscience to add trojan horses like the film “Spring Breakers” or the show “Orange is the New Black”. These examples highlight and advertise one aspect to lure the public and then speak on greater issues then “fan service” or sensationalism. Games are not the first medium that put people in a position to interact with brutality. Books rely on people playing with the authors thoughts in their own had which at a tune was considered more dangerous than playing a version of that same reality where all the casting is already done for the pertarin experiencing the medium.

  33. This was a nice expose on VVG and a very mature approach to talking about media affects. The tug and pull of media and culture upon one another can be a daunting thing to even begin to attempt to deconstruct, but you do a very amiable effort here. I find the way you framed some of your statistics particularly interesting. I very much appreciated the chronology approach you implemented to go over past discussions of VVG and their affects. Your rebuttals and counter-thoughts were both insightful and provoking in their own right.

    I do have to question a bit about the conclusions you draw at the end of this otherwise well written piece. Can we really draw a counterpoint conclusion from such incomplete tests? If we’re going to attempt casual analysis, isn’t it important to look at all the variables in play? I think we can conclude that there isn’t a simple consume VVG get violent traits relationship; but to straight up claim a full lack of long term affect without more exhaustive testing (assuming a sociology/psychology approach) feels a little too disingenuous.

    Marshall Mcluhan postulated that, “the games of a people reveal a great deal about them.” If we accept this as fact, what does that say about society and the oversaturation of very violent video games? I think is an interesting thought experiment to continue on with more questions we need to ask about the people showing a correlation between VVG’s and actual acts of violence. What is the environment they grew up in? What other media were they consuming? What did they write? Etc.

    Overall, I enjoyed reading this, thank you.

    • Jeffrey MacCormack

      Thank you for the post! I love MM and his position on the role of media. You bring up some great points about the type of culture that incubates violence video games. However I solve it in my mind, the cause of the production of violent video games is the desire of customers to play those games–and what does that say about us as consumers? If we wanted to play kitten games, then EA would be investing money into kitten games, I have no doubt.
      While the full implications of your questions are outside the scope of my article (I was looking at the cognitive and psychological effects of video games) your points are quite valid.
      I have to ask: How did you first come across MM’s positions? What is your background?

      • MM is kind of the figurehead of my undergrad’s media arts and cultures program. I’m a now first class honours bachelor of arts in Media Arts and Cultures from the University of New Brunswick. (Going on to do a Master of Arts in Experimental Digital Media at the University of Waterloo). I wrote a thesis in my undergrad that would fall under games scholarship, a discourse analysis around Gamergate and identity.

        But I mean, in general, if you’re a Canadian Media Scholar, it’s like almost a sin to not know MM. hahaha

        The if there was a market, it would be catered to logic is a bit flawed in my opinion though. It discredits the power of industry cycles and how hard it can be to stop making what you’re making and actually try something new. That’s why we’re seeing this new approach to Kickstarter, where companies put a game up there, just to get a taste for if people want it or not. I’m interested to see how this will shape the production of games in the future.

      • I’ll definitely check it out!

      • I’ve read this before actually! It was a super good read both times!

        • Jeffrey MacCormack

          What?! Wow! What are the odds? How did you come across that piece? Side mission was a very small website and I don’t think it had many followers at all!

          I’m blown away! 🙂

          • I saw a lot of very small websites when I was doing research for my honours thesis, it definitely came up then, I didn’t use it, but I remember reading it! (I might have used it in my proposal, it’s all a blur now though)

            • Jeffrey MacCormack

              Thanks for letting me know. I’d love to know if you referenced my piece in your thesis. What a trip!

              • I checked my reference list, it didn’t show up in the final product unfortunately, If I get taken on as a writer here, I might consider posting the thesis’ chapters as a think piece series. Which is in a way, scary because of the topic, but I’m considering it.

  34. Justice

    A nutter with a video game is still a nutter with a big mac and fries but the press doesn’t mention cheese burgers as risk factor in a murder…

  35. Sometimes crazy people do crazy things. Some of these crazy people play video games.

  36. In psychology 1000 we blasted this myth out the video. It’s not really the video game that makes “adolescents violent”, that’s just the occasion. Media in general may makes people more aggressive or behave a certain way, but their influences are more based on our suspension of disbelief. When youths were shown behind the scenes footage after watching a violent movie or clip, their acts of aggression were significantly lower, and basically the same as if they did not watch anything violent (Psych 1000 textbook). The problem that arises from video games is that it’s so immersive and most people start playing at such an early age that crazy as it sounds, a part of players often believe that… it is real life! Thus gunning down a civilian in GTA V, is just de-sensitized, but that might not mean players think it’s an okay action in real life, just that they aren’t able to acknowledge the real world consequences of it.

    Cartoons are actually quite problematic, they have more violence in them, with a lack of consequence, than many Hollywood action movies.

  37. I often find video games allow me to release steam. In the end, video games are just another form of telling a story.

  38. Jeffrey,

    I wonder how many of these studies examine the same kids and for how long. That isn’t to bring these reports into doubt; I just recall reading in Dr. Elias Abojaoude’s book Virtually You that one of the things that some people forget when conducting studies that measure aggression is prolonged study, which is to say you observe a person who plays violent video games then after a span of time -perhaps even a year or more- you observe the same person to see if their behavior has changed. It’s a worthy question; frankly, I’m not sure how much a violent video game can impact somebody. If the person is older and realizes that what they’re playing isn’t a simulation of the real world, then that’s alright. If, however, it’s an impressionable youth who is playing the game, I’d say more discretion ought to be in place.


  39. Video games cause as much violence as movies, shows, or books do—they’re all forms of media and means of storytelling that have little to no impact on a person’s predisposition to committing crimes. Anyone who’s messed up enough to emulate what they see in games like GTA is already sick.

  40. The Source

    The idea that any one thing will cause a person to be violent is absurd and since there are plently of other things in the world that can increase aggression (stress of any kind) and there are clearly a lot of people who play games and don’t then go out and shoot or stab people it’s clear that videogames do not cause people to be violent in the same way that other drivers don’t cause you to get road rage. You want to stop people killing each other then make society a fairer, equal place. Study the brain more and put more funding into helping people who struggle in life. Suffering is far more dangerous than a videogame.

  41. (I’m going to leave young children out of this and focus on people who are high school age and up.) I find it interesting that in video games aggression is seen as a bad thing that negatively impacts a person’s whole life, but in competitive sports, like hockey or football, that same aggression is often applauded and encouraged. You would think that physically acting out aggression would leave a more lasting impression on a person than virtually acting it out, yet it seems to be less of a concern to people.

    • Being a sports fanatic myself and someone who has played both hockey and football extensively, I have to say that these sports are coming increasingly under fire. While aggression has typically been applauded, people are starting to realize the fact that they can “negatively impact” a person’s life. Obviously, this is more from an injury perspective, but there is less of an appetite than there used to be for this kind of violence.

      As for acting out aggression translating into overall increases in a person’s aggression, I’m uncertain that there is enough evidence to support this. Indeed, we hear about the bad cases, such as Aaron Hernandez and Junior Seau, but these are not the norm. Certainly, there is room for improvement. However, considering hundreds of thousands of people play these sports and turn out fine, I don’t think that the violence, on the whole, negatively impacts how they function or perceive the world. I think that the same argument could be made for video games. We focus on the bad, but the reality is far less condemning than popular thinking believes.

  42. Often, the idea of video game violence and its effects on people gets overblown. It should not be swept under the rug, but I do not think that video games should act as the reference point for violence in our world; rather, our world should be the reference point for violence in video games.

    There are cases where people translate virtual violence into real world violence, no doubt. However, I think that, overall, video games reflect our reality, not the other way around. Our world is a better lens to examine violence and I believe that there is room for discussion about how real world violence is reflected in virtual worlds. Could it be that video game violence, however superfluous, reflects our violent culture?

  43. This was definitely an informative article regarding the effects of virtual world on the young minds. I am from india, I have been a hardcore gamer since the age of 7 years when my dad bought me a first gaming console designed by sega saturn( 5th gen console). I used to play it all day long and never get tired of it. But there were several limitations, I was only allowed to play it during the vacations in school so that ai would not lose my focus during studies. As the gaming industry grew rapidly, there was more focus on the violent characters in the video games, due to which my dad became more cautious and acted like a member of the censor board about the type of games I played. When I got my first computer in 2004, I was strictly not allowed to play games on it. But I was so obsessed that I used to play it when he is not at home ( my mom never gave a shit anout anything I did on computer). Guess what there were many benefits of playing video games including violent ones which I did not notice earlier but later in life. Let me tell you one thing I was a one of the meritorious students during my high school. I used to play games for hours after shool time like GTA vice city (the most violent one at that time, which is still famous in some parts of india because they dont know there are other versions of GTA..😁), I was able to balance with my school life, social life and even gaming life very eficiently. Several important skills that I learned from playing video games and helped me to excel academically were to get a strong hold of english language, which was not possible even I was attending an english medium school, coz we were not used to have much exposure to english language in our community and society or at home. I was much better than most of my class mates at critical reading, absolute interpretations of data, creative thinking and was much better and faster than others in making critical decisions. Today I think that most of the success that I had in every sphere of my life video games had always played a significant part. I am currently pursuing Computer science at york university in canada, the love of computer games made me to fall in love with the latest inventions and technology in the field of CS. But I do believe that the modern equipments of electronic entertainment can have negative influence on the kids if they are not supervised as nowadays it is very easy to access vast range of content like violence and sexuality, which can cause drastic effects on the mindsets of children. It is not necessary that everyone is affected by it, but it can provoke violent behaviour through your subconcious mind.

    Thats everything wanted to say.
    thank you

  44. I cannot believe this debate is still carrying on when there clearly is no evidence to support the claims that are being made.

    • The author is clearly into psychological readings/explanations that lessen or limit the potential of artistic expressions.

  45. Jordan

    Drats! I wish I had been lurking on the site and given you feedback for this piece. As part of my Personality unit at University our readings covered this topic – apparently there are 4 or 5 components to copying movie/video game violence into real life. In order for someone to carry out a large scale terrorist act, for example, the person would have to pay close attention to the video game, practice playing out the violent act and perceive that there will be a reward for their actions. I can’t remember the others.

  46. Video games are a gift and its those of whose individuals who pick to have an effect on them.

  47. cant believe what i just read

  48. Emily Deibler

    Great article. I took a class about gender and sexuality in video games, and we discussed at length whether certain negative depictions endorse malignant behaviors and actions. It’s a complicated and intriguing debate.

  49. That article is great but I don’t think kids can do that because they probably don’t have the technology to do that.

    • …they don’t have the technology to do what? Sorry, your comment is a little unclear.

  50. This is a great article that has been a problem for far too long. When acts of violence occur it seems that people look for something to blame, before actually trying to figure out what caused the violence. It was easy for older generations to blame violent video games because they simply didn’t have these games. They fear what they don’t know or understand. It is too easy to blame something that you do not have any experience with. It has always been frustrating seeing news blame violent video games when real experience has led to zero violent behavior. This is an important article that can be used to make connections with further problems. It seems that rock music, such as Marilyn Manson gets blamed. Hopefully in the future, people will learn to truly seek out the causes of violence, instead of immediately blaming certain things they don’t understand or agree with.

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