Are concerns over violent video games valid?

TLDR;

Every time there is a new school shooting, violent video games are what make the headlines.

Violent video game use increases aggression, decreases empathy, and is a risk factor (amongst others) to violence.

On the morning of April 20th, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado and committed the murder of 12 students and one teacher 1 1. Wikipedia × . The pair subsequently committed suicide. A national tragedy, the massacre ignited a fierce debate over gun control laws, bullying, and violence in video games—as the two high school seniors enjoyed playing games like Doom and Quake. Since then, video games have been tied to school shootings, including this year when Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, and the President of the United States suggested violent video games were partially to blame 2 2. Business Insider, 2018 × .

With millions of teenagers playing violent video games such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Fortnite, do parents have cause for concern? Does playing video games make you violent? If you are playing violent video games, are you at-risk of becoming the next school shooter?

Video Games Are a Risk Factor

The evidence is mounting that there are problematic effects of violent game use, however, that should not be interpreted as direct cause and effect. An authoritative review in 2015 by the American Psychiatric Association 3 3. APA, 2015 × found “a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions, and aggressive affect and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity to aggression,” however it’s important to note that although all violence is aggression, not all aggression is violence.

Research is conclusive that there is “no single risk factor that consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently. Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior 4 4. Berkowitz, 1993 × 5 5. Eron, Huesmann, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1974 × 6 6. Ferguson et al., 2013 × . Each risk factor increases the likelihood of such negative behavior 7 7. Sameroff, Bartko, Baldwin, Baldwin, & Seifer, 1988 × — violent video game use is one such risk factor.” The average gamer is not going to be violent – it is just an elevated risk – with other factors playing a role in violent behavior such as bullying, childhood experiences, frustration, poverty, personal and social stresses, and external events and situations that bring hostile ideas to mind.

The Media is Guilty

The media has a role to play here. Every time there is a new school shooting, violent video games are what make the headlines. These segments play on the fears of responsible parents around the world and do immense harm to the quality of conversation of a very serious topic—violence. These news segments may be profitable as clickbait, but they also increase the shame and stigma attached to gaming, resulting in the further isolation of a community that now makes up the majority of our population during a time when our society needs the opposite.

Violent video games are currently protected by the First Amendment 8 8. Supreme Court, 2011 × , and although we can all agree that a game that simulates a school shooting should not exist, I believe we can also agree that our goal should be toward a world free from real-world violence, and using violent video games as a scapegoat to that only hurts our cause.

Violent video game use also decreases empathy. On the internet, it’s easy to see someone as just an avatar, a username, and not as a real human being. When the majority of an adolescent’s time is spent in this type of virtual environment, the impact on their development can be significant. It’s also common for problematic video game use to isolate, and isolation can be dangerous, for others and for oneself.

Tips for Parents:

  1. Review Games and Ratings: Be educated and informed on the types of games your teenagers are playing and whether or not they contain violence with Common Sense Media.
  2. Play Games Without Violence: Although 85% of games on the market contain some form of violence, there are many that do not. Search for games focused on adventure and story-telling instead of ones based on killing and competition.
  3. Avoid Isolated Gaming: Move gaming consoles and computers into a central area in the home so you are able to monitor gameplay.

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