Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior in Kids?

Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior

Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior in Kids?

Is violence in video games to blame?


On March 8, 2018, President Trump hosted a gathering to discuss the role of violence in video games on the behaviors of young people. Those in attendance included:

  • Entertainment Software Association CEO Mike Gallagher
  • Patricia Vance, president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board
  • Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of the company that makes the game “Grand Theft Auto,” and
  • Robert Altman, chairman and CEO of the parent company that produces games like “Fallout.”

According to the White House, “As we continue to work towards creating school safety programs that protect all children, the President will be meeting with video game industry leaders and members of Congress to discuss violent video game exposure and the correlation to aggression and desensitization in children.”

Former president Barack Obama also suggested there could be a link between violent video games and violence in young people. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy which left almost 30 people dead (20 were young children), Obama pushed Congress to “research the causes and prevention of gun violence,” including “the effects that violent video games have on young minds.”

In the aftermath of horrific school shootings over the past decade, including Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 and more recently, Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, it would be easy to just ban certain games and put all of the blame on Black Ops. But, are they really to blame?

What does science say about violent video games?


As can be imagined, it is generally not possible to create a scenario in which individuals will attack each other in the laboratory environment making it difficult to prove whether or not violent digital exposures lead to violent real-world reactions. But, other studies have tried to prove note-worthy connections (correlations).

In 2011, a study at Indiana University performed by Dr. Vincent Matthews compared the brains of students who had played first-person shooter games for 10 hours/day for a week with those who had not. The MRI results were stunning. The brains of the video game group showed less activation in brain regions that control emotion and aggressive behavior.

Here’s the good news. When Matthews brought the participants back after a week of not playing video games, their brain activity had changed again, reverting to more normal reactions, but their brain functions still weren’t quite the same as before they were exposed to the violent games.

More recently, in a January 2018 article posted in Science Daily, researchers at the University of York found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent. The research team tested whether or not video game participants were “primed” for certain concepts on the real world that they were exposed to in the digital world.

In other words, they wanted to test whether or not players who were exposed to realistic video game violence showed a greater propensity to select more violent terms in a real world word association puzzle. Their study of over 3,000 participants found no detectable increase in violent word association as a result of being exposed to realistic video game violence.

Those who deny the linkage between violence in video games and violent behavior will use the results of this study as a major fortification to their position. But, a major limitation of the above study is that no participants were under age 18. For our purposes at Protect Young Eyes, this all but eliminates the applicability of the findings in trying to answer our primary question.

The reality is that you can find whatever evidence you set out to find. There’s almost equal quantities of studies saying “violent games are the problem!” and those that say “there’s no connection!”

Violent Video Games Protect Young Eyes


“I don’t want to kill you. But I don’t really care about you.”


In 2005, the American Psychological Association first published its Resolution on Violent Video Games. One of the more note-worthy statements in their resolution is this:

“Researchers have also continued to find that violent video game use is associated with decreases in socially desirable behavior such as prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement (e.g., Arriaga, Monteiro & Esteves, 2011; Happ, Melzer & Steffgen, 2013).”

In other words, it might be hard to prove that teens who play a stead-stream of Call of Duty are more inclined to violence, but studies point toward a decrease in overall care for human life as a result.

Make up your mind! Do violent video games cause kids to be violent or not?


I know, right? Many of us really want the answer to be an overwhelming, “YES!” but so far, it just doesn’t exist. But set that fact aside for a moment. Let’s consider a few more practical statements:

  • Let’s all agree that what kids see on the screen does impact them in some way. Even the American Psychological Association agrees with this statement. You don’t need a scientist to prove this. Do a little experiment on your own kids. These are recent posts from the Protect Young Eyes Facebook page:

As a mom to three young boys ages 5, 3, and 3, I have seen some very odd behavior in connection with iPad usage.”

“I definitely see behavior changes in my 5 year old when he watches the iPad. We use it sparingly.”

Related post: Screen Time and Kids – 5 Recommendations for Parents and Educators

  • You wouldn’t take your 10-year-old to a real-life-battle with zombies, so why would you allow him to engage in a digital one? I don’t really believe in zombies (although I’m still a little traumatized from my first viewing of the Thriller video as a child), but why do parents excuse digital exposures to situations that they would never allow in real life?
  • Video game ratings are there for a reason. Allowing kids to ignore them at best communicates that digital rules don’t matter. Parents are perpetually guilty of ignoring the few digital fences that have been built for the protection of kids, for example, COPPA and social media not until age 13. When 10-year-olds are playing M (Mature) games, this is a parenting problem, not a video game problem.

Our conclusion about violent video games:


“Neurons the fire together eventually wire together” is a common statement out of the neuroscience community. At Protect Young Eyes, we’ve added this statement:

“Whatever I feed my precious brain is what it learns to love. Especially before age 18.”

Regardless of the science, let’s go out of our way as parents to feed the brains of our precious children content that is good, excellent, admirable, honest, pure, light, and good. You won’t ever find science that tells us to stop doing that.

Your next steps? 


  1. Check the ratings of all games your child plays on gaming devices. Even if none of the physical games have a mature rating, be sure to set parental controls on the gaming device itself (Xbox, Play Station) to prevent access to online mature games.
  2. Turn off the App Store or Google Play Store on mobile devices to prevent access to junk games. Read our post: 3 Reasons to Disable (Turn off) the App Store
  3. If you have any questions about video game addiction, then please visit our friends at Game Quitters – they’re the experts in this space: GAME QUITTERS

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7 thoughts on “Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior in Kids?”

  1. I argee with Chris McKenna. sssssssssssssssssssssstttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttoooooooooooooooooooooppppppppppppppppppppppp playing violent games pppppppppppppppppppppppppllllllllllllllllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssseeeeeee stop!

  2. you couldnt be more wrong as an avid gamer under the age of 18 I can confidently say that i dont lack empathy and the fact that you think I do is just sad

  3. As a gamer under 18 i think gameing is… Actually pretty bad if you do to much of it. My sister say i become a jerk after playing Minecraft and skyrim.

  4. Robert Kennedy

    This is a sadly incomplete article. I have played war-type video games for years and I am not aggressive at all. Why is it that conservative Christian’s can’t seem to ever address the gun side of this issue? I would have more respect for this article if it were a little more comprehensive. If your child doesn’t play violent video games but grows up with access to guns, that is a very big issue which seems mostly ignored by conservatives.

  5. Ace Franklin Porter

    SUZETE said that he becomes a jerk after playing minecraft and skyrim,but also minecraft is NOT a violent video game yes u can hit villagers and stuff but there is no blood,the only type of damage u see is that they turn red and disappear after u kill them, not violent at all.cant say the same thing for skyrim but what i can say is the same thing for movies,tv shows,books,novels,poems,acts,plays,etc,because what about kids who watch horror movies/scary movies i mean they give kids nightmares,same thing with tv shows,they do the same thing tht video games apparently do and that’s changed the way kids act.So if yo want to sit here and ty to ban one thing to kids then u should ban everything else,i grew up playing gta,call of duty (zombies ),all types of violent video games and i never ones went out in the street took someone out there car drove it and crashed into 4 people before getting 5 stars on me,and yes there wa a kid not to long ago in canada toronto who stole his parents minivan and drove it giving th officer a high speed chase,say that he got the idea from the game grand theft auto,but lets be honest that kid had no idea what he was doing,he obviously wasn’t taught right that doing what he did or anything like that was bad,its parent fault for not teaching there child from right from wrong…And i know that this is factual because i’ve seen 10 years olds 9 year olds who wouldn’t dare to do something like that ever and they play gta,And ask yourself how many 10 year olds and 9 year olds do u know that Play violent video games would reenact them honestly.My point being is that violent video games should not be banned or illegal for kids under 18 as i believe they give valuable lessons to them about the real world,how violent the world can be,puzzle solving,decision making,sometimes even money management,there has never been any real evidence that violent video games disrupt or do anything to kids brain while playing these types of games.But i am telling you anyone who wants to argue with me can because i will prove u wrong,u can come show me your “evidence” as much as u want,show me all of it because ik for a fact i can debunk them.

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