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.”
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!”
“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.”
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
- 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
Chris McKenna, Founder: A man with never ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, and podcasts for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation and on-going discussion that could radically change online child protection laws and earned PYE the NCOSE Dignity Defense Alert Award in 2020. The PYE team has performed over 1,300 presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits and was featured in the Childhood 2.0 movie. When not leading PYE, Chris is the Digital Marketing Manager for Covenant Eyes. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, nature, and candy.