New Study: Violent Video Games Don’t Cause Violent Behavior

In a new study out of the University of York, researchers found no evidence to support the theory that violent video games make players more violent in real life.

Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior?

This theory has been around for some time. After the 1999 Columbine massacre, many journalists and politicians began to vilify violent video games as one of the causes of the horrendous event. The idea was that the violence and disregard for life within games translated over to real life.

These claims were later substantiated by child psychologists. In 2003 Dr. Craig Anderson, writing for the Psychological Science Agenda, linked video game violence with adolescent and childhood delinquency, as well as aggressive behavior.

As recent as 2015, the American Psychological Association task force that investigated this spurious connection made similar conclusions:

“On the basis of our review of the literature directly addressing violent video game use, we concluded that violent video game use has an effect on aggression. This effect is manifested both as an increase in negative outcomes such as aggressive behavior, cognitions, and affect and as a decrease in positive outcomes such as prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity to aggression.”

In recent years, the gaming community has been targeted by progressives for not being inclusive and promoting misogyny, which was one of the central issues of the Gamergate controversy.

To advance the politically driven attack against the gaming industry as a whole, many progressives have revisited the age old debate of “do violent video games cause violent behavior?”

Some current research suggests that: no, they don’t.

There Is No Link Between Violent Video Games And Violence

The recent study from York University found that there was no evidence to support the idea that video games make people more violent.

The study ran a series of experiments that included over 3000 participants. The researchers showed that video games do not prime players to act certain ways, nor do violent video games prime players with violent ideas.

From the press release:

“The dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in ‘real life’.

 This is known as ‘priming’, and is thought to lead to changes in behaviour. Previous experiments on this effect, however, have so far provided mixed conclusions.

Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had gone before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.”

When asked about the results of their study, Dr. David Zendle, the research team’s lead, denied any priming effects had taken place:

“If players are ‘primed’ through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.

Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case. Participants who played a car-themed game were no quicker at categorising vehicle images, and indeed in some cases their reaction time was significantly slower.”

Dr. Zendle’s team made similar conclusions regarding the violent video games:

“We found that the priming of violent concepts, as measured by how many violent concepts appeared in the word fragment completion task, was not detectable. There was no difference in priming between the game that employed ‘ragdoll physics’ and the game that didn’t, as well as no significant difference between the games that used ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ solider tactics. 

The findings suggest that there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.”

However, he did mention that this might not be the same result if the game included more graphic content, rather than the simple “ragdoll” physics employed by this experiment.

“Further study is now needed into other aspects of realism to see if this has the same result. What happens when we consider the realism of by-standing characters in the game, for example, and the inclusion of extreme content, such as torture?”

Aside from these findings, many scientists dispute the link between video game violence and its real world manifestation. In 2013, many scholars signed an open letter to combat the media outrage against violent video games.

The scholars pointed out some pragmatic indicators of this theory’s irrelevance, for example, that youth violence is currently low while violent video games are currently wildly popular.

At the very least, more research is needed to make the connection between violence and video games, with now more evidence weighing against the connection.