It is no secret that video games and violence see a perceived association by the general public. The relationship between these two factors have been hotly debated ,as early as 1994 by popular news outlets, which has led to numerous studies testing that relationship.
As much as we’d like to have a clear answer, the reality is much more complicated and unknown. In this article, we will show proof that video games don’t cause violence, though a disclaimer: the reality is too complicated to answer with a definitive yes or no.
Reason #1: not all video games are violent
It’s important to note that not all video games are violent, so to say “video games cause violence” is too broad of a statement. A study viewing the different effects of violent and nonviolent video games showed that ,nonviolent video games actually decreases aggressive thoughts and feelings. The amount of violence in video games exists on a continuum, meaning video games have a huge variety in the intensity and type of violence, which complicates this relationship even more.
Reason #2: as video game sales increased, overall crime has decreased
The popularity of video games, including violent ones, ,have increased throughout the last few decades. On the other hand, ,crime rates in the US have been on a steady decrease since 1993. If video games cause violence, then the increase of video game sales should lead to an increase in crime rates, which isn’t the case here.
Reason #3: increases in gun violence aren’t linked to video game sales
Perhaps the biggest reason this debate exists is due to the, increasing rate of mass shootings in the US, which does correlate with video game sales. However, gun violence on a global scale has been on a steady decrease, ,according to a study looking at firearm mortality from 1990-2016.
If video games are such a global phenomenon, then we should be seeing a global increase in gun violence. The fact that the US is only one of a few countries that show this trend indicates that there may be tertiary variables that lead to increases in gun violence, such as relatively higher accessibility to firearms.
Reason #4: at best, research studies show a mixed link between video games and violence
Studies have shown both a positive and negative relationship between video games and violence. On one hand, some studies show that ,laboratory exposure to graphically violent video games increased aggressive thoughts and behavior, both long and short term. On the other hand, ,children with pre-existing mental health problems did not show any tendency for violence after exposure to video games. When the results show so much contrast, it’s impossible to rush to a definitive conclusion.
Reason #5: results with positive correlations don’t indicate causation
Even if studies like the ones above show a positive correlation, a link between two things doesn't automatically mean one causes the other. A noteworthy example is a correlation between ,films that Nicholas Cage has appeared in and the number of people who drowned in a pool.
These two variables are statistically significant, more significant than some articles linking video games to violence. We can confidently say that Nicholas Cage likely doesn’t cause more drowning, so there are likely other variables at play here, just like video games and violence.
Reason #6: there is a lack of directionality - perhaps people with aggressive tendencies play more video games
Correlational studies also have the weakness of a lack of directionality, in which aggressive thoughts and behaviors might actually lead people to play more video games, not the other way round. For example, this article examining the adverse effects of video games did find a correlation between video games and aggression, but stated themselves that ,the correlational nature of the study makes it impossible to determine whether more aggressive individuals are drawn to violent video games.
Reason #7: experimental studies that do show causation have weak relationships at best
So if correlational studies aren’t trustworthy, then what about experimental studies? While experimental studies with positive effects show causation, studies show that the causational relationship between video games and violence is low. A meta analysis that combines the results of many studies shows that, the causational effect showed negligible relationships, and small effects at best.
Reason #8: many studies define violence in ways that can’t be generalized
While many articles do show positive relationships between video games and violence, they also can’t test violence in an ethical way, leading them to use more unorthodox methods to test violence. One of the most well-known studies that showed a positive link defined violence as ,the amount of unpleasant noise a participant is willing to blast into the ear of their opponent, allowing them to increase the volume. This act of aggression is far removed from extremely violent mass shootings that video games are often blamed for.
Reason #9: any weak causal relationships ignore individual differences
While positive relationships between video games and violence do exist, many of these studies show a global, averaged relationship, which ignores the many individual differences that might affect this relationship.
For example, a study showed that video games are linked to violence, ,but much more significantly when they showed wishful identification for the character, meaning they saw them as a role model and wanted to emulate their thoughts, values and behaviors. The danger of saying “video games cause violence” is that it assumes anyone who plays video games will become more violent, when the reality is much more nuanced than that.
Reason #10: to blame video games for violence is to discredit the influence of parents and communities
Because individual differences play such an important role in the increase of aggression from playing violent video games, parental influence, supervision and education becomes all the more important to facilitate healthy video game play, as well as minimizing the risk factors associated with playing violent video games.
As this study shows, ,parents can influence the amount of overt and relational aggression in their children. Knowing that ,higher levels of aggression is linked to more violence from playing violent video games, instead of banning video games entirely, perhaps a more realistic solution is to be a good behavioral role model for children.
Vanta Leagues creates a welcoming environment for our players that encourages the development of social emotional skills, including leadership, discipline, collaboration, and a robust work ethic. Parents can feel reassured and safe knowing that their children are in a community that encourages cooperation and pro-social behaviors. For more information, take a look at ,what we offer to ensure kids have access to the best training in a safe, moderated environment.
Carlson is an ongoing League of Legends coach, writer and streamer at Vanta Leagues. With a Psychology and Counselling background, he hopes to highlight the mental benefits of team video games in his writing, as well as having a healthy mindset when playing ranked games.