It is not a new debate . Since the 1980s , video games have been added to the list of elements criticized for supposedly influencing people’s criminal behavior with their depiction of violence . The mass media par excellence, television, headed that list.
The development of violent video games has reached heights of realism unthinkable a couple of decades ago. And with realism, it also increases the concern of many parents, psychologists and educators.
The debate grew stronger following a series of tragic murders that occurred in schools.
Shooters , shooting video games , are the archetype of violent video games. In them, the player pursues, usually in the first person, to defeat their enemies using weapons, usually fire .
Doom , one of the most famous games of its kind, released in 1993 , ended up in the press after the Columbine High School (USA) massacre in 1999. The perpetrators of the shootings, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold , They were fans of the game. It didn’t take long for all eyes to turn on the industry that sells games that consist of continuous shooting and killing . Various political initiatives attempted to limit or ban access to these games .
Something similar happened with the title Counter Strike , which was related to the shootings in German schools in Erfurt , Winnenden and Emsdetten , and with the popular Call of Duty , after the Norwegian criminal Anders Behring Breivik claimed to have acquired his shooting skills practicing with said action game. Breivik killed 77 people .
Role-playing video games also received their unjustified media ridicule in cases such as the Spanish crime of the katana , when a 16-year -old boy, very fond of the Final Fantasy saga, killed his parents and his little sister precisely with a Japanese sword from the same style worn by a character in the game.
Although they are extreme cases, as a result of the tragedies the popular debate also intensified in the academy . Do violent video games have any influence on aggressive behavior ?
That many of the perpetrators of the aforementioned shootings were video game enthusiasts proves nothing. In order to be able to draw any conclusion, even if it is preliminary, it is necessary to study the matter in depth. Not an easy task.
To date, psychological research has garnered opposite results. On the one hand, some authors (such as CA Anderson and D. Grossman ) maintain that in violent video games one goes from being a mere spectator (as in the cinema or on television) to actively participating in acts of violence . This implication, according to their studies, would trigger a learning process and would contribute to the players’ desensitization to the suffering of the other , increasing the options of an aggressive response in their “ real life ”. The theory is known as the general aggression model ( GAM ).
On the other hand, there are scholars (such as L. Kutner and C.K. Olson ) who argue that the effects of violence in video games are marginal at best. They criticize the GAM arguing that players, even if they are passionately involved in the game, can perfectly distinguish fact from fiction , understanding what is tolerated both inside and outside the game. In addition, they maintain that violent games can be attractive to those who already have violent behaviors, but do not encourage them.
Given the scientific debate , and given such different results, a very interesting question arises: how can we know, through a study, if the degree of exposure to violent video games leads directly to an increase in aggression?
This question forces us to review the very methodology used in the investigations. Meta- analyses , systematic reviews of other studies, are very helpful in this regard.
Three of the most comprehensive and recent meta -analyses (from 2015, 2018 and 2020) highlight the research methods used so far.
Several of the experiments that link violent video games and aggressiveness consist of evaluating the performance of the players within the game, to then carry out a survey that records the presence or absence of responses associated with aggressiveness.
On other occasions, it is analyzed which toys are chosen by different groups of children who have previously been separated to play video games , both violent and non-violent. Children who have played shooting video games are more likely to choose guns as toys.
The problem is that measuring aggressiveness is very difficult . Is filling a survey with more indicators of aggressiveness a good predictor of actual aggressiveness? Will those who play a lot of virtual shooting shoot more easily on the street?
According to two of the three meta -analyses, the answers to the previous two questions would be no and no. Violent video games have, according to the most comprehensive studies, a minimal impact on the behavior of players off the screen, and do not allow to speak of any links between playing violent games and being more aggressive.
A. Drummond ‘s research goes further, stating that higher quality studies are less likely to find evidence causally linking gaming violence to actual violence.
What is clear is that the academic debate is far from over.
Tear, M. J. et al. 2013. Failure to demonstrate that playing violent video games diminishes prosocial behavior. PLOS ONE. Vol. 8 (7), 1-7.
Prescott, Anna T. et al. 2001. Metaanalysis of the relationship between violent video game play and physical aggression over time”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115 (40): 9882–9888. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611617114
Smith, S. et al. 2018. A longitudinal analysis of shooter games and their relationship with conduct disorder and cself-reported delinquency. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 58: 48–53. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2018.02.008
Drummond, A. 2020. Do longitudinal studies support long-term relationships between aggressive game play and youth aggressive behaviour? A meta-analytic examination. Royal Society Open Science 7 (7) DOI:10.1098/rsos.200373