I have long been skeptical of the direct causation link some professionals pronounce exists between increased violence and playing violent video games (or video games with violence in them). If something smells like a scapegoat, it usually is (think of the Internet in “Internet addiction”).
So it wasn’t surprising for me to read that more and more researchers are questioning these links, and suggesting that while there may be a link, it is a complex and nuanced one. It’s not one that easily fits into a 30-second sound bite.
I highly recommend the recently published, Grand Theft Childhood (by psychologist Lawrence Kutner and sociologist Cheryl K. Olson) for anyone who wants to understand this link more in-depth. Some of the book’s findings (as related in a Psychiatric Times October 2007 article):
It is uncommon for girls to be frequent, heavy players of video games, especially violent games. One third of girls in our survey played electronic games for less than an hour per week on average.
By contrast, it was unusual for boys to rarely or never play video games; just 8% of boys played for less than an hour per week. (Since game play is often a social activity for boys, nonparticipation could be a marker of social difficulties. These boys were also more likely than others to report problems such as getting into fights or trouble with teachers.)
Finally, boys and girls who exclusively play games alone are atypical.
In our survey of young adolescents, we found significant correlations between routine play of M-rated games and greater self-reported involvement in physical fights, with a stronger association for girls.
It is likely that aggressive or hostile youths may be drawn to violent games. There is limited but suggestive evidence that persons with trait anger or aggression may be affected differently by violent games.
In one study, players tended to be less angry after playing a violent game, but this was not true for subjects who scored high on trait anger and aggression. Thus, another possible marker of unhealthy video game use may be increased anger after a round of play.
It must be emphasized that correlational studies, including ours, cannot show whether video games cause particular behaviors. Far too frequently, this important distinction between correlation and causation is overlooked.
Surprise, surprise! People who may already exhibit signs of anger or aggression may be drawn to such games. The games don’t cause the anger or aggression. Such people may also be at greater risk for showing increased anger or aggression.
What the research does show, in a nutshell, then is this:
- Teens who are already angry or aggressive likely should be limited in their playing of violent video games
- Teens should not play M-rated games
- Girls especially should not play M-rated games
- Video game is an important social development interaction for boys. Parents should keep this in mind when taking such time away from them in punishment.
- And of course, all things in moderation. Playing a video game for 6 or 8 hours straight is unhealthy behavior at any age.
Read the news article: Questioning the Link Between Video Games and Violence
Read the Psychiatric Times article: Children and Video Games: How Much Do We Know?