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Video Games and Violence — Do they or don’t they?

With the recent media blitz about the “sex patch” in GTA: San Andreas, it’s not surprising that the American Psychological Association used the publicity generated by its large annual meeting to release a statement (not a study, as some media are reporting) calling for the reduction in violence in video games (for some reason, referred to as “interactive media” by the APA — never call something for what it is when you can call it something else and confuse people!).

The actual statement (PDF) is basically a political meta-analysis that selectively goes through the past decade or so of research into both video games and television, draws upon the studies that support its position, and states that, because of these carefully-chosen supporting studies, video game makers should reduce their reliance on violence as a part of game play. It’s a noble sentiment, but it flies in the face of a democratic and free society where we, as responsible adults and parents, should be allowed to purchase whatever games we’d like for ourselves. And using our discretion as parents, for our children as well.

To me, it would seem to be more convincing if the APA had actually publisher a peer-reviewed meta-analysis — you know, science-based and all. Instead they publish a far less convincing piece of media-created propaganda that suggests what a meta-analysis could show, at least according to them.

There are some misleading statements in the release, and I’m not sure why they’re there. For instance, there’s a sexy statistic —

Research on media violence also revealed, that perpetrators go unpunished 73 percent of the time in all violent scenes.

But in reading the actual statement, we have this instead —

[…] perpetrators go unpunished in 73% of all violent scenes, and therefore teach that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict. Only 16 % of all programs portrayed negative psychological or financial effects, yet such visual depictions of pain and suffering can actually inhibit aggressive behavior in viewers (National Television Violence Study, 1996);

The reference is to a television study, not video games or “interactive media.” Furthermore, looking up the reference shows that it was done by a nonprofit organization, Mediascope, whose purpose is to “encourage responsible portrayals in film, television, the Internet, video games, music and advertising.” In other words, they’re seeking to reduce the amount of violence shown, or increase the amount of consequences of violence shown their own analysis of their study is available).

The references, by the way, including magazine and website articles, books, book chapters, and peer-refereed journal articles. Of course, in scientific investigation, only the last category — journal articles — is of primary scientific importance. You won’t, for example, find many journal articles that refer to mainstream media articles as a reference (because while such articles, book chapters and websites may present a valid claim, argument, or even data, they don’t mean the same level of scientific scrutiny as a peer-reviewed journal article).

So take this statement from the APA with a grain of salt. Until a researchers takes the time to conduct a balanced meta-analytic review of this area, I’d suggest the research is still out and this is an open question yet to be resolved.

Video Games and Violence — Do they or don’t they?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder & CEO of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues -- as well as the intersection of technology and human behavior -- since 1992. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He writes regularly and extensively on mental health concerns, the intersection of technology and psychology, and advocating for greater acceptance of the importance and value of mental health in today's society. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Video Games and Violence — Do they or don’t they?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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