Do video games cause violence? Here’s what the research says

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – Video games are once again the focus of ire after a weekend of violence across the country. “We’ve always had guns. We’ve always had evil. But what’s changed in this rash of shootings? And I see a video game industry that’s teaching people to kill,” Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said in an appearance on Fox News. Ignoring the politics, what does the research actually say when it comes to violence and video games?

Researching Video Game Violence

After decades of study, one common theme seems to pop up: aggression. Last October, researchers at the National Academy of Science combed through two dozen studies on violence linked to video games in hopes of getting a definitive answer. They found that video games do in fact trigger a small increase in physical aggression among adolescents and preteens.

A task force led by the American Psychological Association concluded:

“Scientific research has demonstrated an association between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior… and decreases in pro-social behavior, empathy, and moral engagement.”

But when we talk about violent video games leading to violence, the APA says, “All violence, including lethal violence, is aggression, but not all aggression is violence.” That, right there, is key to the debate.

Violence vs Aggression

A 2018 study conducted by the University of York found no evidence to support the idea that violent video games make people more violent. Even the supreme court agreed, saying in a 2011 ruling that the research they were shown indicated video games had the same effect on aggression as watching a “Bugs Bunny” cartoon.

There are gaps in the research that still need to be examined: like the impact of rapidly changing technologies (including v-r and more realistic graphics), the differences between male and female gamers, the long-term effects of games on people, and the relationship between the exposure to violent video games and negative outcomes.

In an era where 97% of adolescents play some kind of video game, and 85% of those games are considered violent, whether that means shooting aliens or jumping on a Goomba’s head, the research needs to continue.

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