In a world where video games are blamed for causing violent behavior endemic to American culture, it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince your parents to get you the latest shoot-em-up games. I remember the lengths I had to go to convince my parents to buy me Halo 2 for the first Xbox. “They’re not real people, mom, they’re aliens.” As luck would have it, my friends and I didn’t turn into monsters influenced by video games to spread violence.
I’ve always found that shooting up aliens and zombies was the optimal way for me to relax as a teenager. It’s the same reason why people feel euphoric after throwing axes at targets, punching a heavy bag, and destroying things with a sledgehammer in those $80 rage rooms.
However, the stigma of violent video games comes around in cycles whenever a new tragedy arises. It was the topic of discussion following the Columbine massacre of 1999 and continues to get brought up after every terrible mass shooting. I’m sure that the people instigating these discussions are good people that mean well in trying to fix a serious issue. But do these statements have any truth to them, or is the video game industry being scapegoated?
Several media figureheads and PTA meetings are quick to point out the studied link between video games and aggressive behavior. But it is important to understand the difference between aggression and violent behavior. This distinction is key in understanding the implications of a decade-long study entitled “Growing Up with Grand Theft Auto: A 10-Year Study of Longitudinal Growth of Violent Video Game Play in Adolescents” published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking in December 2020.
The study followed an ethnically diverse group of gamers for 10 years in order to observe the impact of violent video games on their behavior. The subjects were divided into three subsets based on their exposure to violent video games: high-initial violence players (4% of study), moderate-initial violence players (23% of study), and low-initial violence players (73% of study).
An interesting find from the study is that the high and moderate subsets revealed a decreased interest in playing violent games over the 10-year period while the low group showed an increased interest. The conclusion of the study showed that there was no difference in prosocial behavior at the end of the observation for each of the groups. These findings sufficiently break the connection between video games and violent behavior.
Hopefully this newfound knowledge will reach the mainstream and allow for political leaders to find alternative and more effective solutions for remedying the violent tendencies in modern America. While this information takes a weight of responsibility off of the shoulders of game developers and helps to dissipate the stigma around video games, it’s still going to be a chore to convince mom that you’re “only shooting aliens” and that “it’s not a big deal because they’re bad guys.”