Do Violent Games Create Violent Players?

Clearly there's been too much Peggle.

When analysing the claims made by those from various fields with regards to the negative effects of gaming it’s tempting to come to the same conclusion each time. These claims, inevitably presented without evidence (and unable to offer evidence when it is asked for), tend to rely on uncited anecdotal stories of individual cases. Whether it is suggestions that games cause addiction, violence, sexual crimes or murder, we are told about one child, or one individual, whose behaviour appears to be adversely effected while playing games. And the conclusion that’s so tempting to reach for each time is: perhaps this individual has unique circumstances that reach beyond a pathology created by the games they play? But there’s a problem. While this conclusion may appear extremely reasonable given the evidence, it’s still an unproven assumption. It’s just as bad to declare as the unproven assumptions being contested. Which makes a new study (as reported by, that finds violent behaviour in response to games to be directly linked to individual predispositions, something of enormous interest.

The study (pdf), by Dr Patrick Markey of Villanova University and Dr Charlotte Markey of Rutgers University, found that,

“Only some individuals are adversely affected by VVGs and that those who are affected have preexisting dispositions, which make them susceptible to such violent media.”

The methodology used was to analyse the data from multiple studies into the effects of videogames on violent behaviour, in the context of a Five-Factor Model of personality, to see what correlation there was between personality types and responses to violent videogames (VVG). This becomes quite astonishingly complicated, involving spherical diagrams that made my brain hurt a bit. But fortunately I caught up again by the conclusion, where they explain the reason for this approach.

“More recent research (e.g., Arriage et al., 2006; Giumetti & Markey, 2007; Markey & Sherer, 2009; Panee & Ballard, 2002; Ravaja et al., 2008) suggests that the notion that all, or even most, individuals who play VVGs will inevitably become aggressive may be unwarranted. Instead, it appears that it is crucial to consider various personality traits of the person playing the VVG when predicting whether or not the VVG will have adverse effects.”

So what are these personality types that appear to have adverse effects from gaming?

“It appears that the “perfect storm” of FFM traits in this context is high neuroticism (e.g., easily upset, angry, de-pressed, emotional, etc.), low agreeableness (e.g., little concern for others, indifferent to others feelings, cold, etc.) and low conscientiousness (e.g., break rules, don’t keep promises, act without thinking, etc.).”

They found that without multiple personality traits of this nature the same negative responses were not so reliably shown. And most of all, that without these traits there was little evidence to suggest any change in violent behaviour in response to VVGs at all. Pointing out that tens of millions of young people play VVGs, without there being tens of millions of episodes of violence in response, they make the comparison with a doctor trying to identify why most of their patients don’t have an adverse reaction to peanuts, while a very few do. They finally conclude:

“It appears that VVGs only adversely affect some individuals and those who are affected have a preexisting disposition (i.e., high neuroticism, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness) which make them susceptible to such violent media.”

Let’s put this in context. The conclusions found by this study demonstrate that a negative response to violence in games is only shown in those with pre-existing dispositions. Something’s already wrong before the game gets to the individual. So let’s quickly look at a recent example.

Two weeks back there was the remarkable story in the Lancaster Evening Post that games were as dangerous as class A drugs, based on statements made by a former lawyer and local therapist, Steve Pope. Pope, in his entirely unproven claims that two hours of gaming is equivalent to a line of cocaine, gave a number of anecdotes to support the fears he holds for gaming. This was one of them relating to a violent response:

“I saw one 14-year-old Preston boy who played on games for 24 hours non stop and had not eaten and was showing signs of dehydration. When his parents tried to take his console away, he became aggressive and threatened to jump out of a window.”

When investigating this a fortnight ago I wrote,

“There are two possibilities here. Gaming itself caused this to happen. Or this person suffers from one of very many different conditions that can cause children and teenagers to behave in excessive, self-harming ways, and used games as part of this. Since all 14 year olds who play games don’t do it for 24 hours and then jump out a window, it seems reasonable to postulate that this individual has a distinct pathology that isn’t perhaps caused by playing a game. I’m being equally anecdotal, of course, but one situation is certainly more likely than the other.”

It seems the supposition – a tempting one to come to if one is attempting to defend gaming, but of course to do so abandons the appropriate rigour and demand for evidence – can now be given weight through Markey and Markey’s findings.

The sad story of the 14 year old boy cannot be used as an example of what gaming results in for players. Instead it demonstrates the negative results of gaming for an individual with a pre-existing disposition toward such behaviour. This is extremely serious, and shows that there absolutely is a need for parents to consider the appropriateness of games for their own children. However, it shows us that the context in which the anecdote was used – an attempt to imply that gaming was the cause of this boy’s condition – is entirely inappropriate and seriously misleading.

It’s important to pay serious attention to the findings of the many studies over the decades that have demonstrated, as shown in this latest paper, that violent games do leave those with a predisposition to violence more likely to commit violence. However, it’s equally important to understand that the violent games do not create violent pathologies in their players, as is repeatedly claimed by many attempting to denounce gaming. All evidence suggests this is a completely false claim, and when violence does appear to have been a result of gaming, then that individual case requires a great deal more scrutiny to learn the unique disposition of the individual involved.


  1. Risingson says:

    Hm. It’s not the same “a violent game makes you violent” than “a violent game makes you assimilate violence as something usual”.

  2. Devenger says:

    Well, I’m pretty neurotic, but I think I’m at least a tad agreeable and conscientious. Most of my violent rage is directed towards zombies. And zombies don’t have lawyers, so I’m okay.

  3. nine says:

    Well the morons like Pope have certainly been debunked. But this doesn’t entirely absolve games.

    If someone can show VVGs are more likely than movies/tv/etc to trigger violent outbursts in “high neuroticism, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness”-type people — then there is certainly a rational argument for restricting those video games.

  4. Heliocentric says:

    I’m a parent and a gamer. I have a six year old who while left to play Fuel launched battlefield 2 (as i had done while playing with him) launched single player and started shooting or “ke-eww-ing” as he says the bots while i was absent.

    Now i realise this is classic “parent not paying attention” but i have a new born who needs feeding and household jobs which need attending.

    His behaviour when i discovered him was impassive and he seemed comfortable so i observed him to see how he was behaving. Mostly he just drove to explore but he would also fight when shot at, but his temperment was very calm even in response to dying which suprised me because as a boy with autism failing or losing in all its forms greatly annoys him.

    He refereed to feeling some sympathy to the dead soldiers and mentioned war memorials which he learned about at school.

    I’m not sure if i’ll support him to play it again but it was food for thought.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I should add, when my son had played bf2 in the past it was on a private server with no fighting or enemies and just driving about the various vehicles.

    • madU says:

      I wish I had a gamer dad :(

    • drewski says:

      There must be some way to restrict access to games on your PC that you would prefer your son not be playing at his age.

    • Starky says:

      There is, it’s called user accounts.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I’m normally sat over his shoulder as he is only 6 but yes, i should set him up a sanitised account.

    • Lewis says:

      Heliocentric – While playing, did he appear unusually emotionally sensitive to the soldiers’ deaths and the implications of war considering his condition? Because, if so, that would be absolutely fascinating.

    • Tei says:

      this is my theory (IANPSY), but I think a children may learn that “dad seems more happy after playing bf2” “dad smile playing bf2”. then he play the game, and notice driving or flyiing is fun. he “gets it”. Of course, the children want his dad to be happy, and he want to be happy too.

  5. Bornemannen says:

    It’s nice to finally read what a appears to be an objective look at the negative side effects of gaming. I have been a gamer since the mid 80s and have never experienced any violent episodes caused by the games I’ve been playing.
    This whole debate reminds me of the horrible and misguided heavy metal and violent movies debates here in Sweden (back in the 80s). New and violent media will always be targeted as being bad for the youth by certain older individuals in our society….

  6. misterk says:

    Urgh. A brief read of that paper goes as follows:

    “we took a sample of 114 people. Failing to get signficant results, we kept looking until we find them”. While all studies are important, its a really bad idea to look over multiple outcomes to see if theres significance- if you have a p value of 0.05 (which is what is usually used), then theres a 1 in 20 chance that your significant result was caused only by chance.

    Bear in mind that the effective sample size of people who actually hold the trait that they’re talking about is probably even smaller than that!

    Now I’m only skim reading, but thats the impression I get here. My conclusion would be is that theres not a terrific amount one can say from this, other than the study indicated no particular connection between aggressiveness before and after video game playing.

    • snv says:

      Thats why i consider psychology as a soft science. Such small sample sizes that the result of the study is meaningless is the rule. In addition to preselected groups and other (in real science) inexcusable proceedings.

      I have not read this study though, and this of course is not the case for everyone of them, but i think one should read everything claiming to be scientific under the assumption that they botched the job.

    • Seth says:

      Bit of a misunderstanding. Psychology uses the exact same statistical tests as any other science, including fields like population biology and ‘real statistics’.

      Sample sizes are as large as they need to be to establish significance with a usual alpha of .05. The tests themselves account for the size of the sample, and in fact 114 is quite large; increasing the sample size provides diminishing mathematical returns, to the point where using anything much more than a sample of this size is often considered wasteful and pointless.

      Psychology is usually considered a soft science by people who don’t read much psychology. Stuff like the IAT or the shooter bias are both extremely data-driven and very good science.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      @seth +1

    • Seth says:

      Of course misterk’s objections may be very valid, but they’re methodological critiques specific to this study, and not a reason to dismiss the field of psychology as a whole.

      If you want to do that you need to explain why psychological paradigms like the bizarre but incredibly well-replicated heuristic biases are somehow erroneous.

    • misterk says:

      Oh yes, I wouldn’t dismiss psychology, but sadly there are often methodological problems of this kind with psychological papers- statistics is not always carried out in a thorough way. 114 isn’t a bad number (although I’m not sure how they were collected- presumably volunteers)

  7. Sagan says:

    But there’s a problem. While this conclusion may appear extremely reasonable given the evidence, it’s still an unproven assumption. It’s just as bad to declare as the unproven assumptions being contested.

    No it’s not. A statement without proof can be discarded without proof. So you did nothing bad when you dismissed their speculation using your speculation. When they have only anecdotal evidence, then you can respond with only anecdotal evidence.

    Obviously that would lead to a ridiculous conversation, but sometimes that is necessary to show them how ridiculous their initial claim was.

    • John Walker says:

      Well, even in my saying it then I made it clear I was being equally anecdotal. But I don’t think you can win an argument in which you are saying, “You must show evidence for your claims” if you then go on to make claims without evidence.

    • TheApologist says:

      Maybe I have misinterpreted you John, but I don’t think you have been ‘making claims’.

      I think you have been disputing the claims of others about explanations or causes of perceived effects (by disputing evidence and positing the possibility of other causes), or disputing the existence of the effects (in the example of game addiction).

      I am not sure I have seen you make positive claims about the existence of effects and their explanations. Therefore I personally don’t think you share the same burden of proof.

      Interesting report too, but I agree with the caution of other commentors about the sample and the possibility of the measurement of personality.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “I am not sure I have seen you make positive claims about the existence of effects and their explanations. Therefore I personally don’t think you share the same burden of proof.”

      Indeed. As long as you’re careful to simply consider the evidence for the statement “VVGs cause violent behaviour” and not return with “VVGs do not cause violent behaviour,” then you aren’t actually required to prove that second statement in order to reasonably refute the first. It’s a bit of a trap.

      – “VVGs cause violent behaviour!”
      “Not necessarily”
      – “Prove it!”

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      I do worry – anedotally, prooflessly – whether the repetitive use of violence to solve problems within games legitimises, or decontaminates, that response in the real world. So that even if one were not to initiate a violent act, a politician, for example, might have a quicker recourse to war.

      I’m immune of course…

  8. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    “While this conclusion may appear extremely reasonable given the evidence, it’s still an unproven assumption”

    No, the unproven assumption is the claim the people are making. In the absence of all evidence, and assuming the ancedotes are true, this is prefectly reasonable.

    Also, how do you measure personality?

    • Daniel Rivas says:



      A lot of meta-analyses support the Big Five model of personality traits, apparently.

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      Man, if this were the way actual science was done, id have it so much easier!

      Question: Is E=mc^2 true?
      87%(Plus/Minus 1%) of participants said it was true.
      It holds!
      A meta-study of these questionairs confirms the conclusion drawn up by Einstein, who came up with the idea when asking a load of people about space and light and shit…

    • Daniel Rivas says:

      That is the way practical science is done. Results can’t be taken as gospel, because they are based on observations that cannot be universally verified, and are usually on a sample rather than an entire population. You can’t be sure, in the way that you can of something proven mathematically, that:

      a) Someone’s got it wrong.
      b) Someone’s lying.
      c) Something totally flukey happened.

      This is true for things like psychology, but it’s just as true for Physics, Biology, etc etc.

      Meta-Analyses are good because they take the results from lots of studies, and combine them.

      Turns out those How Science Works sections were worth a damn after all. Thanks, Chemistry AS level.

    • Cunzy1 1 says:

      Actual Science

      Q: Well it depends really. What question do we think is new enough but that we know we could probably answer? I guess that really depends on how good we are at writing funding applications to people that we already know quite well, wink wink, nudge nudge. We didn’t get to where we are now by losing this competition for funding. We should ask for a lot of money because we want jobs in more than seven years time. Oh no the data to answer the question we already knew what we wanted the answer to be came back slightly messy. Let’s cut out the messy bits. If anyone asks for the data we’ll just say we lost it.

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      Danial, what is paractical science?
      Also, its very easy to verify if someone is lying in physics.
      “I measured gravity to be 100000 m/s^2 ! using the pendulum method”

      Actually, its 9,8, you say, after checking the way he did it.
      No one test proves anything ( you are right in saying nothing is total proof), but in physchology, you got to many undefined unmeasurable variables, with no error attached to them (+/- 1 level of agreeblness?) that they arent scientific.
      They just but on the lab coat and googles, dry ice pours from a test tube, and voilá, the masses see science!

    • Seth says:

      Again, bad understanding of psychology (and the levels of the discipline.) Lots of ‘fuzzy undefinied variables’ get thrown about in the literature, especially in older stuff, but they are usually sneered at, and modern psychology uses neuroimaging, computer-based millisecond-level reaction time measures, galvanic skin conductance, psychophysical measurements, and other fun stuff.

      It is a pretty rigorous discipline. Particularly when the studies are either via hard and analytical (IAT, shooter bias) or very nearly field studies (Milgrim experiment, Stanford prison study).

  9. woppin says:

    Forcing me to log in so I can read your article makes me violent.

  10. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    Well, as this article states,

    I know about 30 gamers ( about 10-15 Hardcore Violent FPS players – Inlcuding myself, I love it)
    I do not know 10-15 or 30 murderers, I don’t think I’ve killed anyone. The only person I know who gets into fights and stabbings all the time, lives in the ghetto and has seen about 5 mins of L4D. (no his name is not kenny)

    Anyway I’m off to go on a murderous Rampage through San Andreas.

    • Lewis says:

      Um. Are you serious? You know someone who “gets into fights and stabbings all of the time“?

    • tomeoftom says:

      Why not? Hell, I was stabbed just last week, and I loved it!

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      @ Lewis

      Umm yeah, one of my mates, he gets into fights like on a weekly basis (he swears it’s not started by him – and I see him as a giant carebare, but can’t take his word for it y’know) And the other week he got ‘jumped’ by a bunch of Aboriginies and got stabbed/hit on the head with a bluntish samurai display sword.

      Again i will restate, he does indeed live in the ghetto (think grove street spec)

  11. Zwebbie says:

    All right, video games don’t make everyone violent. I had sort of noticed that since, you know, I haven’t gone on a killing spree so far. Anyone with a little common sense could see that.

    It is, nevertheless, interesting how at such moments it is argued that games are just harmless escapism; then Ebert comes in and they’re a powerful and influential medium that the world should pay attention to. I think we could do with a little more moderation in the digital homocide department, since I find it hard to believe that an hour of virtual killing every day doesn’t affect people in some way, even if they don’t become rampant killers. And to draw an odd comparison, if a random person on the streets would tell people to go stab each other, most people, I’d imagine, wouldn’t go stabbing each other; but I’d find the idea of someone suggesting such things revolting nonetheless.

    Furthermore, the comparison with Pope odd at best; the research here talks about violence, Pope talks about addiction – and I think addiction is a pretty serious topic. I think we’ve all skipped homework and played a game instead at least once, and game designers are getting ever more clever – and ruthless – in their adaptation of simple tricks to keep you coming back. I’m not sure how a study that points out that not all video game players become homocidal maniacs discounts that.

    • John Walker says:

      It does seem from these studies, that against your assumption that the violence must have some manner of effect, that none is being demonstrated.

      Pope talks about everything, from addiction to violence to obesity. He captured every angle in his unevidenced claims.

      I was not raising his specifics about addiction – which crucially he offered no evidence for – as I went into enormous detail about that in the previous article, and absolutely take the subject extremely seriously.

      Here I was using a recent example of a claimed violent response to gaming that illustrations the points being made by this article: that the specifics of the example point toward a predisposition to that response, rather than the game having created it in the 14 year old.

    • Zwebbie says:

      Don’t take me wrong, I’m not a Pope apologist; and at the same time, I think this study displays only common sense. What I’m saying is that something doesn’t have to go to the level of murder, or even violence, to be harmful. Just because the vast majority of people manages to behave, even when they have the option of doing wrong, doesn’t mean that we should allow everything.

    • bleeters says:


      I’ve skipped (or more commonly delayed) doing homework in the past so I could play games some more in the past, sure. Evidence of addiction, clearly. Or, perhaps, that I was a teenager who didn’t want to do boring homework. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to confuse addiction with self enjoyment, but it nags at me how such things are wielded as proof of an addiction. If I were to go to the pub instead of studying, and have two drinks whilst there, am I now to be considered an alchoholic?

      Anyway, I suspect I’m not particuarly going anywhere.To the point. This article/study is essentially arguing that those who play computer games and then display adverse behaviour are, in fact, doing so in response to a combination of that and a predisposed condition or other rather than some tangible corrupting influence of the game itself. That relates to addiction just as much as it does to violence.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Apart from the “proof or stfu” argument, which is perfectly viable, I think that nowadays we have a little too fluffy vision of human psyche. It’s been less than a century among the whole human history that western europe hasn’t been suffering from war and its atrocities.
      And it’s probably one of the longest period of peace we ever had, especially if we consider the improvements in the citizens security.

      With such an history, we actually succeeded in creating a not-so-bad-while-not-perfect society, promoting human rights etc. We didn’t turn into a bunch of sociopathics killers or into brainless thugs, to the contrary we turned into a bunch of guys who sometimes are shocked by people pretending to kill things in video games.

      Truth is, I think we got a huge instinctive resistance toward the concept of violence. There are plenty of people in various countries in the world who are still witnessing it every day and go mostly unnaffected. For the older among us, our parents and/or grand parents have witnessed it and went on their life afterward.
      For us video gamers, we just know where’s the game and where’s the reality. Call it a subconscious or a reptilian brain thing, but looking at gaming violence doesn’t ring the alarms that will ring if you witness it IRL.

    • Jeremy says:

      I’m not sure why, but this reminds me of America’s (and maybe other countries?) tendency to say every child between 6 – 13 must have ADD because they don’t feel like sitting in classrooms for 6 hours a day.

  12. Lack_26 says:

    Surely if ‘gaming has no harmful side effects’ is your null hypothesis, and you set out to disprove it but can’t. Then you have nothing to be ashamed of by then supporting the null hypothesis.

    • TheApologist says:

      Yep – agreed.

      Research rarely works that way sadly. The push always seems to be to find ‘something’

    • Lack_26 says:

      Your right, all to often businessmen treat researchers like any normal service, they pay them to ‘get a result’ and get annoyed when the result is not one they like. As a result researchers tend to feel pressurised into finding the ‘result’, no matter how intangible the link or flawed the study methods. Of course then you have the academic ones that want to get a result and hate ‘failing’.

  13. DrugCrazed says:

    If I had the time to read over it, I would. Looks like I’ve got something to write about next week :D

  14. Ian says:

    I play violent video games and I’ve hardly been on any violent rampages recently.

  15. lhzr says:

    this again? aren’t people bored of talking about this sort of thing already? this whole debate is kinda 90s..

    • TheApologist says:

      The debate seems reasonable given the extent of recent media coverage of the issue, apparent public perception / concern and policy makers following interest in the UK and more notably abroad

    • lhzr says:

      ah well. i would’ve thought people have grown out of this.

      anyway, it seems to me like when there’s an idiot kid on the playground that keeps shouting random obscenities and instead of ignoring him, people go to him every time he shouts some shit to tell him to please be more considerate and to think before opening his mouth.

      a bit pointless, since the idiot kids will always be there and won’t stop no matter how reasonable people’s arguments against them might be. the daily mail and foxnews stuff will always have an audience, because, well, most people are utter morons. not much you can do about it, except denounce their stupidity, but the people who’d get the arguments against them don’t actually need to be convinced of what’s right and what not, and the rest won’t be convinced. talking to morons is an exercise in futility and frustration.

  16. Pew says:

    The academic violent gameplay == violent overt behavior is a total mess. I did a study on it for my master’s in media psychology. I’ll spare you an overly long comment though.

    Basically, one group (mostly older aggression researchers who are funded by foundations with names that tend to include “Family” everywhere) uses a General Aggression Model where exposure to media violence is thought to have a direct causal effect on actual aggression in the person. Another, highly varied, group does not agree with this approach and uses things like personality factors, a history with violence (e.g., family violence effects as a predictor for aggressive personality by Ferguson, 2008) and other things you would imagine being “other” factors you should measure.

    The best approach for these studies seems to look at how people rate on an aggressive personality scale, other personality scales that are of interest, what factors in the childhood could have participated in creating such an aggressive personality, and only then looking at whether or not participants show more aggression (short and long term) after playing a violent game.

    The worst part is that most academics do not use proper games. One study in particular used a game called Kayak Extreme and Doom as non-violent and violent games. Then they let people memorize a set of “neutral” and “violent” words, and looked at which were better remembered. Thing is, those games are totally not comparable. Not only are they too old for young adults to relate to their current gameplay behaviour, but they seemed randomly chosen. Then there is the thing that they used words like “killing”, “shooting”, etc, while not using words like “kayaking”, “water rapids” or such. The most logical conclusion that people who play Doom or a Kayak game for an hour will just have elements from the game in their episodic memory, is totally ignored. Of course, they found that Doom players selected more games that relate to doom, and the conclusion is that violent games make people violent. SIGH!

    In my own study, by comparing these 2 groups of academics and their methods of modeling, scores on the traditional “violent games == violent behavior” scales did show that people who played a violent game did show higher scores. But when you factored in aggressive personality and average gameplay, it turned out that hardcore gamers who play a lot of games had the lowest aggression scores of all! In my opinion, it is because we don’t see a person being headshotted, but we see a problem in the way of reaching the next checkpoint. After years of gaming, I think you just see levels in for example an FPS as problems to be solved, instead of a realistic representation of real life combat.

    There are quite a few intelligent academics who share our concerns as gamers, but sadly it’s always the (usually methodologically flawed) studies that show negative effects that get into the media. What can you do? Traditional mass media knows that scary and bad news sells, and positive news does not. And how many families read blogs like this? Luckily, the whole violent gaming debate has kind of died down since the post-GTA:SA era where it was all the rage. It seems to be the best way to focus on positive effects in education and such, and to use that to drown out any negative effects studies, rather than spending the time on complaining about how those studies suck while nobody listens.

    Still, fun times we live in!

    • John Walker says:

      Pew – is your paper published or online anywhere? It would be good to link to.

    • neems says:

      You see, these are the things we need to know (the kayak-ing versus Doom remember the words type things I mean). It seems clear upon closer examination that most if not all of these studies are deeply flawed. As a gamer, this study should make me happy, but a flawed postive study is no more useful than a flawed negative study. The closer you look into things, the more you realise that you just don’t know, and probably never will.

      I just wonder (without any evidence whatsoever) if modern life as a whole has a negative effect on everybody, with general shifts in behaviour and more extreme spikes. The digital age, social isolation, chemicals in everything, ADD, anti-social behaviour and anything else that would make a story for The Daily Mail. Cause and effect all mixed up; no such thing as unbiased research / debate. Pretty much everything might be bad for you, as far as I can tell.

      Moderation is the key I guess. Not that I’d know. Sorry for rambling, I need some caffeine.

    • Pew says:

      @John: It was not published, but should be online at our university database. For some reason it is not… I’ll shoot you an email!

    • 12kill4 says:

      @ Neems

      Now you see the fun I get to have studying sociology, political science and digital cultures… I’ve got self-reflexivity coming out of my orifices.

    • Muzman says:

      Pew says: “In my opinion, it is because we don’t see a person being headshotted, but we see a problem in the way of reaching the next checkpoint. After years of gaming, I think you just see levels in for example an FPS as problems to be solved, instead of a realistic representation of real life combat.”

      I wrote a fairly light study of the local Quake&Quake 2 community back in the day. Sociology sort of stuff. When I submitted it the chief criticism from the supervisors and the department (they were all interested since no one was doing that sort of thing and all the textbooks were still extolling the intertextal potential of the CD ROM) was that I had not addressed the core factor of the community being tribal worship of violence.

      I was well aware of the media effects school of thought of course, but that was largely dismissed by Psych and Soc alike in this fairly progressive uni of mine. Moral panics like video nasties, the comics code authority etc being some deeper fear of youth and trangression expressed in the community. Games, however, were different apparently.

      It took me completely by surprise, which is silly really. But, tellingly, while doing the research the notion just never occured to me. “Violence” as such played no part in playing these games and was not present in the minds of the players. After hashing this out at length with them I said pretty much the same thing you did. There’s just no connection between actual physical violence and the repesentations in games in the mind of the player. Sure notions of violence and representing them is exciting and the fantasy sells the game to an extent, but the association only gets weaker the more you play (rather than stronger and eventually replacing all notion of reality and human sympathy, as so many think is impicit). And, based on later obsevation, I think children do this even faster and more skillfully than adults. Boiling a game down to its cause/effect-risk/reward elements like no one else.

      I couldn’t explain this for the life of me though. People can’t get past “you’re interactively committing virtual murder. That has to mean something“. It’s an intuitive position based in lingering blank slate style impressions of the human mind with some conditioning thrown in. You’ll still see it, even from gamers. They’re managing to supress whatever moral damage the game is doing, according the them. To the academics then it was an elephant in the room that needed to be addressed, and in ways that comfort the, I dunno, present psychological paradigm. That or embark on groundbreaking research in a field I wasn’t even in. It seems not much has changed.

      I love that you turned it around and compared the two schools of thought. If this paper turns up I wouldn’t mind reading it too.

    • Pew says:

      @ people: Alright then, here if my html doesn’t fail me. Mind you, even that one leaves a lot to criticize.

  17. Tom says:

    probably, but that’s certainly nothing unique to games.
    Alcohol and drugs make some people amiable and others violent, and yet others somewhere inbetween – which suggests to me that maybe it has something to do with THEIR STATE OF MIND!

    I’m currently living with someone whose aspergers has manifested into some fairly extreme aggression, and i can say with 100% certainty that games have the most amazing calming affect. He loves fps’.
    There are many autism intervention techniques that used games and virtual environments to help focus.

    something about guns and people killing each other….?

  18. Cunzy1 1 says:

    Actual Science

    Q: Well it depends really. What question do we think is new enough but that we know we could probably answer? I guess that really depends on how good we are at writing funding applications to people that we already know quite well, wink wink, nudge nudge. We didn’t get to where we are now by losing this competition for funding. We should ask for a lot of money because we want jobs in more than seven years time. Oh no the data to answer the question we already knew what we wanted the answer to be came back slightly messy. Let’s cut out the messy bits. If anyone asks for the data we’ll just say we lost it.

  19. jon_hill987 says:

    Behead those who say gamers are violent!

  20. Cooper says:

    Thank you for linking to the article in question, and for choosing a meta study to examine.

  21. The Sombrero Kid says:

    even if the worst is true and videogames corrupt peoples minds this alone doesn’t hold any water as grounds to ban or censor games any more than they already are, there are for example alcoholic products available and much less tightly regulated than games, that induce all kinds of violent and anti social behaviour in everyone who consumes them.

  22. futage says:

    I’m always a little disappointed when something like this is posted here as I don’t think this is a conversation we should be having, not in these terms at least.

    It is a ridiculous thing to discuss. It’s a valid area of study from a media psychology point of view, sure. But posting the rare studies which agree with our own (as gamers) biased opinions is as bad as the Mail printing, well, y’know. We’re discussing it on their terms. On the defence.

    What we should be talking about (because this can be usefully discussed) is how games affect us, individually, in regard to violence. Games have certainly made me think about violence (in its vast varieties of forms) a lot – have educated me about violence would perhaps be a better way to put it – in a way in which no other present day medium could have achieved.

    We should be talking about the many ways in which we encounter violence in games, from the simple depictions of ‘realistic’ violence we all automatically think of to the verbal violence of online players, the violence of exploration, the violence of scientific progress, the way violence interacts with the narratives and structures of our games and how all this relates to (and I believe in my case at least gives me a better understanding of) real world violence in its many forms – from actual tangible violence to the (clearly misunderstood) violence of control and objectification which inspired Hey Baby and its shameful mis-discussion.

    So yeah, talking about how games have educated us and changed the way we might think about violence would be a far more interesting discussion, I think. And would hopefully change the debate too in letting us come at the subject on our own terms.

    • Vandelay says:

      I find it surprising that you say games have helped you understand violence in its many forms better than any medium, as I would say gaming has a long way to go in that regard. There are many, many films that tackle the subject of the effect violence has on a person and they do it to a far greater extent then any game I have ever come across. You have Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence’, in which the lead tries to move on from his past to create a normal family life, only for his past to catch-up with him. There is ‘Jarhead’, in which soldiers are trained to fight but never get a chance to carry out the actions they have been spending months preparing for. ‘The Godfather’ trilogy is about a man constantly trying to escape the past of his mob family, but always comes back to it and destroys his family in the process… I could go on, but we would be here all day and those are just off the top of my head.

      When I look at games, I can’t really think of anything that actually deals with the topic of violence as anything but a means to accomplish your goals. There maybe the odd game that lasts five minutes that does it, but nothing that has a regular release. A few games deal with the effects of violence on a person, but these are generally through a reenacting films (Mafia, Max Payne and the occasional moment in the GTA games are the only ones that spring to mind.)

      And maybe that is the problem. We have medium that is fixated on bringing us many different violent encounters, but rarely does it pass any judgement on our actions. It is obvious that throwing more explosions and guns at the gamer is the easy option over creating something that is actually original when dealing with violence, but that even seems to be the case for the games that aren’t the AAA titles of the year. Even the smaller games don’t seem willing to pass judgement on the industry constantly churning out game after game of violence.

      Perhaps when the industry itself is able to tackle the topic within its own medium, others will start taking it seriously.

    • Tei says:

      On your movie list you miss “American History X”

    • Vandelay says:

      @Tei – like I said, we would be here all day listing films that deal with violence (or books for that matter – or any other art form.) If people could actually name three well known games that dealt with violence in an original or meaningful way, I would be surprised.

      Really, I think this all comes down to the fact that game players are treated like angry hormonal teenager boys by those in and outside the industry.

    • Tei says:

      I know you said that the list can be longer. But thats a nice use of the internet: List of nice things. If theres something usefull to other people (and by other people to me) is list of nice things. I don’t avoid any oportunity to build one.

      “If people could actually name three well known games that dealt with violence in an original or meaningful way, I would be surprised.”

      Yea, is kinda hard to ask this to game, maybe unfair. But let me try:

      1) The Day of The Tentacle. Wen you try to use violence, the game tell you how stupid that is.
      2) All other point and click adventures game where wen you try the action “Destroy” with anything, you get funny result and nothing broken or destroyed :-)

      I am probably cheating here :-)

    • futage says:

      I think films are particularly bad at dealing with violence. All we really get from the majority of films is the two extremes: hero-myth stuff (action films etc.) (which are fine) and anti-war/anti-violence polemics (like the ones you’ve mentioned) which tend, at best, to be naive pissing in the wind.

      We are violent creatures. All progress is inherently violent. We need to pull things apart in order to categorise them and see how they work (physically and intellectually), cultural movements cannibalise what went before, exploration is inherently violent, science is, art is. And on a simpler level we just enjoy straightforward violence which is why our culture and media are rife with it.

      I think we need to come to terms with that before we can have a meaningful discussion. Violence isn’t always bad and even when it is, we often enjoy it.

      I adore violence. I love violent video games partly because they are violent. I love arguments and confrontation. I love global politics when it gets fraught. I love the violence in violent films (I don’t mean always, but there are certainly times when I do). I love it when cars crash in motor sports (so long as no one is hurt – but at the time when I’m enjoying the spectacle I don’t know whether they are or not). Part of me enjoys watching footage of the planes crashing into the WTC just for the power of the images and the symbolism of the act (which is a violent one, of course).

      On the other hand, I abhor people or creatures being harmed. I literally will not kill a fly. I detest the way that (covert, insidious, implicit) violence is used to control people (power-minorities, for example) in society. I hate the way our first world economic system ravages the developing world and its people. I hate the way states are founded on violence and their rules are imposed with violent acts both domestically and internationally.

      Neither those anti-violent films you mention, nor the heroic-violence ones, speak to both of those parts of me, they each speak to only one part and thus each only tell half the story.

      Games let me do the violence myself. Let me make the choices as to when to use violence and when not. To rationalise and emotionalise at the same time. Medieval Total War caused me to execute prisoners – something which is abhorrent to my postmodern sensibilities but something which I abolsutely had to do during a close-fought war. It was that or face more troops in the next battle and probably lose. That makes me think about my attitude to such things – how much my sensibilities are conditioned by the time and place I’m living in. Of course films have done that same thing but this is me making the decision. It’s a far more powerful lesson.

      There’ve been the times in the Civ games where I’ve basically won but I need to take a few more enemy cities just to wipe them out. Just because they’re bothering me. They’re massively less advanced than me and I tell myself I’m actually doing them a favour – I’m bringing them my advanced civilisation. I’m civilising these people. Then I step back into my 21st century brain and realise how terrible that sounds.

      There’s a great moment in Alpha Protocol (spoiler coming) which I’m currently playing. I have to choose between thwarting a terrorist attack or saving one person with whom I have become friends. One or many. And you have to choose quickly. I chose the one person, and I’ve been mulling that decision over ever since.

      Films usually offer more powerful narrative but games have agency, which is a really big fucking deal. It makes all the difference in the world that it’s me doing these things. Games offer a way for me to come to terms with and understand my own violent nature in all its complexity without having to impose a temporally, geographically and culturally specific conditioned response to it – not when I’m in the game.

  23. Starky says:

    I play videogames to REDUCE the urge for violence.

    Every day I want to kill people (more things than people really) – to spill their hot blood and watch the life fade from their stupid, ignorant bodies.
    To cut them, and make them suffer before they gasp their last pathetic breath in this world.

    People who the world would be better off without.

    The only thing stopping me from committing minor genocide is that pesky thing called Law, and videogames.

    One day though, the Law may not be enough, and only videogames will hold me back from murdering hundreds, if not thousands of stupid, ignorant, wastes of human consciousness that infest our cities.

    (Started writing this as a joke, but worryingly there may be some truth to it…. hehe)

  24. Tei says:

    Do violence existed before videogames?
    Why people play “violent” videogames?
    What is violence?
    Is “cold blood” murder violence?
    Is “poison kill” murder violence?
    Is forcing your bias on other people violence?
    Cain and Abel where abusing Mario Galaxy?
    What is the role of “blame” on the cristianity?
    Why exist a sado fetish, do people like to feel “blame”?
    Why religions restrict access to sex, is to create “blame”?
    If psycologicians cure mental sickness, why sociologist don’t cure “self-substaining” manias like self-substaining-religions and self-substainings-governs?
    Do childrens learn violence or express violence?
    Is violence bad for childrens?
    Is killing a king in chess violence?
    Is killing a king in a boardgame RPG violence?
    Is killing a king in a CRPG violence?
    Why people hate fictional violence, but love real violence?
    How can a cristian country, where killing is a capital sing, have wars where millions are murderer?
    Wen a plumber that play videogames and practice kung-fu kill a lawyer that play poker and practice swimming, how is that reported?…
    …is the only choice “Videogamer kills Lawyer?”?

    • Tei says:

      Childrens can tell the difference reality-fiction.
      Can parents tell the difference yellow yournalism-reality?

    • mrmud says:

      Tei, thats a bit of a blanket statement. It really depends on how young the children are.
      My mom works in pre-school and when things like this comes up she often mentions something I did when I was about about 6 years old.

      I had been sitting in front of the house trying to explain about black holes to the 1 year younger neighbour kid. When I entered the house and asked if we could go over to my friends house and watch Robin Hood. My mom asked me if it was the animated version of the live action one. I replied that I didnt know, but Robin did have a tail.

      I love the example because it really shows how you can seem pretty grown up (explaining black holes) while at the same time be unable to differentiate between whats “real” and what is not.

    • futage says:

      Or perhaps you hadn’t learned that animated is considered less ‘real’ than acted, yet.

    • bleeters says:

      Six years olds aren’t generally playing Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt, or othersuch titles accused of stirring up violent behaviour.

    • mrmud says:

      One would hope not.
      I didnt really mean to imply anything other than that young children sometimes have a bit more fuzzy grasp of what is real and what is not than what some people seem to believe.

    • futage says:

      And my point was that perhaps they have a better understanding of what’s real and what’s not. (i.e., it is all constructed meaning and they don’t discriminate).

    • Nick says:

      Maybe you didn’t know what live action meant.

  25. UK_John says:

    This subject comes up regularly purely because so much of our media (and dare I say it, games industry!) still think gaming is a hobby for spotty 13 year old boys who ‘don’t get out enough’.

    The fact is, the average age of a console gamer today is 32 and for PC it’s a massive 38!

    The Commodore 64 and Spectrum 48K sold 10’s of millions of units around the world in the 80’s. Add to this that most games have you progressing through violence (would be hard to find 20 games in the whole of gaming history that didn’t!) and you have had millions of gamers playing violent games for over 25 years. The bulk of these people are now married with children and holding down jobs, etc, not running rampant!

    This message of the reality of who gamers are just doesn’t get out into the mainstream media, if it did, we wouldn’t get this coming up every 6 months!

    But don’t get me wrong, as long as the vast majority of games on 360, PS3 and PC progress the story through violence, gaming will never be mainstream. Violent stories in games are so pervasive we don’t even see it. It doesn’t matter that more and more the violence is against zombies and aliens, etc, rather than against humans we just take it for granted that the game allows us to progress through killing things.

    The games industry wants to be like the movie business and this extends to the media, hence games being reviewed like movies, with no recognition that reviewed 1.0 games are not necessarily representative of what the game is 6 months later now it’s patched to 1.03. At 1,03 it might be a 95% game, but forever more it will be known as the game that scored 80% as the 1.0 game. No system has been developed to either chase up or report on gaming support. I am surprised any publisher releases any patch when they know the review score won’t be changed. So we get negative aspects of copying the movie business and yet we will never be mainstream like it because of this aspect of not covering games in a specific way that relates to gaming and covering a wider subject matter beyond violent orientated ones.

    A simple idea of the top of my head for a non violent game would be one that has you meeting a woman, getting to know her, going on dates, etc (ala GTA IV maybe?) and then turning up for a date and finding she has disappeared. You decide you are going to find her. That story would not need violence to progress the story, just mysteries. And that’s off the top of my head!!!!!

    • Biscuitry says:

      The problem is that the media don’t want to hear the truth. I take your point about the overwhelming percentage of games that feature violence in a pretty intrinsic way, even if I think you’re exaggerating a little about the extent of that majority, but even if it were not so, well-mannered individuals playing games that enrich them as people… well, that kind of thing just doesn’t sell papers.

  26. M says:

    I’ve talked a little about this again on The Player.

    link to

  27. Apricot says:

    I liked the comparison to peanut allergies. It’s almost like saying some people are allergic to video games. The games are not harmful to the majority (like peanuts) but to a select few (those with “allergies”) they are very harmful. Obviously it’s not the same as an allergy, but it’s a good comparison nonetheless.

  28. Brendy_C says:

    Well bloody said. At least Markey and Markey can tell the difference between correlation and causation. From now, lawyers with invested interests should leave claims on violence to Doctors who know what they are talking about.

    • M says:

      Sort of. Their study isn’t really much of a study – it more points towards where we might perform further studies. Their conclusions are actually based off some pretty poor tests.

  29. Lewis says:

    I’ve scrawled some thoughts on the situation at large, if anyone is at all interested.

  30. ChaK_ says:

    Indeed yes, that’s obvious

    When I see how bad video games are going, with DLC, locked stuff on HDD, DRM and such I want to punch almost all the publisher in the nose.

    (and more sometimes)

  31. Metal_Circus says:

    I should quote Arrested Development at this point.

    “Lawyers” means “liars” in Latin.

  32. mike says:

    “It appears that the “perfect storm” of FFM traits in this context is high neuroticism (e.g., easily upset, angry, de-pressed, emotional, etc.), low agreeableness (e.g., little concern for others, indifferent to others feelings, cold, etc.) and low conscientiousness (e.g., break rules, don’t keep promises, act without thinking, etc.).”

    Funnily enough, this corresponds almost exactly to the catalogue of character traits found in my most recent employment, the Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder Unit of Broadmoor Hospital, which required a high level of psychopathy, together with two or more personality disorders, not necessarily anti – social personality disorder to enter. True story: come on to one ward to see two patients playing on the wards’ PS 2; the game, GTA SA. That was not the joke. Says I to the patients, ‘Good to see your basic psychopathy is in no way reflected in the game you’re playing,’. One patient smiled, he is now in a less secure setting and well on the road to release, the other one looked mystified. He later made tabloid headlines and got moved to Rampton. Please do not ask for names, you will not get them.

  33. PHeMoX says:

    For anyone who still has illusions about how violent movies, music or games makes people aggressive;

    “Instead, it appears that it is crucial to consider various personality traits of the person playing the VVG when predicting whether or not the VVG will have adverse effects.””

    This really means to say that people with a naturally more violent nature (aka their personality), will be more violent in some or certain cases. That is really unrelated to games of any kind. I’m pretty sure such people would be able to become very aggressive over losing a game of super-happy Mario or PacMan or from reading a newspaper.

    The relation between violence and games, is non-existent.

    • M says:

      You’ve got to read past that. That’s a conjecture, they’re estimating there. There’s no good data in that study backing it up.

  34. Tei says:

    Violence in a videogame is not bad. Is violence against not-live characters, or against friends/competitors. Is victimless. Much lilke sports, or just training.

    Wen his violence constructive, and wen is destructive? violence against a dummy can be very constructive, as we are animals, and not a pacific one, letting our animal parts express trought killing fake contenders or in friendly conpetitions has to be good.

    I think most critics against violence in videogames have two sources:
    – Aestetic: for these people the vision of violence is ugly. These people can fix the problem thenselves looking elsewhere.
    – Religious: his religion condem violence, like other religion concem beer, or eating pork. These people can fix the problem thenselves looking elsewhere, maybe on a hole.

  35. Krondonian says:

    Just a little note, it’s the Lancashire Evening Post, not Lancaster. It’s primarily sold in Preston, with some in Blackpool, Chorley and other towns in Lancashire.

    It’s also an absolutely dire rag, with headlines split into 1/3 shock stories, 1/3 prattling about PNE and the football museum and 1/3 possible renovations for Preston city centre that might happen, perhaps, maybe, one day.

    I know for a fact that game stores in Preston too are extremely strict about selling to young people. I’ve been denied service for 15 ratings, despite being over 18. As for the studies, I can’t really add more than anyone above.

  36. DMJ says:

    What about the recent study which says that studies which claim to show a causal link between tendencies towards real-life violence and game violence cause tendencies towards real-life violence?*

    *Study conducted by me, funded by me, sample size: me.

  37. Krendo says:

    I was waiting for the events in Cumbria last week to be linked to our consumable media of choice, but mused that videogames would be out given the man in question’s age. Sure enough, it took two days of endless (and mostly thoughtless) speculation on Radio 4 ’till I heard that he and a friend watched a “violent movie” the previous evening on television. Games would have been through the wringer, if he’d been playing COD…

  38. Kid A says:

    Shock horror! Studies show that common sense assumption that applying violent stimuli only seriously affects those already receptive to aforementioned stimuli!
    Science will be proving “it won’t get any better if you pick at it” next.

  39. John says:

    What always cracks me up regardless of the veracity of psychological or sociological work, then someone will come up with the soft science comment.

    These comments are really annoying because they are the broism of the science interested and rarely come from actual researchers in any field. This a report not a study making suggestions based on existing scientific research.

  40. BigJonno says:

    I read an utterly cringe-worthy line in a newspaper article about a children’s charity this morning. It started with a paragraph on how the common perception of British teenagers is that they’re all hooded yobs, then went on to talk about delinquent behaviour. It followed with a sentence that was along the lines of “Unfortunately this can’t all be blamed on fizzy drinks and violent videogames.” It then declared that 25% of young offenders were victims of abuse, which strongly implies that 75% of all youth offences are the result of cherryade and Call of Duty.

  41. Duffin says:

    This is just hillarious:

    link to

    “”We enter into a world that is so realistic that we forget it is a make believe world”. Hmm.. not for me. Do these people even play games?

    • Thants says:

      “Violence has always been with us. It’s been with us since Cane slew Abel, but we’ve always recognized violence as a vice and not as a virtue.”

      Funniest thing I’ve read all day.

      No culture in human history has ever promoted violence until video-games came along. Indisputable super-fact!

  42. AHdaddy says:

    I am interested to know if playing video games makes you better at violence if you decide to be violent. I am not arguing that video games produce more violence, but If I were an angry youngster would hundreds of hours of playing violence simulators have an effect?

    • AHdaddy says:

      To wit: A logging simulator will not make me more likely to be a lumberjack, but it may make me a better logger (techniques, procedures, terminology) if I decide to go that route.

    • BigJonno says:

      Possibly, but I can say that I can recall a single videogame that has any kind of real technical detail about killing. The only thing I can think of would be a better knowledge of firearm statistics, but most games don’t even get those right.

    • Kid A says:

      Unless you have some kind of incredible visual memory that allows you to precisely translate what you see on screen to your own movements (a la… er… one of the heroes from Heroes), you are essentially learning to press buttons in the right order. Improved hand-eye co-ordination, muscle memory and reaction times won’t make you a killer.
      Likewise, you’re unlikely to be being “desensitised” to casual violence and gore, as games are nowhere near being photorealistic enough for you to be looking at something accurately reflecting human physiology.
      And as for knowledge of techniques… well, I for one can’t wait to see the Noob-Tube Murderer, or a guy running around an American campus in a loincloth and white and red body-paint, swinging blades on chains that he’s burnt into his skin.

  43. MajorManiac says:

    It is interesting how it seems people are drawn to violence in all forms of media. From the News to Opera it seems to be everywhere.

    I think it has been seen as an exciting way to deal with problems thoughout the history of entertainment. Such as displayed in Greek Mythology. I’m not sure why this is, but its scary to think that the fantasies we make are just a reflection of ourselves.

    So one could say Voilent art cannot corrupt us as it has come from us.

  44. Max says:

    But the desire for easy answers always wins. It’s so much easier to just point the finger at video games and call it a day, rather than try to understand a long, complicated report like you did.

    It’s analogous to similar health issues like eating and exercising well vs. going on a simple (yet ineffective and often unhealthy) diet.

  45. malkav11 says:

    I don’t think it ought to be controversial to take a look at the clear evidence presented (violent videogames sell in the tens and hundreds of millions, yet the majority of players have not gone and committed crimes, certainly not violent crimes, after playing them) and conclude that videogames cannot possibly cause violent crime. Whether they may contribute in the presence of other factors is a better question, but one that is not, I should think, particularly relevant to how videogames should be treated societally.

  46. Frank says:

    Another anecdote/data point: I have said antisocial characteristics and play too many games, but am not violent.

    @John (previous poster) What is “broism”?

  47. half says:

    ….You know, I think for the most part the majority of this anti-videogame sentiment is pure bs, but why the hell were patients at a mental facility for the violently ill allowed to play Grand Theft Auto o.o.

  48. Jurassic_Pork says:

    Very interesting article over on Kotaku about someone watching his 4yr old (I think) playing GTA SA and at no point feeling the urge to commit any murder death kill. The kid obeys driving laws he is aware of and enjoys playing as a cop, ambulance driver and most of all fire engine. I like the article as it debunks a lot of the arguments in favour of games creating this mentality.

    Not sure of linking rules but a search for san andreas returns the article.

  49. Thirith says:

    @Jurassic_Pork: Interesting, but at the same time it’s a total strawman. The point (for anyone who wishes to address the issue with a modicum of intellectual honesty) isn’t whether violent games turn individuals (other than the ones who are warped to begin with) into brutal killers. It’s whether exposure to media violence, especially of the interactive kind, desensitises people to violence. The answer may still be “no”, but it deserves actual discussion rather than Daily Mail-style polemics.