The 1970’s saw the evolution of Video games which were played out initially in the public domain, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that consumers were able to play games at home via Nintendo and Atari consoles (Wardyga, 2018). The 1990’s saw violent video games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Double Dragon hit the scene with the “first-person shooter games” Wolfenstein 3D and Doom released in 1992 and 1993 respectively (Wardyga, 2018). Wolfenstein 3D was credited as being the First shooter video game whereby the player is the main character who experiences combat first hand with weapons of choice, mainly a gun or other weapons (Wardyga, 2018). As these violent video games grew increasingly popularity the debate with researchers also grew as they investigated the effects of violence and aggressive behaviour starting back in the 1980’s (Wardyga, 2018).
Violent Media (includes Violent Video Games) is defined as “those that depict intentional attempts by individuals to inflict harm on others. An “individual” can be a nonhuman cartoon character, a real person, or anything in between (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Definition for Aggression is “behavior intended to harm another individual who is motivated to avoid that harm, it is not an affect, emotion, or aggressive thought, plan, or wish and excludes accidental acts that lead to harm, such as losing control of an auto and accidentally killing a pedestrian, but includes behaviors intended to harm even if the attempt fails, such as when a bullet fired from a gun misses its human target.” (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Violence is defined as” extreme forms of aggression, such as physical assault and murder. All violence is aggression, but not all aggression is violence “(Anderson & Bushman, 2001). There has been a magnitude of studies conducted over time that challenge and support the theory that violent video games (VVG) leads to aggressive and violent behavior. This report will present evidence from both sides of the debate. A study by Fergusen et al., (2008) which challenged this theory and found there was no difference in aggression for the randomized exposure to VVG or previous real life exposure to VVG . Furthermore genetic tendency, gender and family violence were more predictive of violent behavior. On the other side of the debate Engelhardt et al., (2011) indicated that neural desensitization towards violent images in VVG was associated with aggressive behavior with neural markers providing a causal link between VVG exposure and aggression. Key points from both studies will be critically analyzed with concluding comments and possible future directions in research studies.
One underlying theory of VVG and its subsequent violent behavior that can help us understand this relationship is a social learning theory, the General Aggression Model (AGM) framework (Allen, Anderson & Bushman, 2018). It encompasses different factors such as biological, developmental, social, and cognitive and personality traits. It provides insight into how situations influences a person’s cognitive feelings and arousal which then affects their processes of appraisal and decision making and in turn influences their aggressive or nonaggressive behavior. This repeated cycle develops scaffolding for a ready-made aggressive knowledge structure. Furthermore, personality can be influenced through these changed knowledge structures (Allen et al., 2018). Challenging this theory Ferguson, Rueda, Cruz, Ferguson, Fritz and Smith (2008) suggested that it is more of a biological/innate theory behind this relationship. It is suggested there is no causal link between VVG and violent behavior but only correlational and that violent behavior is more representative of genetic factors and environment that come into play, the catalyst model. It relates more to biological and genetic predisposition that leads to a person’s aggressive personality and environmental factors such as family violence which act as an agent for violent behaviour.
Ferguson et al (2008) study was supportive of this belief and challenged the VVG and subsequent violent behavior effect. The aim of this study was to examine the above theory models and to see which one supports the experimental data. Study (1), one hundred and one undergraduate student volunteers were measured on trait aggression and video game habits via questionnaires in the laboratory. Then aggressive behavior was measured by playing a reaction time game against a fictional opponent setting a noise blast as punishment for that competitor. Students were then randomly assigned to one of three groups. Group one played VVG (a first shooter game), group two played a matched nonviolent video game and group three were given limited written about violent contents. They then selected VVG or non VVG to play. A follow up survey was also administered after all tasks were completed. Results indicated that people who preferred VVG were not more innately aggressive compared those who do not prefer VVG and that playing VVG did not causes short-term aggression in the lab environment. These results do not concur with the AGM that predicts after playing VVR aggressive behavior follows. Study (2) examined violent crime in real life to see if aggressive personality would correlate with VVG. Participants were 428 university undergraduates filled out questionnaires in relation to Trait aggression, Video game habits, Family violence exposure and violent criminal behavior with results having a structural equation model applied to examine the best fit between data and GAM and Catalyst theories. Results indicated that trait aggression was predictive of violent crime but not to exposure of VVG and dispells the belief that VVG exposure causes violent acts. This supports the Catalyst theory, violent behaviour is more related to biological and genetic disposition than outside influences. A strength in this study is the finding that VVG playing is not predictive of violent crimes and a limitation is that it doesn’t actually examine the link between aggressive behaviour and parent physical abuse.
Engelhardt, Bartholow, Kerr and Bushman (2011) study demonstrates a casual link between VVG exposure and desensitization to violence which in turn leads to an increase of aggression. Participants were chosen from over 2000 undergraduates who completed a video game usage questionnaire that was part of a number of measures tested in a web-based survey. 35 participants were randomly selected who scored above the 75th percentile and another 35 who scored below the 25th percentile in testing results. They were told visual perception and reaction time to videos was being measured. Brain activity was measured via
Scalp electrodes for electroencephalogram (EEG) while they played VVG and non VVG and while viewing violent pictures and nonviolent pictures followed by a very unpleasant noise blast. For participants who had very little prior exposure to VVG and played a violent game they showed physiological desensitization (a reduction in P3 component of the event-related brain potential) to the violent images which then mediated the effect on subsequent aggressive behavior. This neural marker is the first experimental evidence that provides a causal link between violence desensitization with increased aggression. This supports the GAM theory and how other processes (such as physiological in this case) effect appraisal and decision making and in turn influences their aggressive behavior.
A strength in this study is that it is the first study to an experimental causal link with a limitation being that they need to explore more to see if there are additional mechanisms at play.
There is a large body of evidence supporting the effects of VVG and subsequent aggressive behavior in comparison to studies that challenge the theory. The desensitization effect found in the Englehardt et al., (2011) study was also demonstrated by Bushman and Anderson’s (2009) study which found that participants took longer to render assistance to a person injured after a fight or even hear the fight in the first place as they had become accustomed to violent noise associated with VVG useage and numb to pain and suffering of others. Grietemeyer’s (2017) study wasn’t just individuals that were impacted by the effects of VVG but also the player’s social network. This spread of aggression within the player’s social network even effected the individuals that didn’t even play VVG. It was reported that if there were only a few individuals who played VVG within a social network there was still more aggression within the group. Numerous studies have investigated VVG and violent behavior with adolescents but what about the effects on children. This was addressed in a study by Coker et al. (2014) whereby 5,147 fifth graders and their parents were surveyed about media violence exposure (including video games) and associated aggression. Results showed a significant link between media time for video games and physical aggression and being vigorous and unwavering. Another school study by Gentile , Lynch, Linder and Walsh (2004) involved six hundred and seven 8th and 9th grade students which showed a strong correlation between the amount of VVG and getting into more arguments with teachers , physical fights at school and poor school performance. The effects of VVG and violent behavior has been honed by some institutions , for example it has been documented that the Military uses VVG, especially first-person shooter games to recruit , train and keep soldiers combat ready who are not on active duty ( Holmes, 2009).
The key point here is that there is more evidence that supports VVG and subsequent violent behavior than evidence that challenges it. There are strong correlations and even the first causal link between VVG and violent behavior. Evidence also shows that VVG violence is not just limited to effects on adolescents but extends to children, teachers, schools, social networks and even the military. Although studies that challenge the theory state there is no causal link only correlational there are varying factors that come into play as demonstrated in the studies that cannot be ignored. In particular the desensitizing of violence and the impact on society as a whole. Another issue of concern is the lack of regulation of VVG and the age of individuals who have access to them.