Do video games cause violence?

video games

The controversy dates all the way back to Death Race, a 1976 8-bit video game in which cars run over bad guys, turning them into tombstones.

Decades later, experts are still asking, does virtual violence lead to real violence?

A new report from an American Psychological Association task force has concluded that playing violent video games can lead to an increase in aggression.

"The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior ... and decreases in ... empathy and sensitivity to aggression," said the study.

However, even after more than 20 years of studies, the APA says there still isn't enough research into whether games cause actual criminal violence. To reach any conclusions about whether playing a first-person shooter will increase the likelihood that someone will shoot people in real life, there need to be more studies.

The seven-person task force reviewed 170 studies on video game violence and consulted with experts in the field. The group found a number of areas where current research is insufficient. They want more investigation into the difference between aggression in male and female players, the impact of video games on young children, and associations between violent game play and people with risk factors such as depression and socioeconomic status.

Even though there's a gray area around acts of violence, the APA is confident that the research establishes a link between games and aggression. For now, it is asking for better parental controls on video games, with more granular ratings to indicate different levels and types of violence. The group's resolution also asks game makers to design games that are age appropriate for younger players.

Not everyone agrees with the APA's report. When the task force was first announced two years ago, 230 researchers sent a letter to the APA voicing concerns about the undertaking.

"I think we need to be honest that the evidence is all over the place," said Chris Ferguson, the department chair of technology at Florida's Stetson University. Ferguson researches video games and violence, and was one of the original 10 authors behind the letter.

He cites a number of issues with the APA's approach, including selecting people for the task force who skew older (the average age is 62) and who have a known anti-video game bias. The APA doesn't adequately define what "aggression" actually is, and wasn't transparent about which studies it used, says Ferguson.

"I think the one good thing about the report is that this is the first time an organization had come out to say, 'there is no evidence of a link with violence.'"

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