Do violent video games cause violence?

Violent video games have always been a topic of controversy. The Columbine shooters loved the violent video game Doom and Adam Lanza — the Sandy Hook elementary school shooter — played Call of DutyIt’s not unusual that people have placed much of the blame on the violence depicted in these games. However, what about the other millions of people that play Call of Duty and don’t commit violent crimes?

In a 2011 study, 28 healthy men with little gaming history were separated into two groups. The first group was told to play a violent shooting game at home for ten hours for one week and not to play anything the next week. The other group did not play anything for both weeks.

Both groups had an fMRI done before the study, after one week and after two weeks. The video game group showed less activation of the region of the frontal cortex associated with controlling emotion and aggressive behavior. After a week of abstinence from video games, their fMRI scans resembled that of the control group’s again.

According to Dr. Yang Wang, assistant research professor at IU Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, “These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning. These effects may translate into behavioral changes over longer periods of game play.”

However, psychologist Dr. Vaughn Bell wrote in an article for The Guardian that this finding is not specific to just video games. Violence on television and in the news can cause similar effects. Plus, these effects are only a small increase of aggressive thoughts and behavior.

Are guns directly connected to video games? Image from Creative Commons.
Are guns directly connected to video games? Image from Creative Commons.

Bell argues that violent video games can be beneficial by improving attention, mental control and visual skills. During the experiment, he randomly assigns volunteers to one of two groups. One group plays violent shooter games such as Medal of Honorwhile another plays a less violent but still entertaining strategy game such as The Sims 3.

It’s not surprising that those who played the fast-paced action game showed improvements in processing visual information and reacting to it quickly. These results are similar to studies done by Dr. Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive scientist at the University of Rochester.

Bavelier stated that gamers had better visual acuity than non-gamers. They were able to pick out detail in clutter and to better distinguish different shades of gray. She took a group of non-gamers and tested their reaction time and visual acuity after playing video games. Just a small bit of gaming improved the non-gamers’ visual acuity.

These findings don’t take away from the idea that video games may cause violence, but it does show that the side-effects are not one-sided. Psychologist, Christopher Ferguson has studied actual violent crimes committed by young people. He discovered that delinquent peers, depression and a bad family environment have more impact on whether or not people commit crimes.

If violent video games do make an impact, it seems to be a very small one at worst. Furthermore, people with life problems could utilize violent video games as a negative form of coping. Not the violence in the video game itself, but rather the person not facing their problems head on can lead to violent incidents. This could be applied not only to video games, but to books, movies or any from of escape.