Video game – violence link debunked


The video game Grand Theft Auto IV comes out on Tuesday.

Says the BBC:

Reviews for Grand Theft Auto IV have been unanimous in their praise.

UK-based games website Eurogamer called it “game of the year” and handed it a 10 out of 10 review score, while the New York Times said it delivered a “new level of depth for an interactive entertainment experience”.

Miley Cyrus’ Vanity Fair photos have momentarily distracted many of the parents of impressionable children.

Three UPS drivers have been fired for stealing copies of it that were destined for retailers.

Bracing for the “it’ll lead to more violence by children” stories? Maybe you shouldn’t. The co-directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media say the supposed link isn’t there.

Video game popularity and real-world youth violence have been moving in opposite directions. Violent juvenile crime in the United States reached a peak in 1993 and has been declining ever since. School violence has also gone down. The U.S. Secret Service intensely studied each of the 37 non-gang and non-drug-related school shootings and stabbings that were considered “targeted attacks” that took place nationally from 1974 through 2000.

The Secret Service found that there was no accurate profile. Only one in eight school shooters showed any interest in violent video games; only one in four liked violent movies.

Update 6:33 p.m.

Inspired by MR’s comment below….

update 7:18 a.m. Tue – Interviewed on Morning Edition (link later Here you go.). M.E. producer Jim Bickal sends along an old Chicago on the effects of video games. It reads a little bit like “Reefer Madness.”

  • MR

    An amusing little chart. Notice that those are release dates of various violent games, beginning with Doom, which was released at the very end of 1993. (found via Digg)

    The original chart seems to come from here.

    Notice that on the video-game chart, the maker adjusted the upper and lower bounds that are shown, so that the bottom bound is 20. This gives the impression of a larger decrease.

    Still an interesting little exercise though.

  • E. Fudd

    What I heard is that there is an influx of deaths among amazon rabbits on the east side of St Paul. Apparently these rabbits showed up 2 years ago and have been flourishing by eating off of the local neighborhood gardens. Its been said that stay- at -home- moms who have been playing the video game ‘Resident Evil’ are to blame for the deaths of these rodents. One mother was overheard saying, “Git otta my yard or Im gonna pop a cap in yur white tailed “beep” ”

  • Dakota Reese Brown

    This issue gets debunked and then rebunked some many times it is just silly.

    If you want to look at an interesting historical parallel though, you should take at how in the 40’s & 50’s comic books were subjected to this same kind of scrutiny…there was even proposed legislation if I recall correctly.

  • MR

    Trouble, oh we got trouble,

    Right here in River City!

    With a capital “T”

    That rhymes with “P”

    And that stands for Pool,

    That stands for pool.

    We’ve surely got trouble!

    Right here in River City,

    Right here!

    Gotta figger out a way

    To keep the young ones moral after school!

    Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…

  • I’m 36.

    I’ve played DOOM, and some Half-life, and Unreal, although as I have aged, my taste for first person shoot-em-ups has steadily declined.

    My taste these days run to Galactic Civilizations II (the latest and last expansion of which will be released this week–and will sell far less than GTA). To say nothing of Europa Universalis: Rome, or Civilization IV…

    Speaking of video games and violence, Bob, have you ever seen the movie “Inside Man”? I’m thinking of the scene where the young boy shows the bank robber Clive Owen his GTA-esque game.

  • Jessica Shryack

    It’s really funny that in discussing the link between violence and video games, Mr. Collins cites *one* study to “debunk” the link.

    Unfortunately for him, there are hundreds of other studies suggesting a link.

    The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry all have agreed that viewing violence-saturated TV and video games repeatedly has an effect on young people.

    Mr. Collins knows precious little about the accumulative nature of scientific evidence.

    Does this mean we should take the newest version of GTA off the shelves? Maybe not. But simply saying “we’ve got to blame it on something” does absolutely nothing to further the essential discussion our society must have on the violence occurring in U. S. among young people.

  • Bob Collins

    //”we’ve got to blame it on something” does absolutely nothing to further the essential discussion our society must have on the violence occurring in U. S. among young people.

    Clearly that’s not the case because here you are furthering the essential discussion.

    The issue isn’t whether I have a knowledge of the accumulative nature of scientific evidence; the issue is whether there’s a link between video games and violence.

    As late as last June, the AMA — to use your example — had NOT concluded that video games have the link you suggest. The AMA actually said it was CONCERNED that such a link might exist and called for more research.

    That’s a LOT different from saying such a link exists.

    In recent testimony, the American Academy of Pediatrics said only that a link between violent media and violence has been “substantiated,” but did not provide any evidence of the substantiation.

    Likewise, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s “Facts for Families” on the subject does not include any actual studies but couches their concern with “MAY.” “May” is not a scientific conclusion.

    Obviously, I think the topic is fascinating. Equally fascinating is the tendency of the issue to be put into a “fact’ status merely be repeating the hope that the conclusion is firm and final.

    It’s not, and it’s very important to point that out.

  • MR

    To me, it looks a lot like what’s been happening since the dawn of time between parents and children:

    Whatever children might be doing that isn’t what the parents did, it’s inherently bad and will lead to the doom of society and our children. That’s why I posted the lyrics from “The Music Man.”

    Other things that have been leading to the downfall of society as we know it:

    – Rock and Roll

    – Elvis

    – Dungeons and Dragons

    – Beavis and Butthead

    – MTV

    – Pool (as mentioned above)

    It all looks like a giant overreaction to me.

    And finally, to quote another old musical:


    I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!


    Who can understand anything they say?


    They a disobedient, disrespectful oafs!

    Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!

    While we’re on the subject:


    You can talk and talk till your face is blue!


    But they still just do what they want to do!

    Why can’t they be like we were,

    Perfect in every way?

  • MR

    I should clarify one thing:

    I do believe that some games aren’t appropriate for young children, just like I believe that some movies and books aren’t appropriate for young children. But the responsibility has to rest with the parents who are providing the offensive content to their kids, not on the video game makers, movie studios, and authors who make that content.

  • Richard Walch

    First, this is not an academic exercise for teams of psychology professors. Legislators react to this debate by attempting to ban the sale of video games deemed “too violent” for children. Adults in Australia can’t buy some games because lawmakers trying to protect children have decided they can’t.

    Second, the fact that there’s contradictory evidence regarding the impact of the games on children kind of misses the larger point: they’re not for children. GTA IV is not for children. It’s no more for children than an ‘R’ rated movie. In fact, video games in general are being consumed relatively less by children than ever before. The average age of video game players in 2004 was 29 years old (USA Today).

  • bsimon

    Violent juvenile crime in the United States reached a peak in 1993 and has been declining ever since. School violence has also gone down.

    Is this a case of perception framing reality? After the news a week or two ago of teenage girls filming the beating of another student, the claim that ‘school violence has gone down’ seems implausible. What gives? Is the actual violence diminished, but our awareness is increased because of news coverage of that subset of kids that do something that really shocks? Last year it was a hazing event in Chicago; are we perhaps jumping to conclusions about society as a whole, based on the actions of a very small number of kids?

  • Dan G

    I think it’s important for parents to take an active role in both determining what’s appropriate for their kids and explaining right and wrong. I’m 24 and I grew up playing all kinds of video games, from Half-Life to GTA to Final Fantasy. But my parents made sure that I only bought games that were labeled for kids my age.

    As for the explanation part, I remember one time when I was watching my younger brother play Goldeneye (a first person shooter) on the N64. He thought it was amusing to run through the level with a grenade launcher and blow up the helpless scientists. When my dad saw that in passing he sat us both down and told us why that was wrong.

    I think my parents did it right. And all evidence indicates that my brother and I have turned into responsible adults. Obviously this is all anecdotal, but it doesn’t make it any less true for me.

  • Bob Collins

    that’s kind of the point I made on M.E., today…the proof of a link between violence and video games is really a separate issue from whether they are “disgusting,” as the Strib piece suggested today.

    Your point, Dan, about your Dad is on target (no pun intended). For him, for you, for your brother, that obviously worked. For people who played video games and their parents , their method usually works, too.

    Where the demagoguery around the issue gets suffocating is when it’s not consistent on both sides. On one side, a group will want a ban on video games, yet want the freedom to buy incandescent light bulbs. On the other side, a group will insist that a video game showing violence doesn’t desensitize us to violence, yet says owning an actual gun will. There’s plenty of that to go around.

    In the end, you make the best choices you can make with as many facts as you can accumulate.

  • Bob Collins

    //Is the actual violence diminished, but our awareness is increased because of news coverage of that subset of kids that do something that really shocks?

    What desensitizes us to violence, is actual violence. Dead soldiers in Iraq is no longer front-page news. Neither are school shootings and a host of other violent acts.

    Why? I’m no sociologist but I don’t think it’s the fact the violence is portrayed, I think it’s because we have a better understanding of what a human is capable of doing and once we’re do, we’re no longer shocked by it.

  • Bob Collins

    // It’s no more for children than an ‘R’ rated movie.

    Depends what you consider children.

    28% of gamers are under 18 and the average gamer has been playing for 12 years, which kicks the “when did you start playing” average well into the teenage years.

    The point of the “conflicting evidence” is mostly that there appears to be almost NO definitive research that there’s a connection between violence and video games, just suggests that there MAY be, which has been interpreted by many to mean there MUST be.

    The R-Rating doesn’t say the movie is unsuitable for children. It means only that a parent or guardian must accompany the 16 year or younger kid.

    Saving Private Ryan, for instance, was an R-Rated film full of incredible violence, also said to be the most realistic depiction in the movies of war. I’ve seen no studies that says Saving Private Ryan led to more violence nor any that suggested it desensitized people to war; quite the opposite, actually.