Video Games and Violence

April 16, 2015
In my free time, I like to do odd things that most wouldn't find fun, like designing a dreamsyllabus for my dreamcourse, a course I fantasize about teaching ("Psychology of Geek Culture: Welcome to the Geekdom"... *sigh*... I would teach everybody all the things and help them find their inner geek... and yes, that above is a play on the word "dreamcast" from the fandoms -not the game console-). I like to collect articles that I find useful either in practice or just for fun, about fandoms, video games, furries, and such.

Recently, I've come across many articles about how video games can be beneficial for social skills and education, which is pretty cool, because for a long time, video games have been the trigger for negative feels among parents.

I remember my mother refused to buy me a game console throughout my childhood because she felt video games would distract me from school or other more important things. So I used to play my uncle's Nintendo ES when my mom was at work. There are way too many video games in existence to make the generalization that video games lead to an increase in aggression, lower grades, or interpersonal violence.

1997 article (yes, it's relatively old now) reviewed the then-existing research on video games and aggression. Many of the studies reviewed then seemed to suggest that playing video games led to a short-term increase in aggressive behaviors among both girls and boys. It is unclear what is meant by "short-term." Many of them found no correlation between playing video games and aggression. Overall, the results of the studies seemed to be inconclusive. Some of them appeared to show correlations between playing video games and aggression, some did not, some of them included other factors (like raising the temperature in the room... which would most likely make me cranky too!), or the element of competition vs. cooperation.

One important thing to point out is that it has been suggested that people who tend to be more aggressive are usually attracted to playing violent video games. Some theorize that playing aggressive video games actually allows one to express their aggression in a healthy way (confined to the boundaries of the video game) rather than aggress toward others in the real world, having a sort of cathartic effect.

Newer studies show that other factors, such as family violence and innate aggression, are more related to aggression than are video games. Some have also suggested that aggression is more likely a cause of frustration with the game or things related to the game (controllers, being unable to complete a quest, etc.) than the content of the game itself. If you play video games and have ever experienced the rage-quitting phenomenon (who hasn't?), you know what they meant in that study.

There is no doubt that there are very many factors to consider, and it seems unfair that a general view that video games lead to aggression exists. A study cited in the 1997 article above even discussed the positive use of video games in psychotherapy! I've written before about the therapeutic relationship and how important it is for a therapist to be genuine. Since I work with younger clients, I use games all the time in the therapeutic setting, and occasionally video games. I have also at times suggested to parents to sit down and have their kids teach them how to play their favorite game. It makes for a great way to spend quality time with each other and to get to know their child. Everybody's different of course, but my professional experience with video games has been very positive.

Recently, the Turkish government ordered an investigation of Minecraft due to beliefs that it leads to aggression. The Turkish minister is not the only one. But others are finding creative ways to use Minecraft as a learning tool. How amazing is that!?

In terms of video games causing aggression, if the earlier research has been so torn overall, and if more recent research has shown there are other, stronger factors that are more likely the cause of aggression, and that games can be used for education, why do so many still hold this belief now?

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