Fighting talk: How much should we worry about the playing of violent video games?
Posted by drmarkgriffiths
The following blog is based on an article I had published in the October 4 (2013) issue of video game magazine MCV Interactive Entertainment Weekly.
The issue of video game violence has once again arisen following allegations that Aaron Alexis, the man who killed 12 people last month (September 16, 2013) at the Washington Navy Yard, played violent video games for up to 18 hours a day. I was asked to comment by various national newspapers on whether the playing of violent video games had any role in the subsequent killings.
While there’s a growing body of research (particularly in America) that claims there’s a link between the playing of violent video games and subsequent behaviour, the problem with most of it is that it doesn’t follow people over a long period time. In short, most of the research is what we researchers call ‘cross-sectional’ – it only examines players at one particular ‘snapshot’ in time. As a result, I don’t think that there is any scientific research shows a definite link. Furthermore, much of the research has been carried out has been experimental and carried out in non-ecologically valid settings (i.e., in a laboratory setting). In fact, all of the measures used to assess “aggression” are proxy measures that are not related to actual violent actions (because it is unethical to try and induce actual violent acts within a research experiment).
The published survey studies – including my own – are mostly of a correlational nature and none of these demonstrate causality (only that – at best – there may be an associative link). One of the major problems with all of the research is that studies typically fail to take into account all the other types of violence that individuals are exposed to day-to-day (such as the violence they see on the news, the violence they see in films and television, and the violence seen in their own lives and local community). Another problem is that many academic journals only publish studies that show statistically significant findings (meaning that they are more likely to publish a study that suggests a link between playing violent video games and subsequent aggression rather than those that do not).
Personally, I believe people like Alexis were pre-disposed towards violence to start with and there was probably something inherently wrong with him in the first place (particularly as some reports claim that he often heard hallucinatory voices suggesting some kind of psychosis). Therefore, someone like Alexis would choose or seek out the most violent video games to play, and to watch the most violent and bloodthirsty films.
Someone like Alexis may have had an inherent trait towards violence that meant he sought those particular activities out. Video games may have had an influence in informing how he might do something and give him ideas, but they are unlikely to be the root cause of any actual violence. If I played those games all day every day, I really don’t think it would turn me into a homicidal maniac. Alexis may have been exposed to violence when he was younger because research shows what we’re exposed to in our childhoods has a great influence in later life.
I must have watched thousands of violent events (both fictional and real) and I have played the occasional violent video game but it hasn’t changed my behaviour in any way (at least I don’t think it has). Saying that, I’m a father to three screenagers and I don’t let them play violent video games. Just because I don’t personally think the evidence shows there’s a link, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any effect. It’s just science has failed to demonstrate a conclusive cause.
It’s not about putting the blame on the game. At best, playing violent video games is at best a contributory factor to violence. But it shouldn’t be a scapegoat because all individuals have to take responsibility for their actions.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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About drmarkgriffithsProfessor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.
Posted on October 10, 2013, in Addiction, Case Studies, Compulsion, Cyberpsychology, Games, Obsession, Online addictions, Popular Culture, Psychology, Technological addiction, Technology, Video game addiction, Video games and tagged Aaron Alexis, Aggressive video games, Antisocial behaviour, Effects of video games, Prosocial behaviour, video game addiction, Video game violence, Washington Navy Yard Shootings. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.