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Kiwi-led research dispels video game-violence link

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 23 July 2020, 8:38 am

It's the moral panic that reliably emerges every decade or so - concern that aggressive video games breed aggressive, rage-filled teens.

We saw it in the backlash to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, which admittedly gave players unprecedented free reign to roam around beating people up and running them down in cars. Our Chief Censor oversaw the banning of the Manhunt and Manhunt 2 video games in New Zealand due to their "graphic violence and depictions of cruelty".

A flurry of studies into video game violence kicked off in the wake of the Columbine massacre in 1999, after it emerged that the teen killers responsible for the deaths of 13 high school children in Colorado had been big fans of the first-person shooting computer game Doom

It's a game I myself logged many hours on as a teen growing up in the mid-nineties. But did all those frivolous hours blasting demons from Hell with my plasma rifle make me more aggressive?


Researchers have never been able to draw a strong link between aggressive video games and increased aggression in those who play them. Now a major review of the scientific literature on the subject, led by Massey University psychology lecturer Dr Aaron Drummond, gives us a definitive answer in the negative. Their paper was published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Drummond and his colleagues from Australia and the US undertook a meta-analysis drawing on data from 28 long-term outcome studies including a total of  21,000 participants. The studies, which varied in size and quality all looked at the long term impact of violent gameplay on aggression. 

While some poorer quality studies "exaggerated the impact of games on aggression", the better quality studies featuring more people and robust methods of enquiry found "negligible" effects.

"We observe that meta-analytic studies now routinely find that the long-term impacts of violent games on youth aggression are near zero, with larger effects sizes typically associated with methodological quality issues," the researchers concluded.

"In some cases, overreliance on statistical significance in meta-analysis may have masked this poor showing for longitudinal studies. We call on both individual scholars as well as professional guilds such as the American Psychological Association to be more forthcoming about the extremely small observed relationship in longitudinal studies between violent games and youth aggression," they add.

Focus on the real problems

That amounts to a rather pointed request for "experts" to once and for all stop feeding public fears around video games breeding violence. That should also extend to those you are clearly not expert but are opinion leaders in their own right.

"We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace," President Trump said last August, following a wave of mass shootings across the US.

"It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately."

I no longer play video games. But that's not because I've come to detest the violence in them. The shoot 'em up worlds of Counter-Strike and Call of Duty are still my favourite genre. I just can't devote 20 - 30 hours to complete a game anymore.

But according to Pew Research, 43 percent of Americans say they play video games and 72 percent of young men do. With video games becoming more realistic and immersive with new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and the video game industry one of the biggest in the world, scrutiny of the content should be encouraged. 

One thing is now definitively clear - video games do not create violent people. But violent people may well be attracted to violent entertainment, like video games. That's where the real focus needs to be, addressing the underlying issues that lead people to resort to violence. President Trump and others may find that less convenient, but altogether more effective.



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