A new study published by the Royal Society that examined more than 1000 teenagers living in the UK and their carers has concluded that, despite prevalent concerns among parents, policy-makers, and people who are presumably terrified by anything more modern than a radio the size of a closet, there is no evidence of a connection between violent video game-play and aggressive behavior in the real world.
We're all gamers now
The report begins by noting that nearly all "young people" in the developed world play video games, and that "views concerning the effects of gaming on young people vary widely as a function of demographics and personal experiences with games." Some people, in other words, believe that gaming has social and cognitive benefits, while others think that violent games are a causative factor in violent behavior.
"In general, most organizations' initial guidance was framed by the precautionary principle - an approach to mitigating societal harm that puts protections in place when there is a plausible risk. Policy-makers guided by this mindset have discretion to take measures in cases where scientific knowledge about something new is lacking," the report states.
"In line with this principle, some organizations like the American Psychological Association err on the side of caution and warn to limit youngsters’ time spent playing video games. Such steps are far from universal as other organizations conducting their reviews of the science, such as the Australian and Swedish government reports, and the APA's own Media Psychology and Technology Division, have concluded there is no actionable evidence that aggressive behavior results from youth gaming."
The report also notes that, as our understanding of the impact of media on behavior has grown, some agencies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have "softened" their position on video games, and that in 2011 the Supreme Court of the United States "judged that there is insufficient evidence that games cause harm to uphold laws restricting the sale of violent games to minors."
The study calls into question some previous research that has postulated a relationship between violent games and aggressive behavior, stating that the "main theoretical framework" supporting them is the General Aggression Model [GAM], which in some cases has found a "consistent, though modest" connection. The authors believe that much of that research is flawed or incomplete, however, because it fails to take into account other relevant indicated factors: Aggressive people are more easily drawn to violent video games, for example, and aggressive responses may not be the result of the games themselves but because "they frustrate the basic psychological need for competence," which is academic-ese for "you're mad because you suck."
The mechanics of the research are filled with technical lingo, like "there is reason to think that outstanding methodological challenges might be inflating this metanalytic estimate," or "r = 0.01 (95% CI = −0.08 to 0.10), did not overlap with, and was clearly inferior to, r = 0.21 (95% CI = 0.20–0.22)" if you're really into that sort of thing. More clarity can be found in the Discussion section of the report, which states that "the results derived from our hypothesis testing did not support the position that violent gaming relates to aggressive behavior."
Does not apply to trolls
There are caveats, of course, including that the study relied on self-reported data, and that its "general inferences" drawn from the population as a whole might overlook specific demographics that could be more or less influenced by gaming. The authors also acknowledge that despite the growing body of evidence (including their own) that fails to find a connection between violent games and aggressive behavior, large swaths of "parents, pundits, and policy-makers" will remain unconvinced.
"We argue that this study speaks to the key question of whether adolescents’ violent video game play has a measurable effect on real-world aggressive behavior. On the basis of our evidence, the answer is no," the report states.
"This is not to say that some mechanics and situations in gaming do not foment angry feelings or reactions in players such as feelings of incompetence, trash talking, or competition. These topics provide promising avenues for inquiry and have direct implications for literature focused on antisocial behaviors such as bullying, trolling, and griefing. Instead, we argue that mere exposure to, and enactment of, putatively violent virtual acts in gaming contexts in aggregate is unlikely, on its own, to bear positively on perceivable differences in adolescents' aggression in real-world settings."
While its frustrating we're still having this conversation in 2019, every scientific study is another step towards a time when you won't have to explain to your dentist, that yes you play games, and no they don't make people crazy. In your face Dr. Maguire. In your perfectly veneered face.
Now that we've tackled that thorny subject, why not check out our pick of the best upcoming Switch games (opens in new tab) for 2019 and beyond?