Many perennial issues concern the effects of various media on children, especially concerning violence and gender issues. Video games are the latest in a long list of targets which began with novels, comics, and radio dramas and continued through television, rock and roll music, magazines, and movies. Researchers are always very concerned with anything which affects children since they are the future citizens and leaders of our world.
In today’s world, such issues have become front-page news after numerous incidents of violence in schools and universities. The more recent incidents include: Marc Lepine killed 14 women and injured more at École Polytechnique in Montreal; another incident involved deaths at Dawson College in Montreal years later; Columbine High School suffered numerous deaths at the hands of two teenage students and, more recently, attacks at northeastern schools followed. In fact, this kind of violence seems to have accelerated, possibly influenced by media coverage.
In many incidents, the youthful perpetrators were avid players of violent video games. Some people are fast to jump to the conclusion that the violence in video games, therefore, incites violent behavior in children. However, just as many believe that this is a classic chicken-egg problem. Violent gameplay may be merely a symptom of problem youths.
Identification of the Problem
Video games development has become quite sophisticated and the images are often realistic, so this has become a focus for research, especially since it is rumored that the military uses games like these to train troops. Games are now subject to the rating for violence and adult content and their sales are restricted if the ratings apply. In fact, a search on video games and violence and children elicited 9746 results even when limited to articles published 2000 or later.
Clearly, the question of whether or not playing violent video games increases aggression in children and youth is a hot topic. Currently, there is also a focus on long-term effects for a lot of research. However, this would be more difficult to prove. This investigation concerns itself with short-term effects and possible long-term effects of violent video gameplay in children and youth of both genders. Current documented research varies from the faux-research of media coverage to serious studies by accredited researchers.
However, the results are less than clear. Because one cannot ethically conduct research that might injure the control groups with human subjects, especially children, the evidence gathered must depend upon surveys and case studies. Therefore, there really is no control population against which to match results. Other methods must be used and interpreted very carefully.
The Thesis Question
Do prolonged violent video game play increase aggression and violent behavior in children and youth and does this have a negative effect on violent behavior and aggression in adulthood?
Studies of media violence and its effects upon children and youth date back to the 1950s when violence in movies and cartoons was studied. Anderson and Bushman (2001) studied the literature carefully and found considerable evidence that violence in television and movies increases aggression in adults. (Bushman and Huesman 2001) (Huesman et al 2000) However, they also identified other possible causes which could coincidentally contribute to this phenomenon, and which were probably present in the cases studied. Finally, the long-term effects do not have a proven causal relationship.
In order to research this issue, the literature was carefully reviewed using the search strings “video games violence” and violent games children” and several other combinations until it was no longer possible to obtain relevant results in the first ten pages. Among the results found, two were reviews of other literature, which included numerous relevant results and analysis of these. These were carefully examined and used with some other articles to show where the current research lies, and then the methodology of those analyses in the two major literature analyses was studied to ascertain if the results obtained were reliably assessed. They were, especially those where the original data was reassessed using the more useful z-test methods.
Most of the studies researching for this report showed some kind of connection between violent video game play and aggression and violence in adulthood, but few of these studies posed enough relevant information to justify any concrete claim for a causal relationship. (Weber et al 2006) Weber et al did however state that ” There is no doubt, violent video games are among the most popular entertainment products for teens and adolescents, especially for boys.” (cf. Vorderer, Bryant, Pieper, & Weber, 2006)
Anderson and Bushman (2001) reviewed a considerably large sample of the literature of recent years (since 1990) and found empirical evidence that there is a relationship between violent video gameplay as children or adolescents is connected to aggression and violence in adulthood. However, we have the same chicken-egg problem as before. Weber et al’s 2006 study cited a whole range of earlier studies as having shown a possible causal relationship.
“Multiple theories have been developed to explain how exposure to violence in media—and video games in particular—could cause both short- and long-term increases in human aggression and violence. (for reviews, see Anderson, 2003; Anderson et al., 2003; Anderson&Bushman, 2002a; Anderson et al., 2004; Carnagey & Anderson, 2003; Dill & Dill, 1998; Griffiths, 1999; Weber, Ritterfeld, & Kostygina, 2006).”
They cite the creation of scripts or “schema” as the responsible factor in the long-term development of aggression in male game players. Female game players were not involved, since they seldom indulge in extensive violent gameplay. Anderson et al included two significant charts to explain the process. These charts show the flow chart of influence.
So with these explanations in mind, Anderson and Bushman analyzed a large body of the literature up to 2000 and looked especially closely at the processes used. Then they gathered all the information from the sources they had found to be relevant and filled in with data obtained from the original researchers, then re-analyzed the research results using Fisher’s z-test, because they believed that the Z-test would present more accurate results and allow for more useful conclusions to be drawn. Their results show us a clear picture of the numbers involved. The researchers compensated for the possibly previously flawed analysis of the reviewed research studies.
We can also see that the methods used accounted for variability and still showed sufficient numbers to disprove the random effects. They even divided their tests into experimental and non-experimental and the results were nearly the same. Prosocial behavior or “helping” decreased with exposure to violent video games in both groups. Anderson and Bushman modeled the random effects for aggressive behavior and aggressive cognition also, and their conclusions were that there is definitely a causal effect between aggression and heightened aggressive behavior in children, adolescents, and young adults following violent video gameplay for both males and females.
From these results, they concluded that it is probable that there is a long-term effect on individuals who indulge in prolonged long-term play with violent video games. However, as mentioned by Weber in the analysis of studies involving brain activity, there is still only a short-term relationship established, not a causal relationship for the long term. This researcher found no studies involving behavior change after long-term exposure was discontinued on an equally long-term basis. Therefore, only one direction can be said to be proven: i.e. long-term exposure to violent video games causes an increase in aggressive and violent behavior in the short term. Since the exposure to these games continued after the study was concluded, the long-term effects cannot actually be proven.
It is interesting to note that several articles mentioned the game America’s Army which is very technologically advanced and was funded to the tune of $4 million annually, including yearly upgrades, by the U.S. Army as a recruitment tool. It is an online game that is free to all players, and it mirrors possible military careers. They then began to market the combat simulator in 2004. The Marines seem to have ties to Close Combat and First to Flight, and the Air Force is planning its own future foray into the video game market. One might conclude that these services are seeking certain personality traits in prospective soldiers and that they are targeting American youth. However, does this speak ill or well of those who are attracted? A case could be made for either side. (Lugo 2006)
One study looked at rewards and punishment in connection with violence in video games and used non-violent games as a control. (Carnegie and Anderson 2005) This study used multiple ANOVA z-testing analyses and showed that while violent or aggressive thought increased after any violent gameplay, aggressive behavior was decreased following games that punished the violence. It was disappointing that they did not include gameplay that rewarded avoidance of violence but did not punish violence. However, perhaps there are no such games.
One thing which seemed to be missing from all of the literature was a socio-anthropological basis for the violent and aggressive behavior in males, which was positively supported. It is thought by some current researchers that testosterone levels in males are in opposition to modern lifestyles and, therefore, need a societal outlet and that sports seem to fulfill this need well. However, research, such as that of James Dabbs at Georgia State University, (Scientific American On-Line, 2007) is just as disputable as the research on violent games and aggression in children. The relationship can be proven, but we have another chicken-egg problem, One might think that video games would also have a positive effect, possibly cathartic, but with physical activity at a minimum, the effects might be quite minimal.
It seems that with any testing involving psychological reactions, especially over a longer-term, the z-test is the only really useful tool. The t-test is usually inadequate based upon the need for multiple tests and even more comparisons for analysis. Often there is no real control, as that would involve unethically depriving or damaging test subjects. It is also noted that most research in this area is still based upon surveys and not on experimental conditions. It is a really difficult subject since there are also other variables in a family situation, background, and even physiological differences which could account for the differences found.
The research questions must be carefully constructed so that all variables can be tested. When dealing with people and psychology, there are simply no absolutes to be found. We can only make our best-educated guess as to the meaning of results that are based upon sound testing theory and work from there. The testing of such subjects suffers from the impossibility of covering all peripheral factors and from the proven fact that other factors, such as divorce or abuse, may cause the same type of behavior to increase.
In the studies reviewed here, short-term effects from violent video gameplay, especially prolonged play, were definitely demonstrated by the research. Aggressive thought and behavior increase after such play for both males and females. However, males play more and play longer than females generally, so long-term effects if caused by violent video gameplay, would be less or missing in females. There would simply not be a large enough sample for definitive proof of this effect in females. The long-term effects in thinking and behavior are also observable, but since violent video game play continues past the testing time, no long-term causal effects can be proven.
Even after reanalyzing the relevant data from the best studies, only the short-term effects could be proven. Causal relationships could be inferred, but also not proven, since the data did not contain proof of any long-term effects. However, using the Z-test did allow the researchers to definitely support the short-term effects of playing violent video games on a prolonged exposure basis, as the analysis eliminated the percentage rate for error.
Fromme, Johannes, 2008, Computer Games as a Part of Children’s Culture, the international journal of computer game research volume 3, issue 1. Web.
This research covers all the aspect of game play as a component of children’s culture. This study is the only one found to have defined children’s culture separately. The researcher looks at both the positive and negative affects of game play.
Funk, J., Buchman, D., Jenks, J., & Bechtoldt, H. (2002). An evidence-based approach to examining the impact of playing violent video and computer games. Simile, 2(4), N.PAG.
This study found relationships between violent game play and aggression in children, but it brought up many more questions for further research than answers. It did find that a body of research with empirical results is needed for policy setting, but did not define exactly what policies, except for rating systems.
Anderson, C., & Bushman, B. (2001). Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature. Psychological Science, 12(5), 353.
This study reviewed the literature up to 2000 on video game play and violence in children and youth. It covered the reasons for possible effects and the research which investigated them. Then the researchers gathered together and sifted the available research, which was considerable to narrow it to 35 relevant research reports of 54 independent samples of 4262 individual participants. Of these, all data possible was collected, even going to the original researchers where published data was lacking and it was all re-analyzed using the modified Fisher Z-test method. The researchers found definite negative connections between prolonged violent video game play and aggressive thought and behavior in children and adolescents, and extrapolated the date to suggest long term effects.
Weber, R., Ritterfeld, U., & Mathiak, K. (2006). Does Playing Violent Video Games Induce Aggression? Empirical Evidence of a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Media Psychology, 8(1), 39-60. Web.
Weber et al analyzed the research up to 2006, including a great deal about Anderson and Bushman et al. This study pays a great deal of attention to research concerning the physiological effects of prolonged violent video game play. Data was analyzed using multiple ANOVA z-test analysis. The researchers were quite critical of the studies they reviewed, both positively and negatively, and the analysis of the body of literature was found to show a definite connection between prolonged violent video game play and aggressive thoughts and behavior in the short term. The researchers were critical of any suggestion that this proved long term effects, though they did say the results warranted careful attention.
Lugo, W. (2006). Violent Video Games Recruit American Youth. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 15(1), 11-14.
This article discusses the use of free violent video games being used to recruit youth to the U.S. military. It provides proof that this is being done and postulates reasons why and the eventual effects on society of this kind of government marketing.
Carnagey, N., & Anderson, C. (2005). The Effects of Reward and Punishment in Violent Video Games on Aggressive Affect, Cognition, and Behavior. Psychological Science, 16(11), 882-889. Web.
Scientific American On Line, 2007, Strange but Treu: Testosterone Alone Does not Cause Violence. Web.
This is an article in Scientific American that explores hormones and the brain and the physiological and psychosocial behavior of people. It cites several studies, but does not cover their methodology, so their relevance cannot be shown.