Violent Video Games and Violent Behavior

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Moral panics relating to video games have been spiralling out of control for some time now. Grand Theft Auto causes school shootings, Leisure Suit Larry leads to a decline in societies morals, Bully teaches kids to be bullies by rewarding deviant behaviour – these sorts of claims have become so commonplace that game scholars (such as myself) have almost become immune to them. When I come across yet another claim that GTA has inspired some heinous and deplorable act, all I can do is roll my eyes and wonder why newscasters are conducting such lazy reporting (I get similarly angry when they blame mental health without any supporting evidence – a good rant on that topic can be found here).

Today, I came across a transcript of a Fox News broadcast that, once again, was putting the blame on video games (Apparently this story is from February, 2014 but I had never come across it). This time, however, I couldn’t simply roll my eyes and move on to the next news story because it was far too ridiculous (you can see the story here).

The headline reads, “Fox News Confident Dark Souls is the Cause of Most School Shootings and Racism in America” – my interest was immediately peaked. What follows is a transcript of an interaction between several Fox News correspondents that begins with (at best) loose truths and ends with the absurd:

Hasselbeck: So tell us your thoughts on Dark Soul. Should the creators face the death penalty for making this game?

No, I do not think the creators should face the death penalty for making this game. But I do think that news anchors should be required to know the facts before they start reporting to the masses.

You could start with this meta analysis of the influence of violent video games. If you want to take a broader approach, there is also this meta analysis of the general influence of media violence on aggressive behavior. Or how about this more recent article looking at the state of research on violence in digital games? Even those scholars who have concluded that video game play is somehow related to negative outcomes concede that the relationship is minimal and have not linked the use of video games to aggressive or violent behaviors but rather mild changes in attitudes.

You could also take a different approach, and evaluate work that has looked at the effects of video games on outcomes other that violence – for instance social outcomes or sexism.

The conclusions are all the same: media has little to no impact on behavior. Age, gender, socio-economic status - all of these demographic factors are far more influential.


Update: Turns out this article about a Fox news story was a hoax - sadly, it is entirely believable as an actual story that would be aired on their network (for instance, see here). So, the rant shall remain…