In view of Recently shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, policy makers have emphasized violent video games as a possible cause of gun violence. President Donald Trump, for example, is scheduled to meet with representatives of the video game industry to discuss the issue with him. However, the picture in educational literature is completely different. To prove remotely that violent video games lead to school shootings, state of the art in violent video game research shows that no link between these things can be made with confidence.
This was not always the case. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it seemed certain that playing violent video games caused violent behavior between both children and adults. A series of historical studies showed a clear correlation over several thousand individuals: the more someone plays a violent video game, the more likely they are to display antisocial behavior, and the more they commit acts of violence.
However, academics knew that simply looking at correlations was not enough to prove a causal link between video games and violence. To do this, controlled experimental research was necessary. Early experiments actually suggested that violence in video games was caused by violent behavior.
The amount of aggressive thoughts and behaviors increased among people exposed to violent video games in a laboratory setting, in contrast to those who played nonviolent games instead. These effects boosted the popularity of an influential theory: people are more likely to take violent actions temporarily than play violent games. Over time, this effect will prevail, making players permanently more violent.
In recent years, however, a growing number of academics have expressed concern about the validity of this perspective. Correlations that confidently declared that gaming led to violent behavior were likely shown to be an innate by-product of factors such as family violence.
Follow-up studies attempted to look at correlations in a more rigorous fashion, which found an association between violent video game play and violence that was close to zero percent. Academics said that violent video game use had increased dramatically in recent years, but youth violence had not increased at a similar rate – in fact, it had declined. Allegations of publication bias abound in academic literature.
Most critically, well-known laboratory experiments found serious flaws that would conclusively demonstrate that violent video game playing led to violent behavior. This study rests on the idea that one group of people will be given a violent game, while the other will be given a non-violent game. After the game, factors such as aggressive thoughts will be measured, allowing researchers to see how violence in sports viewed people more granularly than the correlations that occur in society.
Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the games used in these experiments vary dramatically. In general, violent games that researchers used were significantly more difficult and complex than non-violent games. Thus, aggression increases in those who played violent games may not occur at all due to violent content – this could only be because these games were hopelessly difficult.
Academics attempted to re-run these experiments and replicate their results. When the experiments were concluded, they returned ‘null’ results, indicating that no relationship between violent material and violent behavior could be confidently found. More researchers came forward to argue that these null results always existed – but were suppressed by a field that focused on the existence of a link between violent behavior and violent games.
My own research is long from this point of view. I have run video game experiments on over 4,000 participants, where they were tasked with playing first-person shooters, run-and-gun games, role-playing games, and violent driving games. Experiments are tested if the violent content of video games and the priming of aggressive thoughts in adults is most strongly correlated. Apart from all these experiments I have not found any evidence that such a link exists.
This is the state of the art in violent video game research. It is a research community that is at war with itself. A group of academics are firm on the position that currently violent video games are a legitimate source of threat to modern society. Another group of academics make compelling arguments about why there is strong evidence that this is so.
This group challenges the very validity of research methods that their adversaries rely on. He claims that the principle of video game violence is built on rotten foundations. There is currently no clear winner in this competition for the future of video games. Both approaches are well represented in the academic literature. If you copy a relevant journal (eg) Computer in human practice) And jerk through some of the previous issues, you will almost certainly find researchers supporting both, fundamentally opposed, perspectives. This degree of uncertainty and lack of consensus is extraordinary. This is not ideal in most areas of scientific research.
What does this mean for policy makers? In short, the field of research is in tumors. It is currently unclear whether violent video games play any role in increasing gun violence. There is currently no evidence in the literature that can link anyone to deliberately playing violent video games and school shootings. Whoever does so, will certainly overcome his case. Policy makers should keep this in mind when making decisions.