Violence and video games

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Video Game violence has become more prominent, and popular series like the Grand Theft Auto series from Rockstar are some of the leaders in this rise in popularity

Video games are electronically simulated images and experiences that are manipulated by a player. Players' hands-on interaction with the program can serve as entertainment or education depending on the game. Violent video games are on the rise, with more than half of the 50 top-selling video games of 2018 containing violent images or actions [1]. This increase has brought up questions about how the explicit depictions of guns, blood, and brutality affect the real-life behavior of the player. Games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Mortal Kombat are often faced with backlash for exposing children and young adults to crime, death, and gore.

History of Violent Video Games

The first arcade video game was created in 1971 and video games have become increasingly more violent ever since. The first lifelike violent video game was Mortal Kombat, created in 1993. The video game had been at the center of major controversies regarding the violence depicted including nonstop beheadings, gory and blood. The increase in violence in video games had lead to the Senate conducting hearings on video game violence and their effects on society which began in 1992[2]. The hearings led to a video game rating system that is still in place today, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB)[2].

From different characters to new and interesting settings, the dynamics of these games have reached unforeseeable heights. Video games are becoming more realistic and life-like, posing an ethical dilemma for creators and players that may adapt behavior in the real world to match their play as the line between virtual reality and real life become more blurred.

Deducting a Correlation Between Violent Behavior and Violent Video Games

There have been many instances in which someone who has spent a significant amount of time playing video games that are considered violent exhibits violent behavior in the real world, sometimes even committing crimes. Their behavior is thought to be linked to their participation in the playing of those games. Some studies have shown that video gamers who play games that showcase unethical behavior tend to portray that in real life through attributes of their character, one major attribute being aggression. Studies are still being carried out in order to examine any correlations, or lack thereof, between violent video games and violent video game players. Research is being conducted in search of evidence of correlations to confirm that violent games lead to corrupt behavior. In essence, this is due to a desensitization of violence. Given this desensitization, the individual does not see violence as being as bad as someone who does not play violent video games. There has been both data supporting the connection and data denouncing it. Neither hypothesis boasts enough correlative data to be supported as a viable conclusion.

An individual player's age, sex, and the length of playing time exposure are all considered when claiming that unethical behavior in video games drives violence in the real world. According to US demographics of video game players, as of 2016 more than half of the video gamer population is under 18, 59% of those who play on a regular basis are men, and the average player has been playing for 13 years[3]. Violence and aggression are most often portrayed by male adolescents. This isn’t to say that patterns supporting the correlation aren’t present in women’s and adult behavior, but many studies are done using video game players under the age of 18 for sampling and result in a stronger correlation for boys.

As games become more and more realistic, it can be hard to separate oneself from a game world especially if the player is young and impressionable. However, there are cases of when adults also fall victim to following the path of violent video games. For example, an Oregon man on LSD believed that he was playing the game "Grand Theft Auto" when in reality, he had stolen a car and been arrested in the real world. [4]

Studies Regarding Video Games and Violence

The controversy surrounding violence and video games became most prevalent in the early 2000s. At that time, many studies were being conducted and connections were being made between the video games and unethical thoughts, attitudes, and actions. It appears as though the studies done in more recent years (roughly 2014-present day) are mostly in contrast to the earlier studies and deny that there is any real significant connection between exposure to violent games and practiced violent behavior.

Oxford Internet Institute Study

A study done by researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute and published in the Royal Society Open Science had a sampling comprised of British 14 and 15-year-olds.[5] This study used a wide array of tests to gather objective and subjective data on whether there is a link between video games and violence. This test included 2,008 participants and the tests showed that there is no evident link between video games and violence showed among the impressionable teenagers. On top of this, it was also tested that the teenagers were given some violent video games well above their age on the ESRP rating to further justify that absence of a link between violent games and actual violence.

Entertainment Software Association

1,102 children between ages 12 and 17 were given a survey which indicated that 50% of the boys who were surveyed prefer games with Mature (M) and Adult-Only (AO) ratings which are more likely to showcase violence. This study did not necessarily show a link between video game violence and real violence but instead showcased that younger audiences are more drawn to violent video games.

Iowa State University Study

In an Iowa State University study, children ranging from 5 years old to 12 years old were said to have not shown more aggression or less empathy after a short period of time playing violent video games. However, those with long term exposure did show associations with lower pre-existing empathy.

Effects of Video Games Study

A study done in 2015 on the impact that violent video games have on the behavior of young adult gamers with autism showed no record of increased aggression, despite the fact that an earlier article from 2012 suggested that video game players with autism and other mental illnesses were more inclined to experience negative video game effects. The discrepancies among the two studies could be caused by a person's nature in that everybody is unique or in that one group was more impressionable than the other. Also, autism and other mental illnesses are not as well understood as what is considered to be a normal human brain, which means that other factors could have caused the negative game effects such as an image that triggered or upset the mentally ill players.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Study

A 2016 study examined whether or not playing video games with violent content temporarily increased aggressive inclinations and results showed that the aggression of players was not influenced by the games they played. This study has a similar result to the Oxford study which found that there is no direct relationship between violent video games and actual violence. This test, however, tested more for the short term mental effects of video games, but still found no link to increased aggression or violence.

Behavioral Study

Another study conducted in 2016 was done to identify any connections between video games that are said to be violent and sexist—with Grand Theft Auto as an example—and lack of empathy and unethical actions or attitudes of men toward women. No direct effects were found, but apparently, there was evidence supporting that there were some casual effects. The Grand Theft Auto series is often blamed for many violent actions or other types of crime due to the very realistic representation of the content within the game and the fact that the players play the role of a criminal in the games. This study, however, directly tested this game and found once again that there was no link between video game violence and actual violent thoughts or behavior among players.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics is one of the most talked about topics when video games and violence are in the same conversation. Many people believe that putting violence in video games shows its players that it’s okay to be violent in real life. Based on Shannon Vallor’s “Social networking technology and the virtues” it is the most logical response to believe that being exposed to violence in video games every day can affect one's virtual ethics. In her article, Vallor explains that technology does not only affect how people think but also their actions. Although there are studies that demonstrate that there is no correlation between signs of aggression and violent video games, Vallor shares the belief of many that violent video games can encourage and facilitate violent behavior in real life.

Children & Violence in Video Games

Violence in video games can have a more profound impact on children as they are impressionable and still learning right from wrong. They imitate things that they experience on TV, in movies, and in video games. There are many research studies that show a link between playing violent video games and exhibiting physical aggressive behavior.[6] Games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty promote killing, drug use, and stealing. Children play these video games and assume that that behavior is acceptable in real life because they aren't aware of the real-life consequences. [7] Long-term exposure to violent video games may result in desensitization in terms of a lack of empathy. [6]

Correlation between Video Games and Shootings

The violence and gore seen in video games have been investigated when studying the motivations behind shooters. Particularly in the United States, the amount of mass shootings has been increasingly large and consistent every year. Controversially, some researchers believe that the violence seen in video games is behind the motivations of mass shooters. Guns are a technology in the "power stage" in the United States meaning that they are plentiful and easy to access without regulation. [8] As a counter-argument, politicians believe the problem centered around mass shooting lies within video games after a few cases were proven to be backed by this claim including a boy in Minnesota following a game script when murdering six people. [9] Video game creators argue that each game has a rating, "E for Everyone" and "M for Mature" for example, that warns players about violent content that could occur in a game.


With the increase in the violent nature and disturbing subjects covered in video games, it has been discussed to increase censorship of these games, and block some games from being available at all. The discussion on this proposition has sparked a lot of controversy among those in the video game community. Those that are proponents of increased censorship typically highlight the psychological studies that have displayed the negative impact that violent video games have on children, and although there are ratings assigned to video games, this does little in blocking minors from obtaining the video game they desire. Those, on the contrary, opposing censorship, can point to the research that shows that the positive of teamwork and communication through video games, even the violent ones, provide benefits that outweigh the negative psychological effects. Additionally, those opposing censorship also point to the idea that this minor problem is not the solution to the greater problem of gun violence affecting not just the United States but the world [10].

The debate between censorship that violence in video games has sparked is an interesting ethical dilemma. It is important for many to keep freedom of speech and content principles in practice, and that the public should be allowed to consume the art that video game developers are putting out for consumption. Beginning to moderate video games starts an interesting spiral into what other forms of media and art should be censored beyond just video games. On the contrary, video games are getting more violent and disturbing day by day, and to many with the current culture of gun violence and the rise of mass shootings, makes people feel that our society should be doing everything it can to help prevent future heinous acts from occurring.

See Also


  1. “Do Violent Video Games Contribute to Youth Violence?” Do Violent Video Games Contribute to Youth Violence?, 9 July 2018,
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hsu, Tiffany. “When Mortal Kombat Came Under Congressional Scrutiny.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Mar. 2018,
  3. “2018 Video Game Industry Statistics, Trends & Data - The Ultimate List.”, 27 Apr. 2019,
  4. Man on LSD Caught After Stolen Car Chase Said He Thought He Was Playing 'GTA',
  5. "New Study Shows That There Is No Link Between Violent Video Games And Aggression In Teenagers", Ollie Barber, 20 Mar. 2019,
  6. 6.0 6.1 Funk, J., Buchman, D., Jenks, J., & Bechtoldt, H. 2003. Playing violent video games, desensitization, and moral evaluation in children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.
  7. Wheeler, R. 2017. Video Game Violence Linked to Children. Hastac.
  8. Brey, Phillip. "Anticipating Ethical Issues in emerging IT". 24 May 2012. Springer.
  9. De, Subrata. "School shooter followed video game-like script". NBC News.
  10. Ferenstein, Gregory. “Violent Video Games Do Cause Some Violence, But Censorship Won't Help.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 26 Apr. 2013,