Video Game Violence and Public Policy

David Walsh, Ph.D. National Institute on Media and the Family 2001

Concern about violent video and computer games is based on the assumption that they contribute to aggression and violence among young players. That conclusion was originally based on the extensive body of research about the effects of television violence on children’s behavior. Prominent organizations like the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association have all concluded that the scientific evidence shows a cause-effect relationship between television violence and aggression among the children and youth who watch it. Based on this research, many social scientists have hypothesized that we should expect video games to have an even greater impact for the following four reasons.

1. Children are more likely to imitate the actions of a character with whom they identify. In violent video games the player is often required to take the point of view of the shooter or perpetrator.
2. Video games by their very nature require active participation rather than passive observation.
3. Repetition increases learning. Video games involve a great deal of repetition. If the games are violent, then the effect is a behavioral rehearsal for violent activity.
4. Rewards increase learning, and video games are based on a reward system.

While the research base conducted on video games is small compared to that conducted on television, early results are showing that the concern is indeed warranted. Anderson & Bushman have conducted a meta-analysis of 35 different studies of violent video games (2001). A meta-analysis is a type of study in which researchers analyze the results of other studies to see if there are similar patterns of results; Anderson and Bushman showed that there is a consistent pattern of results in five areas.