The link between engaging in graphic video gaming and impulses to inflict real-life violence continues to be a debate of strongly divided opinion.
The American Psychology Association (APA) suggests that playing violent video games like Doom, Wolfenstein 3D or Mortal Kombat indeed have potential to increase a person’s aptitude for aggressive thought, feelings, and behaviour. The researchers emphasised that violent video games were likely more harmful than violent television and movies as they are interactive, engrossing, and demand the player to identify with the aggressor. Research by Psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill suggests that ‘young men who are habitually aggressive are potentially at a heightened vulnerability to the aggression-enhancing consequences of repeated exposure to violent gaming, and that even those without this predisposition are vulnerable to temporarily increased aggressive behaviour resulting from exposure.
Psychologist Dr Anderson expands that ‘violent video games provide a forum for learning and practicing aggressive solutions to conflict situations’, implying that playing violent video games appears to affect aggression through primary aggressive thoughts. This develops into longer lasting, internalised emotional responses as the player learns and practices new aggression-related scripts. This becomes increasingly accessible for use when real-life conflict situations arise. Researchers determine that this link perhaps arises because video games provide players with an interactive process, allowing them to create a closely affiliated identification with the often brutal and unforgiving traits of the main character.
These theories have been exacerbated by real life news stories which indicate that violent attacks of terrorism could be linked back to engagement with graphic gaming on behalf of the perpetrator. For example, the gunman who killed 22 people and injured 24 others at a Walmart in El Paso, in 2019, made a fleeting reference to video game soldiers indicating that he was familiar with video violence. The APA concluded that while there was ‘no single risk factor’ to blame for aggression, violent video games did contribute. Research from the University of New South Wales in 2018, for instance, found that those who frequently indulged in violent video games were less disturbed by violent images generally, creating a phenomenon the researcher coined ‘emotion-induced blindness’.
On the other hand, counter-arguers are equally firm in their stance. Dr Mark Coulson, associate professor of psychology at Middlesex University, acknowledged ‘that exposure to repeated violence may have short-term effects… but the long-term consequences of crime and actual violent behaviour, there is just no evidence linking violent video games with that’. He appears to observe this quite bluntly, stating ‘if you play three hours of Call of Duty you might feel a little bit pumped, but you are not going to go out and mug someone’. In support of this argument, a study by the Oxford Internet Institute last year suggested frustration born by being unable to play a game was more likely to bring out aggressive behaviour than the content of the game itself.
Possibly counter to expectation, although between them, the various studies included in the research reported a range of effects, including a small positive correlation between violence and video-game use, there was no overall conclusion in the rest, with one 2011 study finding a negative correlation.
Despite the conflicting viewpoints, it is important to consider the enormous spectrum of individuals partaking in these games in terms of their psychological and emotional condition while also recognising the agency that individuals have when partaking in such activity, to determine the ‘risk’ involved. Arguably, analysis by the APA demonstrates the viewpoint Laswell’s Hypodermic Needle Model suggests about audiences, that we are passively responding in predictable ways to content we receive – in this case, violent stimulus.
In conclusion, it is important to consider our individual capacities to negotiate how we respond to and interpret such media. The link between playing video games and engaging in acts of violence appears to depend on the individual.