Does playing violent video games lead to violent behavior?

Does playing violent video games lead to violent behavior? We see this debate over and over again, especially after any massacre authored by a young male that looks like a deleted scene from some horrible new First Person Shooter, and there’s a nice article from the NY Times that summarizes a lot of recent studies on the issue.

Short answer… probably not. But it’s really hard to separate causation from correlation; do violent people just gravitate to violent games (perhaps gaining a therapeutic release by playing them?), or do the games actually make players more aggressive? In the short term, yes they do:

Lab experiments confirm what any gamer knows in his gut: playing games like “Call of Duty,” “Killzone 3” or “Battlefield 3” stirs the blood. In one recent study, Christopher Barlett, a psychologist at Iowa State University, led a research team that had 47 undergraduates play “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” for 15 minutes. Afterward, the team took various measures of arousal, both physical and psychological. It also tested whether the students would behave more aggressively, by having them dole out hot sauce to a fellow student who, they were told, did not like spicy food but had to swallow the sauce.

Sure enough, compared with a group who had played a nonviolent video game, those who had been engaged in “Mortal Kombat” were more aggressive across the board. They gave their fellow students significantly bigger portions of the hot sauce.

Many similar studies have found the same thing: A dose of violent gaming makes people act a little more rudely than they would otherwise, at least for a few minutes after playing. It is far harder to determine whether cumulative exposure leads to real-world hostility over the long term.

Since Blizzard’s games are mostly fantasy/sci-fi type escapes, without the visceral FPS type violence, they never get mentioned in these sort of debates. That’s not to say that players can’t get heated from playing them, though. Losing a match in Starcraft or getting another terrible roll on a legendary drop can certain spur fury, and the results of that “punish him with hot sauce” experiment might be directly applicable to the behavior of some (most?) people on and other online gaming services.

I’m more curious to see research into the real hidden danger of playing Blizzard games… RSI and arthritis. Sadly, many of us are basically part of the test group for this, with results still pending. (I’m fairly sure most of us will attempt to point one quavering, gnarled finger at Diablo when we’re 72 and can’t make a fist with our mouse-clicking hands.)

Another quote from the article, with the conclusions. A section on page two notes that video game sales have more than doubled since 1996, while violent crime by young men has dropped by half, so if there’s some society-wide impact or effect from playing video games, it’s hard to discern.

“We found that higher rates of violent video game sales related to a decrease in crimes, and especially violent crimes,” said Dr. Ward, whose co-authors were A. Scott Cunningham of Baylor University and Benjamin Engelstätter of the Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim, Germany.

No one knows for sure what these findings mean. It may be that playing video games for hours every day keeps people off the streets who would otherwise be getting into trouble. It could be that the games provide “an outlet” that satisfies violent urges in some players — a theory that many psychologists dismiss but that many players believe.

Or the two trends may be entirely unrelated.

Jokes aside, do you guys feel that playing video games is stress relief or anger management? Most of us use gaming as an escape, and after a hard day it can be awesome to sit down and game for a while. Whether that gaming creates a whole new round of stress is another question.

I bet some interesting studies could be done on the relative merits of accomplishment in different types of games. For instance, you unambiguously “win” a lot of games, including FPS titles, by finishing the final mission, killing the boss, etc. You can try to do it with a better score, with more ammo left, while taking less damage, etc, but those are more like side goals? Compare that to a game like Diablo, in which “winning” by killing the boss isn’t the final goal for most players. In Diablo 3 we’re trying to improve our characters which mostly means better items, and that’s a perpetual goal that you never actually “win.” Thus there’s less of a sense of ultimate accomplishment and triumph, especially with the Auction House an instantly-accessible reminder of just how much better your gear could always be?

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19 thoughts on “Does playing violent video games lead to violent behavior?


  2. Bad communication at least seem to promote aggressive language. Same with no communication. And, it seems, communication with “bad news”.
    Perhaps the same with behavior. Not easy to be a developer these days.

  3. Do violent games make people violent? Unless they have mental issues, no. Do they make you more aggressive? Yes, but what doesn’t make people more aggressive? Simple things like road rage, playing sports may make someone more aggressive. Games are rated mature for a reason…people just blame games along with many other things in the past for causing violence because they are too damn stupid to accept the fact it is their fault for buying M rated content for under aged people. So I guess that means everything that may stir your blood will cause you to be violent like watching moves, listening to music, reading comics, and even the opera supposedly did in the past…interesting logic….

  4. This could explain a lot of what’s going on in the forums with all the hate going around. Play the game for 2 hour and then go berserk on the forums!

    No, seriously.

    Fail experiment imo.

    This article fails to explain what type of non violent game they where playing so I could be wrong, but still.

    I would presume that more competitive or more action based games like mortal combat, battle field or any other violent game, would increase adrenaline and cause arousal. At least more so than typical non violent games would. A fair comparison would be to measure adrenaline levels caused for both a violent game and a non violent game. Such as a intense racing game vs a violent FPS. Then pick the two games with close to identical levels and compare them.

    What all this boils down to is the fact that: “Engaging in stressful competitive activities will have impact on arousal levels momentarily”. The direct link between the actual violence and the behavior is very thin in my opinion. I bet the same result could be achieved by comparing just about anything stressful activity, to a less stressful activity.

    • Two things

      1. Why do you play it if you hate it so much you want to punch someone? Is someone from Blizzard forcing you?

      2. I bet even more ppl want to punch haters in the face after reading community forums with comments like yours. Although I think ppl generally try to avoid any kind of contact with someone that states that they want to punch a dedicated and hard working enthusiasts in the face.

      I get that its a joke. But not a very funny one.

    • Why don’t you haters/whiners just wait until the first Diablo 3 expansion? Many things that make Path of Exile so attractive atm will find its way into Diablo 3 for sure. Just think, for example, of the previously removed Mystic Myriam Jahzia (the woman currently in the act 1 spider cavern). This single NPC can potentially add huge depth to itemization: Enchanting items with extra stats, upgrading normal items to magic/rare, upgrading magic to rare, reroll magic stats – basically everything that just rocks in PoE. Just wait, and don’t act like cry babies all the time!

        • The story will continue, and according to Metzen on the Making of Diablo 3 DVD, we’ll save the soul of Leah.

      • Plus, don’t forget PoE already has those things, and it’s free. Diablo doesn’t, and it costs $60

        • And if you compare the production costs, visual and audio quality of Diablo 3 and PoE, then you’ll probably understand why Blizzard wants some extra cash.

      • A better question.

        Why must I wait until an expansion, which I must pay even more money for, in order to actually have a good game? Why can’t the game actually be good for the original amount of money paid for?

        And I still want them to improve it because I paid money for the game, and I want to actually get my money’s worth. If it wasn’t for that fact, or the game was actually cheap enough to not matter. Then I wouldn’t care and I’d be gone.

  5. video games don’t make people violent at all; it’s the blame of developers, whom don’t listen to the sorrows of the community; i know i’ll play 700 hours of diablo hoping all these hours will be compensated with a my character becoming powerful. not.

  6. Researchers have been trying to find causes for the precipitous and continuing drop in Western world violent crime that started in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Explanations so far include abortion and the lowering of lead pollution. Maybe add the popularization of video gaming to the pile.

  7. As with most psychological studies, this one isn’t very good. Why is the control group people doing nothing? Sure that should be one of the many groups, but how about some other activities like a 1 on 1 basketball game or playing a game of chess. I would be curious to see if “competition” is a factor in making people aggressive.

    Then again I should probably just keep my mouth shut before they start banning sports.

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