To access extended pro and con arguments, sources, and discussion questions about whether violent video games contribute to youth violence, go to ProCon.org.
Around 73% of American kids age 2-17 played video games in 2019, a 6% increase over 2018. Video games accounted for 17% of kids’ entertainment time and 11% of their entertainment spending. The global video game industry was worth contributing $159.3 billion in 2020, a 9.3% increase of 9.3% from 2019.
The debate over violent video games can be traced back to the 1976 release of the game Death Race. The object of the game was to run over screaming “gremlins” with a car, at which point they would turn into tombstones. Controversy erupted because the “gremlins” resembled stick-figure humans, and it was reported that the working title of the game was Pedestrian. After protestors dragged Death Race machines out of arcades and burned them in parking lots, production of the game ceased.
In 1993, public outcry following the release of violent video games Mortal Kombat and Night Trap prompted Congress to hold hearings on regulating the sale of video games. During the hearings, California Attorney General Dan Lungren testified that violent video games have “a desensitizing impact on young, impressionable minds.” Threatened with the creation of a federal regulatory commission, the video game industry voluntarily established the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) on Sep. 1, 1994 to create a ratings system. Based on the video game’s content, the ESRB assigns one of the following ratings: “Early Childhood,” “Everyone,” “Everyone 10+,” “Teen,” “Mature,” “Adults Only,” or “Rating Pending” (only for use in advertising for games not yet rated). In a Pew Research Center 2008 survey, 50% of boys and 14% of girls aged 12-17 listed a game with a “Mature” or “Adults Only” rating in their current top three favorite games.
An Aug. 2015 report from the American Psychological Association determined that playing violent video games is linked to increased aggression, but it did not find sufficient evidence of a link between the games and increased violence. The organization reaffirmed this position in 2020: “There is insufficient scientific evidence to support a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior… [T]he new task force report reaffirms that there is a small, reliable association between violent video game use and aggressive outcomes, such as yelling and pushing. However, these research findings are difficult to extend to more violent outcomes.”
- Playing violent video games causes more aggression, bullying, and fighting.
- Simulating violence such as shooting guns and hand-to-hand combat in video games can cause real-life violent behavior.
- Many perpetrators of mass shootings played violent video games.
- Violent video games desensitize players to real-life violence.
- By inhabiting violent characters in video games, children are more likely to imitate the behaviors of those characters and have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy.
- Exposure to violent video games is linked to lower empathy and decreased kindness.
- Video games that portray violence against women lead to more harmful attitudes and sexually violent actions towards women.
- Violent video games reinforce fighting as a means of dealing with conflict by rewarding the use of violent action with increased life force, more weapons, moving on to higher levels, and more.
- The US military uses violent video games to train soldiers to kill.
- Studies have shown violent video games may cause aggression, not violence. Further, any competitive video game or activity may cause aggression.
- Violent video games are a convenient scapegoat for those who would rather not deal with the actual causes of violence in the US.
- Simple statistics do not support the claim that violent video games cause mass shootings or other violence.
- As sales of violent video games have significantly increased, violent juvenile crime rates have significantly decreased.
- Studies have shown that violent video games can have a positive effect on kindness, civic engagement, and prosocial behaviors.
- Many risk factors are associated with youth violence, but video games are not among them.
- Violent video game players know the difference between virtual violence in the context of a game and appropriate behavior in the real world.
- Violent video games provide opportunities for children to explore consequences of violent actions, develop their moral compasses and release their stress and anger (catharsis) in the game, leading to less real world aggression.
- Studies claiming a causal link between video game violence and real life violence are flawed.
This article was published on June 8, 2021, at Britannica’s ProCon.org, a nonpartisan issue-information source.