Playing violent video games doesn’t make you a bad person

It’s strange that people are still looking at this sort of thing because I thought it was fairly clear that playing violent video games doesn’t make you a violent person. I’m not aware of there being any sustained rise in violent behaviour that can be linked to video games, in fact I think there’s been a decrease in violence over the period video games have become popular. When I think of high-crime areas and the people who live there, they don’t seem to be the ones that play video games. It seems like it’s just a knee-jerk response to seeing violence in video games to blame them for societies ills. In any case a study has been published that shows that violent video games don’t diminish prosocial behaviour or, more simply, you aren’t less likely to help someone after playing a violent game.

I can’t really assess it from a psychological point of view but there were a few things I noticed that I found interesting and/or odd. For example they found no statistically significant difference between people prosocial behaviour in people that played violent or non-violent video games. They tested this by seeing who helped pick up “accidentally” dropped pens after playing the games. The stats are important. There is no difference. What was amusing though is if you look at the actual number of people who helped pick up the pens. In every case it is the violent video game that has the most helpers!

There were some strange bits with regards to their timing. For most of their experiments they had people play the game for just 20 minutes. It seems like a long time but it can take longer than that to get into some games. Certain games move slowly but build up their intensity. I guess it’s not practical to play games for an hour or so but that’s how you would get into the game’s mindset. I’d also think that the mindset is important yet that seems to have been left off. I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto but they used the zombie mode of Call of Duty: Black Ops. While it might have violence it’s also completely detached. You need to build an attachment to your character or what you’re trying to achieve to really get into a game.

Perhaps it might be better to use the same game in a violent or non-violent way. For example, Dishonored is an amazing stealth game. You can play through with some graphic kill scenes as an assassin or you can complete any mission without killing a single character, directly or indirectly. Of course that takes skill, but it might give a better idea of how playing violently or not will affect a person. I’m sure one could build an experiment around that using a lan as a source of subjects. The people there will be able to play a game really well and will get into it. The violence level is really all that changes because the visuals and mechanics are otherwise identical.

Experiment 2 in the paper seemed a bit pointless. It was performed because:

The filler questionnaires in Experiment 1 took anywhere between five and ten minutes, and past literature has shown that filler tasks can nullify the violent video game effect, though it could also be argued that filler tasks remove blatant demand characteristics in violent video game studies.

I read that and wondered, “If five to ten minutes of filler is enough the nullify the effect, how much of a contribution to violence can video games possibly have?” One can say it’s plausible that video game violence could lead to real violence but to say video game violence leads to real violence unless there’s a ten minute delay sounds odd. That’s getting out the house and driving to the scene of the crime. The effect would be gone by then.

I suppose it’s good that this work is being done, particularly since I’m doubtful it’s going to find a particularly strong connection. I am rather biased though. I’ve been playing these video games since I was a kid and so have many non-violent people I know. I have to wonder if this perhaps more an age thing.

Maybe older people are seeing the games, which they didn’t experience and just declaring that they’re harmful. I’m not aware of the same sort of study of violence in movies or books (where you can get right into a killer’s thought). Actually, they made Dexter, a book with a serial killer protagonist, into a TV series! The criticisms there are interesting. Sport might actually be a better phenomenon to study as it forms a group-mentality which fairly often leads to violence, the most notable recent event being the decapitation of a football referee by spectators.

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One thought on “Playing violent video games doesn’t make you a bad person

  1. Pingback: Video Game Violence makes you bad? | Stone's Blog

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