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Opinions are divided on whether violent video games make teenagers and young adults more aggressive. Research suggest that games themselves do not make people more violent but still might be associated with other risk factors that lead to aggression.

As computer and video games become more and more popular among younger adults and teenagers, the debates on their potentially harmful psychological impact can be heard more often. Concerned parents routinely blame violent computer games for any deviations in the behavior of their kids. Many pedagogues and academics share this opinion and express similar concerns. The connection between games and real life, however, is not so straightforward, and most of the opinions are simply too difficult to substantiate by any hard evidences.

Video games are indeed very popular among teenagers and younger adults. With the apparent increase of teen violence in the news, some are questioning whether or not these games play a role in teens adopting the aggressive and violent behavior.

The debate has been going on for almost 20 years, but some of the latest research suggests that the hype is completely overstated.

On the other hand, some researchers still stand firm that the games could affect the psyche of teenagers and cause them to use violence when they would not otherwise.

The intensity of the debates surrounding the games is reflected in the fact that the state of California wanted to prohibit all minors under the age of 18 to purchase violent video games, the proposal denied by the Supreme Court.

Knowing the Difference in Real Life

There is a need, however, to clearly separate opinions and facts. While the technology available today allows people to see news more easily, and it appears from the news that teen violence is increasing, the reality is simply different. In fact, over the last several years, teen violence has declined and it continues to decline. At the same time, the number of people playing video games and the frequency of them playing these games are both increasing rather significantly.

Many researchers reasonably argue that teenagers are able to distinguish between the virtual world and real life. This means that a teenager is not going to take the experience of a first-person shooter game and actually start shooting on the streets of the real world. They further state that the interactivity helps to make the games even less harmful.

Video Games and Violent Behavior Precursors

While most researchers agree that video games do not cause teens to become violent, they do think that these games could increase the psychological precursors of violent behavior. They may be associated with bullying, and bullying is a risk factor for behavior that is far more violent. For example, a teenager may start with verbal bullying of classmates and peers and eventually finish up with physical abuse of classmates and peers.

Therefore, in an indirect way, these games could cause violent behavior by increasing the likelihood of the potential risk factors.

This means that the games should still be viewed as a risk factor for developing excessive aggressiveness in kids and younger adults.

Aggressive behavior is a multifactorial phenomenon

Researchers mostly agree that there are many factors that are at play when it comes to violent behavior. The same applies to teenagers. The influencing factors in this case revolve around families, peers, neighborhoods and individual behaviors and traits. For example, teens who live in violent neighborhood are at increased risk of exhibiting high-risk and violent behavior themselves, whereas teens who live in safer neighborhoods are less likely to be aggressive and violent.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Jeanne B. Funk and Debra D. Buchman (1996) Playing Violent Video Games and Adolescent Self-concept. Journal of Communication, vol. 46 (1996), pp. 19-32
  • Craig A. Anderson and Karen E. Dill (2000) Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 78 (2000), pp. 772-790
  • Ferguson, C. J, Garza, A. (2011) Call of (civic) duty: Action games and civic behavior in a large sample of youth. Computers in Human Behavior 27 (2): 770.
  • Photo courtesy of Clare Bell by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/southpaw2305/3481270208
  • Photo courtesy of Anna Hirsch by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/antigone/456168094/

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