Games and Learning/Topics/Epistemology/Violence

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The effect of violent video games on children and teens has been debated by researchers and the media since the release of the video game Death Race in 1976. 97% of 12-17 year olds in the US played video games in 2008, thus fueling an $11.7 billion video game industry. In 2008, 10 of the top 20 best-selling video games in the US contained violence. [1]

Violent video games have been blamed for school shootings, increases in bullying, violence towards women, and other violent criminal behavior. Critics of violent video games argue that these games desensitize players to violence, reward players for simulating violence, and teach children that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.

Video game advocates contend that a majority of the research on the topic is deeply flawed and that no causal relationship has been found between video games and social violence. They argue that violent video games may reduce violence by serving as a substitute for rough and tumble play and by providing a safe outlet for aggressive and angry feelings.

Concerns over the link between violent video games and youth violence have prompted politicians and several states to attempt to regulate the sales of violent video games to minors. While the courts have prevented these regulation attempts by citing free speech concerns, the debate continues as technology improves, games become more graphic and realistic, and video games remain popular.

Do violent video games contribute to youth violence? on

See also Edward Castronova's Review of Carnagey, Anderson, and Bushman and Videogames Do Cause Violence in Kids, Elsevier Says.


Anderson, C. A.; Shibuya, A.; Ihori, N.; Swing, E. L.; Bushman, B. J.; Sakamoto, A.; Rothstein, H. R. & Saleem, M. (2010), 'Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review', Psychological bulletin 136 (2), 151-173.

Meta-analytic procedures were used to test the effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, empathy/desensitization, and prosocial behavior. Unique features of this meta-analytic review include a more restrictive methodological quality inclusion criteria than in past meta-analyses; b cross-cultural comparisons; c longitudinal studies for all outcomes except physiological arousal; d conservative statistical controls; e multiple moderator analyses; and f sensitivity analyses. Social–cognitive models and cultural differences between Japan and Western countries were used to generate theory-based predictions. Meta-analyses yielded significant effects for all 6 outcome variables. The pattern of results for different outcomes and research designs experimental, cross-sectional, longitudinal fit theoretical predictions well. The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior. Moderator analyses revealed significant research design effects, weak evidence of cultural differences in susceptibility and type of measurement effects, and no evidence of sex differences in susceptibility. Results of various sensitivity analyses revealed these effects to be robust, with little evidence of selection publication bias.

Ferguson, C. J. & Kilburn, J. (2010), 'Much Ado About Nothing: The Misestimation and Overinterpretation of Violent Video Game Effects in Eastern and Western Nations: Comment on Anderson et al.(2010)', Psychological bulletin 136 (2) , 174-178.

The issue of violent video game influences on youth violence and aggression remains intensely debatedin the scholarly literature and among the general public. Several recent meta-analyses, examining outcome measures most closely related to serious aggressive acts, found little evidence for a relationshipbetween violent video games and aggression or violence. In a new meta-analysis, C. A. Anderson et al.2010 questioned these findings. However, their analysis has several methodological issues that limit the interpretability of their results. In their analysis, C. A. Anderson et al. included many studies that do notrelate well to serious aggression, an apparently biased sample of unpublished studies, and a “bestpractices” analysis that appears unreliable and does not consider the impact of unstandardized aggressionmeasures on the inflation of effect size estimates. They also focused on bivariate correlations rather thanbetter controlled estimates of effects. Despite a number of methodological flaws that all appear likely toinflate effect size estimates, the final estimate of r.15 is still indicative of only weak effects. Contrasts between the claims of C. A. Anderson et al. 2010 and real-world data on youth violence are discussed.

Bushman, B. J.; Rothstein, H. R. & Anderson, C. A. (2010), 'Much Ado About Something: Violent Video Game Effects and a School of Red Herring: Reply to Ferguson and Kilburn (2010)', Psychological bulletin 136 (2), 182-187.

In this article we reply to C. J. Ferguson and J. Kilburn’s 2010 critique of our meta-analysis on violent video game effects C. A. Anderson et al., 2010. We rely on well-established methodological and statistical theory and on empirical data to show that claims of bias and misinterpretation on our part are simply wrong. One should not systematically exclude unpublished studies from meta-analytic reviews. There is no evidence of publication or selection bias in our data. We did not purposely exclude certain studies; we included all studies that met our inclusion criteria. Although C. J. Ferguson and J. Kilburn believe that the effects we obtained are trivial in size, they are larger than many effects that are deemed sufficiently large to warrant action in medical and violence domains. The claim that we and other media violence scholars are attempting to create a false crisis is a red herring.

Goldstein, J. (2005), Violent video games, in Joost Raessens & Jeffrey Goldstein, ed., , MIT Press, Boston, pp. 341-358.[Jeffrey%20Goldstein].pdf

Everett, A. & Watkins, S. C. (2007), The Power of Play: The Portrayal and Performance of Race in Video Games, 'The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning', The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, pp. 141-164.

The chapter addresses the following question: in what ways do young people's interactions with video games influence how and what they learn about race? We begin by examining one of the most heavily marketed genres in the video games marketplace, what we call “urban/street” games. Specifically, we consider how these games, and the richly detailed and textured urban landscapes they present, establish powerful learning environments that help situate how young gamers understand, perform, and reproduce race and ethnicity. Next, we focus on the aesthetic and narrative properties of one of the most controversial yet successful video games franchises in America, Grand Theft Auto. More precisely, we consider how Grand Theft Auto teaches dominant attitudes and assumptions about race and racial Otherness through racialized pedagogical zones RPZs. In the final section of the paper we expand the discussion of race and games to include concerns about access to and participation in digital media culture.

Additional readings

Barlett, C. P., Anderson, C. A. & Swing, E. L. (2008), 'Video Game Effects - Confirmed, Suspected, and Speculative: A Review of the Evidence', Simulation & Gaming 40 (3), 377-403

This literature review focuses on the confirmed, suspected, and speculative effects of violent and non-violent video game exposure on negative and positive outcomes. Negative outcomes include aggressive feelings, aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, physiological arousal, and desensitization, whereas positive outcomes include various types of learning. Multiple theories predict, and empirical findings reveal, that violent video game exposure is causally related to a host of negative outcomes and a few positive outcomes. Some non-violent video games have been causally related to some specific positive learning effects as well as certain types of visual cognition e.g., spatial rotation abilities and may be associated with some negative effects on executive control and attention disorders.

Anderson, C. A. & Bushman, B. J. (2001), 'Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature', Psychological science 12 (5) , 353-359.

Research on exposure to television and movie violence suggests that playing violent video games will increase aggressive behavior. A meta-analytic review of the video-game research literature reveals that violent video games increase aggressive behavior in children and young adults. Experimental and nonexperimental studies with males and females in laboratory and field settings support this conclusion. Analyses also reveal that exposure to violent video games increases physiological arousal and aggression-related thoughts and feelings. Playing violent video games also decreases prosocial behavior.

Ferguson, C. J. & Garza, A. (2010), 'Call of (civic) duty: Action games and civic behavior in a large sample of youth', Computers in Human Behavior In Press.

The positive and negative influences of violent/action games, henceforth called “action games”, remains controversial in the scholarly literature. Although debate continues whether action games influence aggressive behavior, little research has examined the influence of action games on civic engagement. The current study addresses this gap by examining the correlation between exposure to action games on civic engagement and on-line prosocial behavior in a sample of 873 teenagers. Results indicated that girls as well as teens who had parents who were more technologically savvy tended to engage in more civic behaviors. Exposure to action games predicted more prosocial behavior on-line, but did not predict civic engagement either positively or negatively. However, exposure to action games and parental involvement interacted to promote youth civic engagement. Action-game-playing-youth whose parents were involved in game play and supervision were most civically involved, compared to youth who did not play action games, or whose parents were less involved. These results indicated little support for the belief that exposure to violence in video games decreases prosocial behavior and/or civic engagement. Conversely some support was found for the possibility that playing action games is associated with small increased prosocial behavior and civic engagement in the real world, possibly due to the team-oriented multiplayer options in many of these games.