With the Fortnite World Cup gaining mainstream attention, the recent US shootings and President Trump’s comments, there’s a widespread discussion once more about the perceived link between video games and violence in real life. It’s a stereotype that’s been debunked for decades. But to save the rest of the world some time, here’s a comprehensive list of academic research going back three decades debunking the link between video games and violence.
The list below also includes some studies that looked not just into the direct relationship between video games and video game violence, but the environmental factors, reasons why players are drawn to violent video games (VVG), studies or meta-studies analysing the impact of violent media and the potential link towards real-world violence, and other major citations on the matter.
Personality, Psychopathology, and Developmental Issues in Male Adolescent Video Game Use (1985)
A study of 208 teenage males from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the paper began with a hypothesis that “heavy video game use plays a role in managing developmental conflicts, particularly with regard to the discharge of aggression and the open expression of competition”. That hypothesis was backed up by the findings, as was a hypothesis that playing lots of video games did not “result in increased neuroticism, social withdrawal, or escape into fantasy”.
“It was stressed that much of the anxiety about video games represents a parental issue, akin to parental overreactions to other adolescent outlets,” the researchers wrote.
The effect of video games on feelings of aggression (1995)
An experimental study published in the Journal of Psychology in 1995, the study took 117 undergraduates and submitted them to personality and hostility questionnaires before and after playing video games with varying levels of violence.
“There was no linear pattern in aggressive affect change across 3 games that contained varying levels of violence,” the study found. “The general pattern was that the moderately aggressive game substantially decreased feelings of aggressiveness, while the highly aggressive game resulted in much less of an increase in aggressiveness than had been hypothesised, although no more so than occurred in the control game.”
The Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression: A Meta-Analysis (2001)
One of the first major meta-analyses of existing studies, the study focused on cumulating existing studies and empirical research to uncover trends and variables between the studies.
The meta-study found that “there is a smaller effect of violent video games on aggression” than the impact of violence on TV. “Overall, this analysis suggests that there is a correlation between video gameplay and aggression, but that relationship is smaller than that found for television,” the paper says.
The paper also noted the length of time played would not necessarily increase aggression, and if anything, it was likely to decrease potential aggression due to a lack of variety or boredom with repeated in-game sequences.
“Children and adolescents playing games in long stretches may transfer less aggression from the game playing situation to the external world than those playing for brief periods. Parents’ intuitive reaction to limit playing time may actually be counterproductive, pulling the child from the game at a time when the largest aggressive effects are likely.”
Explaining the enjoyment of playing video games: The role of competition (2003)
A large part of the narrative around the popularity of games was the violent element, but there was a lack of critical and academic analysis given towards all the factors why people are drawn to video games. In 2003, researchers from the Hannover University of Music and Drama and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication outlined how the competitive element in video games, and the preference for social competition, was a major factor in the popularity of video games.
“Apparently, the games’ interactivity allows for a continuous stream of challenging and competitive situations that have to be resolved by the players. Competition is therefore regarded a key element of the explanation of players’ entertainment experience,” the paper says.
Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game (2005)
A study from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D candidate from the University of Michigan used Asheron’s Call 2 to test for changes in aggressive behaviours and cognitive changes.
The study ran for a month and “was incapable of detecting very small effects” that would lead to aggression caused by the video game. But the authors added that every game is different, and the content, context and play length should be considered by academics and legislators. “It may be that both the attackers and defenders of the industry’s various products are operating without enough information, and are instead both arguing for blanket approaches to what is likely a more complicated phenomenon,” the researchers wrote.
“Our participant observation has taught us that the style of game, the place it is played, and the interactions with other players will be crucial variables in determining the impact of a given title.”
The effect of playing violent video games on adolescents: Should parents be quaking in their boots? (2007)
A collaboration between Griffith University, Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychology, and Swinburne University’s Brain Sciences Institute, the study looked at adolescents’ anger levels before and after playing Quake 2.
“The results demonstrated that some people increase, some decrease and the majority show no change in anger ratings. Unlike past research, we also demonstrate that these changes are mediated by the player’s feelings immediately prior to game play and a labile temperament – one predisposed to aggression – and that these variables predict people’s reactions with an average 73% concordance rate,” the study said.
Do Aggressive People Play Violent Computer Games in a More Aggressive Way? (2008)
A study from Michigan State and Shanghai Jiao Tong University looking into the relationship between players’ personality and their aggressiveness in-game, with a video stream of 40 players captured and analysed before and after playing.
The study’s main focus was on the individual experience of playing video games, noting that how players engage with violent content — and how they experience that — can vary wildly. “Individual disposition is an important factor that influences how people experience violence in a computer game,” the authors wrote.
They also noted that environmental factors (online vs bots) and technological factors (mobile games versus something on a large TV) could also impact the experience, highlighting the need for academics to factor in not only what violent content is in a video game, but how it’s experienced, how that experience differs from player to player, and how the playing environment affects all of it.
The Role of Violent Video Game Content in Adolescent Development: Boys’ Perspectives (2008)
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Research in 2008 looked into the impacts violent video games would have on male teenagers between 12 and 14. It found that players used the games as catharsis, reliving stress or anger, exploring new and realistic environment “but distinct from real life”, as social tools and spaces, and for playing out power and fame fantasies.
“Given the role of video game play in starting and maintaining friendships, there is potential for games to help socially awkward children gain acceptance and self-esteem,” the paper says.
“A number of boys, including those from less advantaged neighbourhoods, enjoyed playing games with friends and strangers over the Internet. Industry surveys suggest that game play among adolescents is a social activity (Boyer, 2006). Studies of adults and older adolescents have found that social interaction is a primary motivator for video game play, especially for men (Jansz & Tanis, 2007; Lucas & Sherry, 2004). Given that most new game consoles as well as computers allow Web-based play, socialising over the Internet will continue to increase.”
The public health risks of media violence: a meta-analytic review (2009)
A meta-analysis that analysed studies examining the potential link between violent media and aggressive behaviour, and any potential methodological issues amongst all the peer-reviewed studies. The paper found that studies confirming aggressive behaviour often had poor models for mapping aggressive behaviour, and the effects were also impacted by publication bias.
Once the overall effect size for all studies was corrected for this bias, the remaining impact was not sufficient to back the theory “that media violence is associated with higher aggression”.
“The meta-analytic review shows that there is no evidence that video games, television or any other form of media increases aggressive behaviour in consumers,” Dr Christopher J. Ferguson, one of the co-authors of the meta-study, said.
“Ultimately, data from this study does not support the conclusion that media violence research is a significant public health concern. If it is the goal of society to reduce violence, scientific, political, and economic efforts would likely bear more fruit in other realms.”
Literature Review On The Impact Of Playing Violent Video Games On Aggression – Australian Government (2010)
A review conducted in 2010 by the federal Attorney-General’s Department, which is accessible on the Classification Board’s website, into existing studies hit on perhaps the biggest issue surrounding much of the research: the most harmful effects from violent video games had “not been persuasively proven or disproven” and that the effects of video games on aggression was “contested and inconclusive”.
“There is little evidence that violent video games have a greater impact than other violent media,” the department wrote, adding that researchers who argue that violent video games cause aggression “have not engaged with or disproved alternative theories propagated by their critics”.
Violent Video Games and Violent Crime (2011)
A study that compared data from the US National Incident-Based Reporting System and the Uniform Crime Report against sales data from the video game industry.
Using experimental methodology, the study found that the release of major video games over that time period not only did result in an increase in reported crime, but there was potentially a decrease in crime rates around the launches of prominent video games.
“These analyses are suggestive of the hypothesis that violent video games, like all video games, paradoxically may reduce violence while increasing the aggressiveness of individuals by simply shifting these individuals out of alternative activities where crime is more likely to occur,” the authors wrote.
“Insofar as our findings suggest that the operating mechanism by which violent gameplay causes crime to fall is the gameplay itself, and not the violence, then regulations should be carefully designed so as to avoid inadvertently reducing the time intensity, or the appeal, of video games.”
United States Supreme Court: Brown, Governor of California v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011)
The Supreme Court weighed in on their view back in 2011 after the state of California passed a law that would have banned the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit appellate court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, and when the case was taken to the Supreme Court the bench found (in a 7-2 decision) there was no conclusive connection between violent video games and effects on minors.
“Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively,” the Supreme Court found. “Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly under inclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavouring a particular speaker or viewpoint.”
The effect of violent video games on aggression: Is it more than just the violence? (2011)
Published in Aggression and Violent Behaviour in 2011, the study argued that levels of aggression among video game players in other studies were flawed by a failure to factor in competitiveness, pace of action, difficulty, and the effects of all three on those playing. The study helped shell out one of the largest problems surrounding video game research at the time, and highlighted the need for deeper empirical analysis.
“Previous experimental studies have tended to use a measure of aggression that may also measure competitiveness, leading to questions about whether violent video games are related to aggression or competitiveness,” the authors said.
Mass Shootings in America: Moving Beyond Newtown (2013)
A study examining the myths behind some mass shootings in America, the authors pointed out that researchers have failed to document “a direct casual link indicating that consuming violent entertainment leads to violent behaviour”. The Sandy Hook murderer Adam Lanza was directly cited, addressing media reports and concerns that Lanza’s preference for violent video games and content may have lead to the shooting. But the researchers noted that Lamza’s Asperger’s syndrome, personality and temperament was a stronger influence.
“His social isolation may be the key to his preoccupation with gaming as well as his rampage against an unwelcoming society,” the authors wrote.
They noted that the traditional structures of schools, religion, families and neighbourhoods have weakened over time when it comes to influencing the social development of children.
Video games do not negatively impact academic performance (2014)
Another argument cited alongside video game violence is a decline in academic performance and concentration, but that was also debunked by a local metastudy from South Australia’s Flinders University.
Dr Aaron Drummond, along with Dr James Sauer, looked at data from over 192,000 students and found that while video games could have an impact on concentration and academic performance, the actual effect on exam results was small.
“Contrary to claims that increased video-gaming can impair academic performance, differences in academic performance were negligible across the relative frequencies of video game use. Video game use had little impact on adolescent academic achievement.”
Do Angry Birds Make for Angry Children? A Meta-Analysis of Video Game Influences on Children’s and Adolescents’ Aggression, Mental Health, Prosocial Behaviour, and Academic Performance (2015)
Another meta-analysis looking into the potential for violent video games and their effect on children, the authors looked at 101 studies for links of reduced social behaviour, increased aggression, depression and attention deficit symptoms.
The analysis found that the influences of video games on all factors were “minimal”, citing publication bias and “issues related to researchers’ degrees of freedom and citation bias” as common problems among existing research.
Lack of Evidence That Neural Empathic Responses Are Blunted in Excessive Users of Violent Video Games: An fMRI Study (2017)
A study from the University of Lubeck, the International Neuroscience Institute and the LWL University Hospitals of the Ruhr-University in Germany, the authors looked at 15 “excessive users of violent games” and control subjects, putting all of them under a Functional magnetic resonance imaging tests to gauge the effects of desensitisation towards “emotional stimuli”.
A key purpose of the study was to look at potential long-term effects of violent video game usage, and any impact there might be on the brain directly. But the researchers found that any potential aggressiveness “results more from other aspects than violent media use” and that there was “no differences in empathy and aggressiveness” between the video game players and the control group.
“The fMRI data did not provide evidence for a neural desensitisation in the processing emotionally salient stimuli,” the authors wrote. “In fact, the responses of both groups were very similar and no group differences were observed even at relaxed statistical thresholds.”
Behavioural realism and the activation of aggressive concepts in violent video games (2018)
The most consistent argument from politicians and lobbyists against violent video games is that their increased realism and “immersion” results in a higher correlation of aggressive and anti-social behaviour among players.
An online study from St Petersburg University and the University of York with 2778 participants, using a custom-built game in Unity that could allowed researchers to control individual elements like ragdoll physics and NPC behaviours, found that “greater behavioural realism simply does not seem to lead to greater activation of aggressive concepts in [violent video games]”.
“Whilst early studies in this field may have suggested a strong relationship between VVG play and antisocial effects, recent scholarship seems to imply that this effect is in fact a phantom. Similarly, early research into the effects of realism in VVGs predicted the presence of an important link between realism and VVG effects. This effect, too, now appears to be failing to materialise – both in this study and elsewhere in the literature.”
The Infamous Relationship Between Violent Video Game Use and Aggression: Uncharted Moderators and Small Effects Make It a Far Cry from Certain (2018)
A paper from the University of Tasmania and Massey University School of Psychology argued that existing research linking video game violence with increased aggression or violence in a real-world context were often too simplistic, and that many of the effects of violent video games on post-game aggression were “small, or even negligible”.
“At present, we feel the most responsible conclusion is that the observed effects of violent gameplay on aggression are small in the lab, and negligible when considered in terms of societal violence,” the authors wrote.
The link between competitive personality, aggressive and altruistic behaviours in action video game players (2019)
A cross-study from the University of Geneva looking exclusively at action video games and the social profiles of frequent players, the authors found using multiple regressions that frequent action video game players were more likely to display competitive personalities and aggressive behaviour compared to non-gamers, despite not having any difference in empathy or altruistic characteristics.
However, when the study accounted for competitiveness between players, the link between aggressive behaviour and action video games decreased. “This suggests that competitive personality may act as a common source to aggression and the motivation to play competitive activities … This positive link also stresses the need to account for competitive personality in future studies investigating the link between AVG play and cognitive or affective performances,” the authors wrote.
Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behaviour (2019)
The Oxford University’s Oxford Internet Institute study is a landmark for its use on objective and subjective data concurrently, unlike many earlier studies which relied on self-reporting from subjects. The authors found that “the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern” with violent video games and adolescent aggression.
“The results provide confirmatory evidence that violent video game engagement, on balance, is not associated with observable variability in adolescents’ aggressive behaviour,” the authors wrote. The study, which compared self-reporting data from 1004 14 and 15-year old Britons, along with month-long observations from the same number of carers observing, stressed that this didn’t mean video games wouldn’t provoke heightened emotions or reactions.
“You do see things such as trash-talking, competitiveness and trolling in gaming communities that could qualify as antisocial behaviour,” Professor Przybylski said.
Parental influence on youth violent video game use (2019)
A paper from Western Michigan University looked at cross-sectional data from students in American middle and high schools, searching for links between those who play violent video games and their parents. The paper found parents, particularly the “perceived parental opinion”, played a large factor in how much adolescents and kids played violent video games at all.
The study didn’t directly assess the link between video games and violence, but rather the influence of parents on youth and why they played those games in the first place. It found that a child or teenager’s attachment to their parent was noticeably influential in their video game playing, and that a strong parental bond “persists” with children even after high school.
“The findings in this study suggest a statistically and substantively significant relationship between perceived parental opinion of violent video games and how much youth play violent video games,” the paper argued. “The significance of parental effects persists even through high school, indicating that the relationship remains even among older youth.”
Understanding the lives of problem gamers: The meaning, purpose, and influences of video gaming (2019)
A study from the University of Toronto and the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health looked into the specific impacts of “problem gaming”. The study found that video games “offered both positive and negative experiences in gamers’ lives,” with the latter exacerbated when subjects used games “as a coping strategy for other life stressors”.
A key finding from the study was that the “problem gamers” surveyed had a lack of “effective and healthy coping strategies”, with the authors finding that rather than video games being the source of the problem, it was a lack of education and a proper support network.
“In this study, the culprit was not video gaming itself but a lack of effective and healthy coping strategies. Seeing that this is a trend in research with PGs, therapists can be a valuable support for promoting balanced life activities teaching alternative evidence-based coping strategies for PGs’ personal issues. These ﬁndings question the justification of gaming disorder as a diagnosis versus being the product of other issues.”
Finding Common Ground in Meta-Analysis “Wars” on Violent Video Games (2019)
A recent meta-analysis that tried to assess the existing studies and meta-analyses into violent video games and violence. Noting the mixed conflicting results in older papers, the authors found that “that the effects of violent video games on aggressive behaviour are nearly always detrimental in direction but are rarely stronger than a standardised effect size of 0.20”.
“We believe that these ‘warring’ meta-analyses in fact provide considerable consensus in favour of consistent, but small, detrimental effects of violent video games on aggressive behaviour.”