Violence In Video Games: How Big Of A Deal (If Any)?

Smooth Gaming is a new column to ValueWalk which will discuss various aspects of the video game industry. From AAA titles, business aspects, and independent developers who often go under-reported. ‘Smooth Gaming’ will take a multi-pronged look at the world of gaming. This week we discuss the ongoing conversation of violence in video games.

Violence In Video Games video game violence

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Game Central is a branch of the Metro outlet. Before we get into their ‘Weekend Hot Topic’ from this past week, allow me to take the time to congratulate Metro on actually having a branch dedicated to the growing video game industry.

This weekend they took on the much exhausted ‘violence in video games’ topic, launched by the Mortal Kombat 11 trailer. Thankfully, most of their readers had an extremely nuanced take on the issue. Here are several quality responses from fans featured in the column:

I’m not sure that games are too violent, it’s probably just that they’re a reflection of the fact people are too violent. If this is something you want to fix, you’d probably be wanting to look a little wider than video game censorship. Regarding sex in games, it is very odd there is so little of it in comparison. Because the old maxim that sex sells tends to be very true, and video game publishers love money. Loot boxes offend me a lot more than sex or violence. -Charlie

I personally don’t see a problem with violence in video games. Sure, games like Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and the like have always been gory/scary and they are rated appropriately. If people under age, or the parents not clued up enough to check the age ratings then that is their own fault. I did play games like Mortal Kombat and I was under the recommended age for it, but I had consent of my parents and it did me no harm… it is just entertainment and should be seen as that. I do think that gaming in the media gets a raw deal and anything that happens bad in the world (crime, murders, etc.) is often said to be influenced by gaming, which I think is unfair and narrowminded. There a thousands of violent films out there but they seem to be blameless. – StewWBA80 (gamertag)/KingShomari (PSN ID)

Another fan also stated a great point, “Generally, I think that no subject should be taboo in games because if a subject is off limits there’s no opportunity to discuss and confront it. I do find the puritanical scaredy-cat approach to sex in games rather embarrassing. When a developer felt the need to apologise [sic] recently for making a female character’s breasts wobble, that was just tragic.”

The original question which led to this topic asked, “Would you be equally worried about sex in games or are there any other subjects you think should remain taboo?” Which brings up a great point with how mainstream media and those detached from gaming and treat the industry (an earlier Smooth Gaming entry discusses the topic). Sex and violence are commonplace in film and television, yet only the gaming industry is attacked for somehow leading to the ‘degradation of society.’

If you don’t believe me, here is a summary of a January 2018 research paper entitled Behavioural realism and the activation of aggressive concepts in violent video games from Science Daily:

In a series of experiments, with more than 3,000 participants, the team demonstrated that video game concepts do not ‘prime’ players to behave in certain ways and that increasing the realism of violent video games does not necessarily increase aggression in game players. The dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in ‘real life’. This is known as ‘priming’, and is thought to lead to changes in behaviour. Previous experiments on this effect, however, have so far provided mixed conclusions. Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had gone before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.

“We found that the priming of violent concepts, as measured by how many violent concepts appeared in the word fragment completion task, was not detectable, “commented one of the main researchers of the study Dr. David Zendle, from the University of York Department of Computer Science. “There was no difference in priming between the game that employed ‘ragdoll physics’ and the game that didn’t, as well as no significant difference between the games that used ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ solider tactics,” he continued. “The findings suggest that there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.”

Dr. Zendle added the study only used adults, and more research was needed to see if the same findings held true for children. However, his findings largely match those from others, “…But, speaking as a researcher who has studied violent video games for almost 15 years, I can state that there is no evidence to support these claims that violent media and real-world violence are connected,” stated Christopher J. Ferguson, Professor of Psychology at Stetson University.

“Criminologists who study mass shootings specifically refer to those sorts of connections as a ‘myth.’ And in 2017, the Media Psychology and Technology division of the American Psychological Association released a statement I helped craft, suggesting reporters and policymakers cease linking mass shootings to violent media, given the lack of evidence for a link,” he continued.

Ferguson goes on to detail why the myth that violence in video games was ever seen as a legitimate conclusion:

The first is the psychological research community’s efforts to market itself as strictly scientific. This led to a replication crisis instead, with researchers often unable to repeat the results of their studies. Now, psychology researchers are reassessing their analyses of a wide range of issues – not just violent video games, but implicit racism, power poses and more.

The other part of the answer lies in the troubled history of violent video game research specifically. Beginning in the early 2000s, some scholars, anti-media advocates and professional groups like the APA began working to connect a methodologically messy and often contradictory set of results to public health concerns about violence. This echoed historical patterns of moral panic, such as 1950s concerns about comic books and Tipper Gore’s efforts to blame pop and rock music in the 1980s for violence, sex and satanism.

Particularly in the early 2000s, dubious evidence regarding violent video games was uncritically promoted. But over the years, confidence among scholars that violent video games influence aggression or violence has crumbled.

So there you have it. There isn’t any credible evidence to suggest video games are responsible for mass shootings, overall violent behavior, or destroying the minds of gamers. Hopefully, this topic will be put to rest soon.

Until next time everyone!

Stay Smooth.



About the Author

Walter Yeates
Walter Yeates is a journalist who has covered a wide range of topics. In December 2016 he embedded with the First People's and Military Veterans at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Walter is also known for his articles speaking about the Modern Day Gentleman and helping young boys and men know the stereotypes around masculinity should not control their lives. He covers politics and technology for ValueWalk while also writing the 'Smooth Gaming' column. Walter can be reached at WYeates@alumni.ecu.edu for interview requests, pitches, and tips.