Be Aggressive: Recent APA Video Game Study on Violence Fails to Find Anything

asura's wrath 08-31-15-1
Asura’s Wrath, a game filled with gods, violence, and revenge.

This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.

For decades there has been an ongoing debate about the effects games have on gamers. We have seen it in many different forms, from tabletop games causing you to become a cultist (which could be seen as remarkably false), to the hysteria of the late 90’s where it was thought that violent video games created mass murderers out of kids. Even now this debate continues under the guise of video games causing sexism. While the face of the argument has changed and mutated throughout the years, the question it asks has remained the same. Does the media cause a difference in our core behavior? Sadly the answer will have to wait, as another study has come out, with the question framed as “do video games cause aggression?”

This latest round of questioning came about from the school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary, where 28 people were killed. After the tragedy it was determined that the killer had several serious mental disorders, but more importantly he had a history of playing video games. This led President Obama to declare a need for more research on the effects of video games and violence, offering 10 million dollars in grant money to encourage further research.

After this was announced, the American Psychological Association (APA) decided to create a task force whose purpose was to determine if the results that the APA obtained in 2005 on video games were still accurate and if recent research was enough to determine if there were links between criminal violence and video games. After 2 years of work, the task force has now released their results for the general public to observe. While the results have led to a multitude of articles lauding its findings, there has also been an outcry against the study by numerous academics from various disciplines.

grand theft auto v 08-31-15-1
Grand Theft Auto V, a game commonly associated with game-related violence.

The study itself is exceptionally dull, weighing in at 47 pages long with sources, and 28 pages without. A large portion of these pages are devoted to trying to resolve 6 questions that were not addressed by the 2005 taskforce, in hopes of gleaning a more accurate understanding of the effects video games have on people. The questions were:

  1. Is this research applicable to children and adolescents?
  2. Does this research address the developmental trajectory of potential effects or the possible course of vulnerability to potential negative effects? (Basically does the study look at possible long-term effects of violent games on kids?)
  3. Do outcomes for males and females differ?
  4. Does degree of exposure matter?
  5. What is the role of other known risk factors for aggression in moderating or mediating the effects of violent video game use?
  6. What is the role of other game characteristics?

Asking questions like these are important to researchers because the answers will shape our understanding of the effects video games have on how people think and interact with each other, and ultimately deepen our understanding of the central question “Does media affect the way we behave?” These questions were then used by the taskforce to assess if the current research is sufficient in determining a causal link between aggression and violent video games.

Due to the vast amount of research that has been done on video games since 2005, the taskforce used several methods to filter their data. From a technical standpoint, filtering the amount of studies seems like a good idea. It removes bad studies that have low reliability, and don’t meet the criteria for the study, and include strong studies with high validity and reliability. While this process can be very long and drawn out, when properly performed it improves the overall quality of meta-analysis studies.

However, under closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that not all of their filtering methods were beneficial. In an attempt to control the type of research they were using for their meta-analysis, the researchers decided to stick to a few search choices. These search choices included things such as violent video games, violence, violen*, aggressive behavior, aggression, aggress*, prosocial*, prosocial behavior, computer games, video*, game*, and video games and media.

hatred 04-29-15-1
Hatred, a game that received copious amounts of resistance due to its brand of violence.

Sadly their concentration on mainly negative terms means that research that typically would have spoken against such things may have been missed due to the fact that their search terms would have been different. They also restricted their scope of scientific studies to those that studied violent video games separate from other forms of violent media such as television, movies, or music. By doing so they lose comparative research that is key in building context. For example, if a study were to find that the “aggression” that resulted from playing a violent video was equivalent to the “aggression” generated by reading a violent passage in a book, it would be excluded from the meta-analysis. While this is not to say that the research is absolutely wrong, it does show that the results are potentially skewed.

Using these filtering methods, the taskforce was left with 170 studies. From there they further refined their pool of viable studies by only accepting studies that:

  • Included at least one empirical analysis addressing video game violence separately from other media violence.
  • Included complete statistics.
  • Included at least one of the outcome variables: aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions, aggressive affect, physiological measures, prosocial behavior, reduced empathy or desensitization, delinquency, or violence.
  • Included some measurement of violent video game exposure.
  • Included some description or assessment to determine that the violent video game is, in fact, violent.
  • Was published in a peer‐reviewed academic journal.

Which resulted in 68 studies that fit all six criteria. Each of these studies were then rated on if they fulfilled the taskforce’s goal by two randomly chosen members of the taskforce, a process that is not only subjective but also very vulnerable to personal bias. From all of this the taskforce was left with a total of 31 studies that were accepted and used in the meta-analysis. Such a sample introduces a strong possibility for conclusions to be heavily influenced by the biases introduced by the methodology of the meta-analysis and drawing conclusions about society from such an analysis could have damaging effects on an industry that’s thriving. It is important to note that while these studies might individually be valuable to the research community, the research showed little context of how the studies were used to draw the conclusions they give.

god of war 3 08-31-15-1
God of War 3, another game featuring gods, violence, and revenge.

From these 31 studies the taskforce then attempted to draw some conclusions to the six questions with the results being as much as one would expect. For the first question “is this research applicable to children/adolescents?” the taskforce concluded that there is not nearly enough research on children to determine if games affect children differently than adults. However, they do note that 10 of the studies used point to video games having a similar effect to children as their adult counterparts have.

For the second question the taskforce concluded that there is no way to determine if playing video games has any effect on the developmental trajectory on children. This means that while there might be an effect on how children develop, the research is either non-existent, or is unable to prove this information whatsoever.

Gender was also typically not found as a potential factor for behavior in most of the recent research that was conducted. Most of the studies believed that gender would have no effect on how video games would affect people. While gender may still play a factor in the effect aggression has on gamers and should be studied in the future, the taskforce failed to find conclusive evidence to show gender as a factor in the 31 studies used.

One thing they did find was that a large portion of their studies (7 studies) did look at the effects of the duration of exposure and its effects on aggression. Out of the studies that looked at these effects, 5 supported the idea that aggression is linked to prolonged exposure to violent video games. However, only a few of the studies actually looked at the specific amount of exposure needed to produce an effect, leading the researchers to conclude that more research is needed before anything firm could be said about a correlational link, much less a causal link.

Mortal Kombat X, the latest in the fighting game series known for ultra-violence.

Much less could be told of other risk factors contributing to aggression when observed in combination with video games. Only 5 of the 31 studies observed actually considered outside risk factors, such as economic situation, stress, parental conflict, or deviant peers as a mediating factor for violent video games and aggression, with only three of the studies checking for an interaction between these risk factors and violent video games when looking at aggression. While the researchers claimed that the studies that observed outside risk factors were robust, only education had a slight interaction with violent video games. Like most of the other questions on their list, not much could be determined from the studies used. While no factors were determined that could help mediate the effects violent video games had on aggression, no factors could be found that exacerbated the situation either.

Finally, factors that played a major role in video games such as player perspective (1st person, third person, etc.), plot of the game, moral of the game, and morality of the game were looked over in this meta-analysis. While a game where you are forced to make difficult moral decisions may impact the way you consider difficult situations in the real world, it wasn’t observed in this meta-analysis. Overall, none of the studies that were used in this meta-analysis discussed critical factors such as character motivation as having anything to do with violent video games having an effect on aggression.

Out of the 6 questions that the taskforce asked, only one was answered and that was based on an analysis of just 5 studies.

At best, this meta-analysis has failed to show that significant efforts have been made towards answering the overarching question that has been plaguing the medium for decades, “How do video games affect our behavior?” We haven’t seen evidence that there is a developmental effect, we need more research to prove it one way or another. We haven’t seen if gender plays a significant factor in how video games makes us more aggressive, we need more research. We haven’t even shown there to be any outside risks that increase the likelihood that people that play video games will have an increase in aggression. Most of the data found by the taskforce was found to be inconclusive at best and has shown that research into video games has a long way to go.

Bethesda's DOOM remake
Bethesda’s DOOM remake

While the research analyzing the faults in both previous and current research shows a desperate need for more research, this wasn’t the only purpose of this meta-analysis. In order to determine what effect violent video games have on people, the researchers performed an analysis on several potential negative effects that the 31 studies discussed. The taskforce argues that through their analysis and the data from previous meta-analysis they found that violent video games can lead to a decrease in pro-social behavior, empathy and sympathy towards aggression, and increase in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions, and aggressive affect.

While the argument could be made that their search results and filtering methods biased their findings considerably, the end results do show that there may be a correlational link between these factors. Without personally looking at the research I can’t say one way or another. What I can say, is that most of these factors aren’t damning to gaming. Aggression in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are two different definitions of aggression, “hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront” and “forceful and sometimes overly assertive pursuit of one’s aims and interests.”

If you’ve ever played a competitive game online, then you will know that frustration at another player. Trying to beat your opponent necessitates the first definition of aggression. You want to beat them. It is designed to be part of the game. I’ve become aggressive when I’m trying to kill a camping sniper that sits right outside of the starting gate. It doesn’t even have to be a person when it comes to video games, you are competing against the computer. That is one of the essences of playing video games and its set up in a safe environment where no one really gets hurt. Aggression is nothing to be ashamed of. It only becomes a problem when that aggression is brought into the real world and not dealt with in a positive way.

While I do concede many points to this study, I still have my own personal biases against this study. As a gamer, I worry that this study will be used to prove the point that playing video games is bad for you by many newspapers, magazines, and news websites. I believe that individual similar to Jack Thompson can use this study as a club to demand certain games be pulled from stores in the same way that Grand Theft Auto 5 has been pulled from some Australian stores, or to justify further use of the Australian Classification Board as a tool of censorship. I can see politicians using this meta-analysis to show that there needs to be strict regulations on video games.

Within the last few paragraphs of this study, the task force recommends the ESRB to change their rating systems to be more empirical and explain just what type of violence is shown in the game. This is ridiculous because there is no way a person can calculate how “violent” an act is, there is no equations proving that the amount of “violence” generated by 3 stabbings are equal one shooting, it is all subjective.

To me, requesting this of the ESRB is unacceptable, especially when most of the questions that needed answering couldn’t be answered due to a lack of research. I’m not alone in this opinion, when this study was published within the APA more than 200 academics, researchers, and counselors spoke out against the findings. These 200+ good men and women wrote a response to this study discussing the potential weaknesses and failings of the researchers and signed their name and livelihoods to the document.

In their response the academics pointed out that the members of the taskforce had a significant bias due to the fact that they have written a substantial amount of research against video games already. If this information is true it can heavily slant the conclusions of the study towards one perspective. They also argue that much of the original meta-analysis from the 2005 APA statement, which was used by the new taskforce, has weak and inconsistent evidence that can significantly damage the reliability of this study.

They continue with the statement that by focusing only on studies that show an effect, the taskforce undercut the meta-analysis and doesn’t show the entire set of data that is available. By limiting the amount of contradicting data, the taskforce leads readers to conclude that these effects are happening on a consistent basis, rather than the actual statistical likelihood of such an event occurring.

Finally, the academics call into question the concerns that the community at large has towards violent video games when criminal youth violence is at a 40 year low. If the argument that video games cause criminal violence in youth and young adults is to be taken at face value, we would see it reflected in a growth in the amount of criminal violence year after year as video games become more popular. They go on to say that while it is important to research the effects video games might have on aggression and violence, it is hardly the epidemic media and congress make it out to be.

shadow warrior 2 07-06-15-1
Shadow Warrior 2

I don’t believe this study will have much of an effect on video games outside of potentially convincing congress to give more money for research. What I do believe, however, is that this study will be utilized by those with an agenda to attack video games as a medium.

This has happened before in another form of media, western comics, which resulted in the formation of the Comic Code Authority, which censored artists and destroyed many of the comics on the market upon its inception.

I don’t want to see this happen to an industry that I care about deeply. Therefore, I encourage everyone reading this to learn how to spot bad data in scientific articles and call it out whenever possible.

, ,


I am a research student with a history in psychology. I am a fan of tactical rpgs and I love to travel. I hope to one day be a clinical psychologist.

  1. Brandon Orselli
    Brandon Orselli
    August 31, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Really, really love how this turned out! Great work Cody ;)

  2. Etherblaze
    August 31, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    I love this guy’s articles. I hope he writes up more soon. He’s a debunking machine.

  3. Cody Long
    Cody Long
    August 31, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Awesome article, Cody! But not me Cody. You Cody.

    Me confused.

  4. Montrillian
    September 1, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Well, if you like my articles, then wait a little bit and you might be in for a treat!

  5. Dewey Defeats Truman
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    September 1, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Honestly there’s been so many studies on this kinda thing that say so many different things, when I hear “don’t you know, video games cause violence! This study said so!” I just roll my eyes.

  6. Firion Hope
    Firion Hope
    September 1, 2015 at 12:31 am

    Anything competitive or that you can lose temporarily makes you more aggressive. There’s a huge link between sports and aggression. I sure don’t see many people trying to ban sports.

  7. Misogynerd
    September 1, 2015 at 12:41 am

    I always find these tests silly because playing video games is more like solving a problem, participating in a competition, and physically completing a task or activity.
    Thus comparing the effects of games like the effects movies and books is like comparing your hand eye coordination while knitting and while giving a footjob. The premise is completely wrong.

    Plus most of the studies show that video games increase short term aggression. I’m sure playing paintball increases aggression to a similar extent if not more than playing Counter Strike.

    I think it’s really stupid to continue trying to prove or disprove the points. The worst effect that a video game could have is to interest someone in a topic that might lead them to commit a hate crime, but that’s like blaming Wikipedia for creating Dylan Storm Roof and it happens so few times and the trigger could be anything it’s essentially pointless.

  8. sanic
    September 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

    It’s amazing the difference an article being written by someone with a few research design courses under there belt can make.

  9. AsatorPrime
    September 1, 2015 at 1:15 am

    Great article

  10. deadeye
    September 1, 2015 at 1:32 am

    I would like it if there were studies that could test any kind of beneficial effects of video games. Stuff like memory, problem solving, reflexes, etc.

    I mean the thing is, there’s always gonna be a correlation between competitive video games and “aggressive” behavior. That’s just the nature of any kind of competitive anything, from sports to traditional games. And there’s always gonna be people that will misinterpret that as violent video games leading to violent behavior.

    Debunking things is of course a very noble endeavor (and I’m glad we got smart folks like this guy that can stay on top of stuff like this), but I think the next step is showing that games can be much more than mindless entertainment, and that it can have positive effects.

  11. Misogynerd
    September 1, 2015 at 1:58 am

    Well, what’s another thing you can only do with your feet? Even when walking you are using your arms and marching is lame.

  12. RioSine
    September 1, 2015 at 2:00 am

    There are several articles about the positive effects of gaming, althought they rarely appear in the media. I think its mostly cause mainstream journalist dont know how to interpret them and instead keep repeating old factoids or obsolete findings

    some examples of positive articles

    and these are importants since low levels of serotonin and dopamin are associated with aggressiveness

  13. Misogynerd
    September 1, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Playing video games is a good way to improve some medical technology, and they used video game style simulation according to one of my normie friends.

    Still, there are some studies about video game improving hand-eye coordination, reflexes, memory, etc. It was even the crux of Brain Age.

    What I would like to see is a study in video game teaching new languages, I wouldn’t be half as good at English if I hadn’t played the English Pokemon games when I was 6 years old. Even when the Spanish versions in my country came out I never liked them because I thought they weren’t useful and the translation used lame words.

  14. chizwoz
    September 1, 2015 at 2:15 am

    US homicide rate: 5 people per 100,000 a year.
    Japan homicide rate: 0.3 people per 100,000 a year.
    Conclusion: video games make fuck all difference!

  15. chizwoz
    September 1, 2015 at 2:19 am

    I agree that this whole interest seems to be born out of ignorance. Virtual violence is just such a different thing from real-world violence. Gaming happens at a kind of higher concept level in your brain. It’s about the challenges and the relationship between input and feedback. Violence is just one of many largely incidental paint jobs on top of it.
    Games like Splatoon prove just how incidental the killing is.

  16. Muten
    September 1, 2015 at 2:37 am

    Apes gonna ape, excluding the bonobos of course.

    Software have nothing to do with it.

  17. Alexis Nascimento-Lajoie
    Alexis Nascimento-Lajoie
    September 1, 2015 at 6:02 am

    On the topic of the ESRB rating, changing or updating it is a very flawed concept for a simple reason; parents aren’t aware of the rating system.

    As someone who’s worked in video game retail, it happens often where a parent is buying an M game for the kid. While some of the parents know full well what they’re getting their kids, a surprising amount of them, when explained to them, are shocked to find out about it and we then have to explain what the rating system is and how it works.

    The problem with this is, at least in my opinion, is that there’s no obvious solution to remedy parents’ lack of knowledge. If this issue isn’t addressed, parents will continue to be unaware of the ESRB ratings.

  18. RioSine
    September 1, 2015 at 6:30 am

    So usa gov paid a TaskForce to investigate game violence since the mass media keep saying violents game implies mass shooting, only because there was an insane kid that did so (Intead of asking why 1/5 of its population suffers(or suffered) from a kind of mental disorder http://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/ )

    and such Taskforce, despite of systematical negative-article “cherry picking”, failed to conclude anything other than, out of 170 articles, all of them minus 5 were contradictories. And that doesnt exist enought research (what were they paid to do anyway?) and, to conclude, they stated that the, at a planetary-scale ignored, ESRB needs to stablish an explicit “violence metrick”

    and as a bonus they were called out by the scientific community for wasting their time with an ass research that doesnt proves anything other than the incompetence of the task force

  19. ArsCortica
    September 1, 2015 at 7:38 am

    I share the author’s worry that the usual suspects (politicians, news magazines in print, television or the net, and of course “concerned parents”) will (ab)use the study to push their ideological standpoint. If you filter out enough studies that are not to your liking, you eventually end up with those that confirm your bias, unsurprisingly.

  20. Mark Samenfink
    Mark Samenfink
    September 1, 2015 at 8:21 am


  21. Demetirus
    September 1, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Great article so far, I’m still working my way through it, but (and I’m sorry for always doing this) I noticed there’s a typo in the section where you list off the six questions the new study was designed to answer. You line break early on the second point and wind up with an extra point. Anyway, I’ll update this more as I go. I really enjoy your writing!

  22. Dr.wonderful
    September 1, 2015 at 9:21 am

    You gave up your anonymity for this. You have my thanks, PF.

  23. teroras
    September 1, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I’m very proud that work like this is being published, and even more proud that Mr. Gulley has decided to take the high road, which is more than I can say for many others regarding the current state of media controversy. Rather than personal attacks, trolling, name calling, and intimidation tactics, he has instead decided to dissect arguments rather than people. It’s a very cool, very rare thing. He has taken a stand for fact and method, and used his own name even, in a courageous stand against the status quo.

  24. teroras
    September 1, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Please pardon my tinfoil. like you said, competition in itself is aggressive. The subversion of the idea of competition is spooky to me. Success in school and business is based on competition. Competition can even be against oneself, in striving to be one’s best. Western society hinges on competition. There is no success or failure without competition. No one has any reason for excellence if there is no competitive spirit. Where also would we place pride? Why would we want to protect ourselves? Why would anyone want us to be docile cattle? *nudge nudge wink wink i’m leading you to the answer that I want you to come up with*

  25. Nonscpo
    September 1, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Another one of these?

  26. Thanatos2k
    September 1, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    All this data and they really couldn’t answer any questions at all. Hmmmmmmm

  27. Zanard Bell
    Zanard Bell
    September 2, 2015 at 12:09 am

    You know the premise of the study is already flawed when you start to include adolescents and children with violent videogames. Whatever they find in the future, even if there is a tenuous connection at best with promulgating anger management issues in younglings, the simple fact of the matter is that the ESRB rating already categorizes videogames to the appropriate genre.

    I will always blame negligent parents for their apparent lack of control in buying junior that COD Part Deux Electric Bugaloo.

  28. TheCynicalReaper
    September 2, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Nicely done, mate! Faved this for future reference!

  29. Zachary Bower
    Zachary Bower
    September 4, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Really liked this article, it’s interesting to see the systemic bias that’s plagued gaming research.

    Unfortunately, studies like these are always oversimplified for political purposes. I’m obviously referring to people like Jack Thompson, but 1 of the reasons I like this article so much is because it avoids the terrible oversimplification that “videogames have no effect on behavior.”

  30. Zachary Bower
    Zachary Bower
    September 4, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    I always wondered why they didn’t just use the movie rating system, parents know what that means.

    Though I actually think the ESRB’s rating system is better, once you understand it.

  31. mkasumovic
    September 14, 2015 at 6:16 am

    Hi Cody,

    Thanks again for a great article. It’s wonderful to see more
    discussion about the science and what it means in the gaming community. I think if we keep getting more people involved like you are, we’re going to end up with a population able to better understand the science behind the research, and ultimately, better science as researchers will be pushed to more accurately explore these questions.

    I’m hoping you don’t mind that I jump in here and chat a bit about some of the science behind the meta analysis and also wax a little about some of your comments (most of which I agree with).

    I’m just learning about meta analyses right now as I have a student PhD who is working on one and I’m getting the opportunity to work with an expert in the field (which is nice!). Many of the problems you have with the
    meta analysis itself is a consequence of the statistics that they are based on.

    First, there are largely three types of meta analyses in the literature:

    1) Experimental – where researchers look at the direction of
    the effect and the effect size. This is the type of meta analysis that was
    completed here.

    2) Correlational – where researcher look at two traits and
    see how a change in one trait affects the change in another. This is the type of meta analysis you mean when you mention examining the effect violent video games have relative to other types of violent media.

    3) Phylogenetic – where you use the relationship between
    species to explore the expression of a trait (not really relevant here).

    Because the first two types of meta analyses use different
    statistical techniques, one can’t really mix them. This is why the authors had to exclude the studies that looked at different types of violent media, because it couldn’t be used the same way. That being said, I agree with your statement that it would be interesting to explore the relative effect of the different types of media.

    Another aspect about paper selection is something I found very interesting, because like yourself, I felt that meta analyses can be very biased depending on the papers that you exclude. I have seen many pairs of meta
    analytic papers where one demonstrates an overall “effect” while the other
    doesn’t and then it comes down to arguments over which papers to

    What I’ve been told is that one needs to be as systematic as
    possible when excluding/including papers because it needs to be replicable. This to me seemed inherently impossible simply because researchers are ‘choosing’ these papers, meaning there must be some bias. And I think there always may be, but the point is to minimize the bias and make the process as transparent as possible.

    Through your explanations of the paper (I haven’t read the
    original), although they are likely biased, they seem transparent as they
    provided search terms (I would state that those are pretty good, as they are not inherently negatively biased) and they provide information on the sample sizes and methodologies required to be included. As a result, it looks like they did the best job they could with the mix of research that is out there.

    That being said, there are inherent biases with meta analyses that you didn’t touch on that I think are worth mentioning. First, meta analyses obviously can’t include papers that aren’t published, and it is likely that there are many papers that didn’t show an effect of video games on
    behaviour weren’t published simply because they weren’t ‘exciting’ results. As a result, there will be a bias towards an effect in most meta analyses.

    Although this is starting to change with journals (like PLoS ONE) that publish papers as long as the research is sound (meaning that they
    don’t only publish papers that demonstrate effects), we are still far from
    having all the truth published in science.

    Second (and you did touch on this one), is that the meta analysis is only as good as the papers that the data are coming from. I think this is a really important one. Because earlier studies did likely not include
    some important factors (like the social interactions, family relationships,
    etc. that you mention), how much weight can their final results be given since the effects are likely not accurate?

    The best thing a meta analysis can do is provide us with
    some interesting directions for future research, which is how the authors seem to conclude with their paper. They never really give us a final answer, and that’s something very important to remember.

    And here is where I hope you don’t min that I wax philosophically alongside you for a bit because some I think that some of the points you bring up are very important.

    The points about how games affect children are important ones. As a father, you always think about these things. The media is very good at
    telling you to worry about what is happening with your kids. Parents,
    unfortunately, respond in a predictable way: by a knee jerk desire to protect their children. The media and politicians are very good at preying on fear, simply because it is such a strong and visceral response, thereby resulting in action. This is why there is the desire to remedy ESRB ratings, even though (as stated in the comments) most parents don’t even know about them. But even if they do change the ratings to be more “accurate”, this won’t have a downstream effect that everyone hoped simply because this is a parental responsibility, and parents vary in the degree of responsibility they take.

    And in regards to the effect that games have on children, like you mention, we just don’t know. There is not nearly enough research, and most
    importantly, there is an abysmally poor amount of research putting games into real-life contexts. For example, if kids play violent video games on average 1-2 hours a day, is that likely to have more or less of an effect than their social interaction in school? How about if they were playing those games with friends? Or maybe parents? What if they talked about the inherent violence within the game afterwards and discussed it? Would that decrease the effect? What if they’re playing games because they don’t gain any attention from their family at home? Or are bulled by classmates and this is the only place they feel good about themselves?

    These are just some of possibilities, and if you think about it, most of them demonstrate a bigger underlying concern than video games. Research
    exploring video games will never be able to determine what relative effect they have on anyone because studies don’t take into consideration and compare the effects of all the other things in that person’s life.

    Even experimentally when studies randomly assign players, those studies show an increase in short-term aggression, and there is no way to
    know how that translates to long term effects. There are many things that make people aggressive (e.g., standing in a long coffee cue where the people in front of you are ordering 4 orange mocha frappuchinos).

    I think you also make an interesting point about human aggression and our behaviour. I agree that aggression in itself is not bad, it’s how that aggression is acted upon; aggression leading to violence is not
    acceptable in a modern society. But like you say, aggression is normal and it is part of how we interact, and more importantly, it’s part of competition. And if we know anything about video games, we know that they are an excellent form of competition (I discuss this topic with respect to video games much more here: https://theconversation.com/violent-videogames-arent-the-problem-its-in-our-genes-12064).

    What’s important to note here is that video games are competitions,
    and as a result, we should expect that individuals become aggressive to varying extents depending on how important the outcome is to them. And to me, this summarizes the problem of video game research: it is not the video game itself that is doing anything to the player, but the act of competition and the successes/failures that come from it.

    Video games have just made the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat available to everyone in the population, where previously it was reserved to certain situations (e.g., school, corporate ladders) or a few particular
    individuals (e.g., athletes). We all know that our experiences shape us. This is why how individuals are using the information about their own performance relative to others and how that affects their behaviour intrigues me much more than “do video games make people (insert desired trait here)”.