Do video games make us violent? The real answers from science – L’Express

Do video games make us violent The real answers from

In June 2023, Emmanuel Macron highlighted the influence of video games in the riots following the death of Nahel. “We sometimes have the impression that some people transpose the video games that influenced them into reality,” he declared at the time. This is not the first time that video games have been implicated in acts of violence. It’s even an old refrain as soon as a violent event shakes up the news.

In June 2019, US President Trump had already linked them to the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, which left 31 victims. And Nicolas Sarkozy denounced “their incredible violence” after the Paris attacks in 2015. The examples are legion. But do video games really lead to violent behavior, or is this leisure activity being used for political purposes?

“Moral combat”: the video game, the ideal culprit

The history of complex relationship between video games and violence begins in the United States with Mortal Kombat (1993), a realistic fighting game controversial due to its violent content. As soon as it was released, it sparked strong protests from parents and associations. Certain members of the American Congress then sought to respond to the concerns of their electorate and initiated a procedure aimed at regulating video games with violent content. This approach will result in the creation of a classification based on the age of players, but no specific legislation preventing violent content will be put in place.

Debates on the effects of violent video games were relaunched on the occasion of the Columbine shootings in the United States in 1999. In a series of videos, the two murderers discuss Doom, a first-person shooter, as a source of inspiration for their actions. Subsequently, violent video games would be used by American politicians to explain acts of mass shootings, thus providing an escape from questions surrounding the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution which allows for sale and possession. firearms by citizens.

War… meta-analyses

The potential existence of a link between video games and violence will be reinforced by the famous meta analysis conducted by the American researcher Craig Alan Anderson published in 2016. By analyzing 381 studies, his team concluded that there are significant associations between the use of video games and the thoughts, feelings and aggressive behaviors reported by the participants. Of course, correlation [un lien entre des évènements] does not mean causality [un rapport de cause à effet]but this meta-analysis will long be invoked to support the idea that video games cause violence among young people.

Several years later, other American researchers use Anderson’s data to carry out a new analysis. They pay particular attention to publication bias, that is to say the tendency in the scientific world to only publish studies whose result presents a significant result: in this case, a deleterious link between the practice of video games and violent behavior. They take advantage of this to integrate work from unpublished theses into their analysis. Their result suggests that the associations between video games and aggressive behavior have been overestimated and that publication bias is major. Researchers are finding through the use of new statistical methods that the associations between playing video games and aggressive feelings, thoughts and behaviors are actually very weak.

A weak association between playing video games and violence

To better understand the links between video games and violence, scientists have also been interested in the weight of individual, family and socio-economic vulnerabilities. In a study published in 2020, American researchers explored the trajectories of 434 young fans of violent video games – Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty – by measuring aggressive behaviors, prosocial behaviors as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. These adolescents aged 10 to 13 were monitored for periods of up to eleven years. At the start of the experiment, the researchers identified three categories: players with a high practice of violent video games (19), those whose practice was moderate (99) and low (316). Overall, the results indicate that playing violent video games is weakly associated with aggressive behavior.

They also show that adolescents in the group with “a strong use of violent video games” ended up significantly reducing their use at the dawn of adulthood. To explain this reduction, the researchers suggest that these young people already showed more depressive symptoms at the start of the study than those in the other groups. They could then have benefited from greater parental support and/or mental health care, which would have led to a reduction in the practice of violent video games at the end of the follow-up.

The children in the group with “moderate use of violent video games” had a significantly higher level of aggression at the end of the follow-up compared to the other two groups. It is possible that these adolescents suffered from mental health difficulties, but not enough to receive support, which would contribute to the maintenance of aggressive behaviors over time. Finally, those whose practice of violent video games was “low” slightly increased this activity between the start and the end of the intervention, but without this change being accompanied by an increase in aggressive behavior. The occurrence of these violent behaviors would therefore not be strictly due to violent video games, but rather to a set of individual vulnerabilities.

Much more significant individual, family and socio-economic vulnerabilities

A recent study by the same team tends to confirm these conclusions. This time, the researchers carried out an eight-year follow-up with 488 American adolescents aged 10 to 13 in order to observe their engagement in playing video games. They measured physical aggressive behaviors, video game practices and other factors such as the quality of mental health or the family environment. The study shows that 28% of adolescents in the sample had multiple socio-economic and psychosocial vulnerabilities: conflicting family relationships, history of harassment, etc. These young people also showed a significant level of physical aggression at the start of the follow-up, but these behaviors faded as they entered adulthood. According to the researchers, playing violent video games did not bring additional risk to this group, already at high risk of developing aggressive behavior over time.

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The authors of the study also showed that 13% of adolescents in the sample reporting a high level of aggression also had a high propensity to frequently play violent video games. Unlike the previous group, they had fewer socio-economic or psychosocial vulnerabilities, but playing a lot put them at greater risk of developing physically aggressive behaviors. Their use of violent video games could, then, be a way of managing their mental health difficulties thanks to the distraction they provide.

Among adolescents who initially displayed low levels of physical aggression, researchers found that exposure to extremely violent video games was not associated with aggressive behaviors, either in the short or long term. This can be explained by numerous protective factors against aggressive behavior such as control of the media by their parents, a quality family environment or even good socio-economic conditions. Although there is a very weak association between violent video games and aggressive behavior, it seems to be guided mainly by individual, family and socio-economic vulnerabilities.

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So, do video games make you violent or are they used for political purposes to explain violent behavior in our society? Studies indicate that adolescent violent behavior is systemic, that is, it results from the interaction of a number of individual, family, economic and social vulnerabilities. The impact of violent video games on aggressive behavior in real life is very weak and these relationships would be different depending on the adolescent profiles. If our policies want to address the issue of reducing violent behavior, perhaps they should focus less on video game practices and more on the vulnerability factors of young people such as domestic violence, educational inequalities, poverty or even disenchantment in the face of an uncertain future.

Séverine Erhel is a lecturer in cognitive psychology at Rennes II University.