Shooter video games like Call of Duty are often citied as the motivation for real-life gun crimes.
But according to a new scientific study published today, there’s no evidence that these games cause violence in the real world.
The London-based study author looked at how adolescent boys’ violent behaviour is affected by the releases of new violent video games in the US.
She concluded that policies intended to place restrictions on video game sales to minors – as attempted by several US states – are unlikely to reduce violence.
Real-life displays of violence, such as mass shootings, have famously been blamed on video games by some politicians, rather than lax gun regulation and easy access to firearms.
The new study coincides with Friday’s UK release of the latest iteration in the first-person-shooter Call of Duty series, ‘Vanguard’.
As the latest ‘Call of Duty’ video game is released in the UK today – Call of Duty: Vanguard – new research shows that violent video games do not lead to increased violence
Shooter games are a subgenre of action video games.
They involve shooting enemies and other targets with firearms.
Early shooter games generally had limited player mobility, typically just allowing the player to move a weapon horizontally or vertically along the edges of the screen.
But today’s successful shooter games tend to be first-person. First-person shooter games feature a first-person point of view, making them more immersive.
The research has been led by Dr Agne Suziedelyte, senior lecturer in the Department of Economics at City, University of London.
Dr Suziedelyte examined the effects of violent video games on two types of violence – aggression against other people, and destruction of property and things.
The study focused on boys in the US aged between eight and 18 years – the group most likely to play violent video games.
Dr Suziedelyte used econometric methods that identify plausibly causal effects of violent video games on violence, rather than only associations.
She found no evidence that violence against other people increases after a new violent video game is released.
Parents reported, however, that children were more likely to destroy things after playing violent video games.
‘Taken together, these results suggest that violent video games may agitate children, but this agitation does not translate into violence against other people – which is the type of violence which we care about most,’ Dr Suziedelyte said.
‘A likely explanation for my results is that video game playing usually takes place at home, where opportunities to engage in violence are lower.
The research provides evidence of the effects of violent video game releases on children’s violent behaviour using data from the US
‘This “incapacitation” effect is especially important for violence-prone boys who may be especially attracted to violent video games.
VIDEO GAMES MAKE YOU LESS EMPATHETIC
In a 2018 study, researchers looked at the three games participants played the most, and noted if they were of a violent nature (such as shooting game Call of Duty) or non-violent (such as Fifa).
They tracked the brainwaves of participants using electroencephalography (EEG).
At the same time they completed a ‘stop-signal task’ which contained male and female faces looking either happy or scared.
The study found gaming was linked to lower empathy and emotional callousness.
Researchers believe this is because it inhibits people’s ability to process emotional facial expression and control their responses as a result.
‘Therefore, policies that place restrictions on video game sales to minors are unlikely to reduce violence.’
Dr Suziedelyte pointed out that sales of video games in the US have been increasing since the 1990s, whereas violent crime rates have been decreasing during the same period.
She also citied evidence that video games, whether violent in nature or otherwise, increase children’s problem-solving ability.
Mass media and general public often link violent video games to real-life violence, although there is limited evidence to support the link, according to Dr Suziedelyte.
Debate on the topic generally intensifies after mass public shootings, with some commentators linking these violent acts to the perpetrators’ interests in violent video games.
One example is National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre blaming the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on the perpetrator’s obsession with violent games.
Former US President Donald Trump also frequently stated his theory that gaming violence leads to real violence, after mass shooting events during his time in office – despite America’s notorious stance over firearm possession.
In August 2019, Trump blamed internet, social media, computer games and mental illness for the El Paso shooting – which killed 22 people – but not firearms.
After Trump’s take on the matter, Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive, the gaming company behind Grand Theft Auto, said blaming video games for mass shootings is disrespectful to victims’ families.
Zelnick also called gun violence ‘uniquely American’ but said ‘entertainment is consumed world-wide’.
Under President Joe Biden, the right to keep and bear arms is still protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Last year, a paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science looked at multiple long-term studies into video games and aggression.
It found no evidence of a substantial link between ‘aggressive game content’ and signs of anger or rage later on in childhood.
‘Poor quality studies’ in the past likely exaggerated the impact of games on aggression, while better quality studies show the effects of gaming are ‘negligible’, it found.
The findings mirrored the results of another study conducted at the University of Oxford, published in 2019.
Former US President Donald Trump (pictured here in July 2021) blamed mass shootings on violent video games during his time in office
The Oxford authors found no relationship between aggressive behaviour in teenagers and the amount of time spent playing violent video games.
There has been some research to support the theory that violent video games lead to real violence, however.
One 2018 study found playing violent video games regularly makes people desensitised to disturbing images.
Scientists at the University of New South Wales found regular players were better at disregarding graphic content while viewing a rapid series of images.
Another study that year found those who engaged in chronic violent gameplay had lower empathy and more emotional callousness.
Yet another study from 2014 led by Iowa State University found violent video games fuel aggressive behaviour as children grow up, regardless of age, gender or culture.
Playing violent video games as a child does NOT lead to more aggressive behaviour in real-life
Playing violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty won’t make children more aggressive, a 2020 study found.
Researchers from Massey University, the University of Tasmania and Stetson University reviewed multiple long-term studies into video games and aggression.
They found no evidence of a substantial link between ‘aggressive game content’ and signs of anger or rage later on in childhood.
‘Poor quality studies’ in the past likely exaggerated the impact of games on aggression, while better quality studies show the effects of gaming are ‘negligible’.
Regulation of violent games also did not appear likely to reduce aggression in real life, suggesting parents shouldn’t worry about their kids shooting up virtual enemies.
Real-life displays of violence, such as mass shootings in the US, have famously been blamed on video games by some politicians, rather than lax gun regulation and easy access to firearms.
Following a shooting in the US in 2019, US President Donald Trump said America needs to ‘stop the glorification of violence’ by ‘gruesome and grisly video games’.