Games do make kids aggressive
The Observer, Sunday 23 April 2000
Playing violent video games does make children more aggressive, according to the first definitive studies of the subject, to be published this week.
The research results show that psychological damage can be inflicted on even occasional players of video game nasties. It suggests for the first time that violence in interactive games is far more harmful than violence on television or in films.
The scientists found that aggressive behaviour, hostile thoughts and irritability rose steeply in males and females after playing violent games. Long-term exposure to video game nasties also 'disrupts academic achievement'.
The scientific evidence comes one year after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado which drew widespread attention to graphic violence in games.
Teenagers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot dead 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves. A recording they left behind describes how the slaughter would be just like their favourite video game, Doom.
It came as no surprise to Professor Karen Dill <email@example.com>, a psychologist at Lenoir-Rhyne College, North Carolina, who co-authored both research projects (see home page; external). Doom, used to train US Marines in warfare, Mortal Kombat and Wolfenstein 3D, were the games used in her studies. All are widely available in the UK.
'What we have shown, for the first time,' said Dill, 'is that aggressive behaviour and hostile thoughts are significantly increased in players of violent video games. They are more harmful than violent television and movies because they are very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor. In a sense they provide a complete learning environment for aggression. These results are very, very worrying.'
One study looked at occasional players; the other, led by Dr Craig Anderson, looked at the effect on people already prone to aggression. 'Our study reveals that young men who are habitually aggressive may be especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games,' said Anderson.
The research could spark a rash of legal actions against the game manufacturers, and Louise and Barry from Sussex may be first in the queue. Their 17-year-old son, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is in a young offenders' institution. This normally affable teenager battered his best friend with a wooden staff after a row over who owned a magazine. His 15-year-old friend was left with brain damage. The public schoolboy told a social worker how he had just 'lost all control, it was like I wanted to smash him dead, like in a computer game'.
The teenager played Doom, and Carmageddon, a game where points are awarded for running people over, for up to four hours a night. 'I thought he was just being a normal teenager and we tried to give him some space,' said his distraught mother. 'The police were interested in the games, and that was the first time I thought to have a look - I was shocked to the core. These games are tantamount to child abuse, evil.'
Violent games make up around 6 per cent of all the video games sold in the UK. But many children will have access to the games even if they do not own them. Almost as soon as Dill and her team began looking at Doom and Mortal Kombat for the two-year project, the games were surpassed by more realistic titles.
One of the most graphically violent games is called Quake. Extra 'packs' for the game can be downloaded from the Internet should you wish to add more blood, more gore and bigger and better weapons. You can scan in a face of your pal and put it on the person you're shooting in the game. Some people have put in the face of their teacher from class photos,' explains 14-year-old Michael, a schoolboy from East Kilbride. 'Then you can cut off their heads and kick them around or use them as head grenades to explode another person.'
Michael owns a copy of Doom and is all too familiar with Quake. Despite the age 15 recommendation, he bought Quake from a reputable store with no questions asked. Dill, who studied 300 college students, said: 'These are adolescents in the process of developing their ideas and attitudes. A lot of parents think because it is a game it is a cartoon. But it is far from that. They should look at some of these things. They are graphically violent.
'Also disturbing is the role of the female characters in these games. Disturbingly like pornography, they are either helpless victims or scantily clad sex objects.'
Article reported on
Dill, Karen E. and Craig A. Anderson (2000). Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78. 4 (April): 772-790. Full text (external)
Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles