Could studies on violent video games be skewing results?

Editor: Tracy Benson

Usually I tend to dismiss articles about violence in video games and the alleged studies that have been done about the topic. As a reasonably well-adjusted adult, I know I’m not affected by it. I also know that the media has a habit of jumping on the “blame violent video games” bandwagon whenever children or young adults do anything wrong. I have no doubt that, psychologically, excessively graphic and violent games will have an effect on the mental well-being of children, and that’s where age restrictions come in right?

Violent Games

So it was with increasing anger that I read this article about how violent video games numb players to brutality. It’s not that I disagree with them on the results of their study, I disagree very strongly on the study itself. Apparently, the research focused on a group of 13-15 year old boys who played violent video games for three or more hours a day, versus a group that played for no more than an hour a day. Researchers then studied the reactions of the groups after playing a nonviolent cartoon game, Animaniacs, and a violent game, Manhunt.

Wait, wait, hang on… Manhunt? The game that was banned all over the place? The game that carries an ESRB rating of M for Mature, meaning no under 17’s? Please, can someone tell me why they picked that game? The conspiracy nut in me is busy yelling that they are deliberately skewing the result by choosing such a notorious and excessively graphic game, but surely there is a reasonable explanation…

Nope. Not that I could find. The article doesn’t link back to the study, and although I found it easily enough here, it was obviously clinical and jargon-loaded, offering nothing in the way of explanation or justification.

When put to my followers on Twitter, I got argument pretty much in favour of mine:

@rincethis “yeah, I just had to leave a comment on there too. If you stick a 13 year old in front of all the SAW movies for hours?”
@raptor2022 “#AgeRestrictions #ParentsResponsibility Violence from games in respect to parent supervision levels should be investigated”.

But I don’t know if I’m just having a knee-jerk reaction. Gaming is obviously something I’m passionate about and I’m quick to defend it. So what do you think? Am I overreacting to the fact that age-restrictions were ignored, or could their choice of game have skewed the results of the study?

Lurker, observer and occasional commenter, don’t question my geek credentials until you’ve seen my Normandy SR-2 replica and my Doctor Who TARDIS mug.


  • Jacques du Preez

    I am arguably a bit of a hot head and I play violent games. But I am not violent to other people and generally prefer games that are non violent. I’m am basically a walking counter argument. This is why these studies make me roll my eyes.

    • Tracy Benson

      You’re also in the target age group for more violent games, which is to say you’re not 13-15 years old.

      • sicksniper256

        Parental guidance and moral responsibility are important factors too. Even at the age of 10 my parents deemed me mature enough for such games.

        I am numbed to video game violence but I absolutely hate the real thing. In any situation I will only get ‘violent’ if it is absolutely necessary and I usually choose to use off-balancing takedowns rather than brute force (even though I have lots of strength to spare). My life motto that I keep in mind in all situations is “Stay Classy”.

        Children need to be instilled with an understanding of violence at a very young age and taught that it is almost never the right way to go. Also parents should focus on developing a child’s logical and deductive reasoning skills as this will help them avoid violent situations and thinking of the consequences of their actions ahead of time.

        I have some cousins who were raised almost the exact opposite of me… they were shielded from everything and their learning was stifled by their parents. Those kids are now constantly getting in fights, speaking vulgar language, and stealing things. The oldest one is 13…

        • Tracy Benson

          Agreed, there are many contributing factors and parental guidance is paramount. You also do need to be taught the difference between real life and games, parents need to be involved in what’s going on so they can talk to their kids and make sure they understand.

  • eXpZA

    From personal feelings, video games definitely numb your perception to violence, but not in a real world sense. I can play a game whereby the main objective is to lop off a limb in order to progress (Walking Dead Episode 5 – also, Spoiler) without batting an eyelid due to the countless violent games I’ve played, but I get sick to the core in real life if I see the tiniest bit of blood.

    What I’m trying to say in my poorly constructed paragraph is that I perceive violence in Video Games not as Violence, but as a bunch of pixels moving around a screen. When people bemoan Grand Theft Auto’s ‘killing of prostitutes’, I simply see an event for simulated entertainment taking place, not the actual murder of a lovely Lady of the Night.

    This relates to the overall topic as most of my gaming life has taken place in my adolescent years (age 9’ish onward, I started early) with the majority being of a violent nature. I have grown up into a person who would never harm another human being or revert to Violence, despite my violent Video Game upbringing, as my parents taught me the difference between what happens on a screen and what happens in real life.

    If Video Games cause the participants to become violent, then why are adults who watched The Wizard of Oz in their youth, which starts with the brutal crushing of a woman by low cost housing, a generation of violent murderers today?

  • Christa Bartolo

    From a psychology and ethics perspective this study should never have been approved.

    Had this research proposal gone through the proper channels and been subjected to scrutiny by an accredited research facility it would have been shut down for the simple fact that it would do more harm than good.

    You cannot willfully subject participants in a study to material or actions that are explicitly inappropriate to age, gender or could be harmful in any way, especially when it comes to minors. The fact that this games had an age restriction imposed on it would have made it unsuitable and the study should have been halted until a more suitable alternative was found.

    Just shows you the quality of the “research”.

    • Tracy Benson

      Exactly! You should read the controversy around Manhunt and why it’s such an unsuitable game, not just in graphic violence but content and “story” as such, it deals with really adult themes.

  • Sir Rants A Lot Llew. Jelly!!!

    Couldn’t agree with you more. The mere fact that they took one of the most violent games and subjected young children to it is sickening.

    These studies also leave me stunned and at a loss for words because, while I don’t doubt the legitimate claims that it’s bad for kids, I don’t understand why these kids are allowed to play in the first place.

    I am not going to hand a 15 year old a game rated 17+ anymore than I am going to hand a 15 year old kid a movie rated 18. It’s irresponsible. So my question is why are the retailers not enforcing the age restrictions on the game boxes? and if they are why are the parents not taking this in to consideration?

    • Tracy Benson

      That pretty much sums it up for me hey. Like Rincethis mentioned as well, you wouldn’t let these kids watch Saw, why let them play Manhunt in the name of science?

  • Maverick

    I’m not surprised by this. Studies like this are rarely done without a bias towards one end result. Even the study itself proves one of the things that is wrong about blaming video games. People want to blame the game, but ignore the fact that parents are allowing their kids to play games that are rated M. Either the parents don’t know or don’t care, but they are never to blame. In this study the researchers just have replaced the parents and done the same thing.

    As for people becoming desensitized to violence, I think it comes down to the mental makeup of the person. If they can’t distinguish the difference between video game violence and real violence the problem is much worse than just taking away violent video games. I see more of a problem with the tv and the internet, where they see real people doing real things. Kids especially are exposed to much more then they should be, and I would say the fault lies not so much in what they see, but who allows them to see it.

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