A new Ohio State University study shows that playing violent video games can make people more aggressive over time, but the report’s co-author said it is impossible to link such games to violent criminal behavior like the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
The new study provides the first experimental evidence that the negative effects of playing violent video games can accumulate over time, said Brad Bushman, an Ohio State professor of communication and psychology who researches factors that can influence aggressive behavior. People who played a violent video game for three consecutive days showed increases in aggressive behavior and hostile expectations each day they played, he said.
Video-game publishers are facing growing pressure from Washington and advocacy groups concerned about possible links between violent games and tragedies like the recent mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.
The makers of “Grand Theft Auto” announced Friday that the latest chapter in the best-selling crime simulator video game series will be delayed until September.
President Barack Obama last month called for the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to renew scientific research into the relationship between “video games, media images and violence.” He also urged Congress to support a bill that would grant the CDC $10 million to conduct this new research.
In a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, Daniel Greenberg of the International Game Developers Association said the nonprofit group would “welcome more evidenced-based research into the effects of our work to add to the large body of existing scientific literature that clearly shows no causal link between video game violence and real violence.”
Game companies say their products are protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to the Entertainment Software Association, a trade group that represents U.S. computer and video game publishers. Association officials declined comment for this article.
The video game industry adopted a voluntary rating system in 1994 that limits the sale and rental of games with violent or adult content to customers over ages 17 and 18, respectively.
In June 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a ban on the sale and rental of “violent” video games to minors is an unconstitutional infringement of speech rights. The ruling said the games are entitled to the same constitutional protection as books, movies, music and other forms of artistic expression.
“Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.
The Ohio State study, conducted by Bushman with fellow researchers in France and Germany, involved 70 French university students who were told they would be participating in a three-day study of the effects of brightness of video games on visual perception.
The students were then randomly assigned to play a violent or nonviolent video game for 20 minutes on each of three consecutive days. After playing the game each day, participants took part in several exercises that measured their hostile expectations and aggression.
People who played the violent video games expected others to behave aggressively and were more likely to respond with aggression themselves, Bushman said. Students who played the nonviolent games showed no changes in either their hostile expectations or their aggression.
“There is a difference on day one: Violent video game players are more aggressive,” Bushman said. “The difference is even bigger on day two, and on day three it is bigger still.”
Testing players for longer periods of time isn’t practical or ethical, he said.
Bushman’s research also showed that violent video games decrease pro-social behavior, such as helping or cooperating with others, and decrease feelings of empathy and compassion for others.
“It is impossible to know whether playing violent video games causes violent criminal behavior such as the Newtown shootings, because in our laboratory experiments we can’t give people guns to see if they shoot each other with them,” he said.
Violent criminal behavior is complicated and determined by many factors, “often in combination,” Bushman said.
“Violent media is not the only factor that contributes to aggression and violence, but at least it is one we can do something about” by controlling the media that children are exposed to, Bushman said.
Consumers spent $24.7 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in 2011, according to the research firm NPD Group. U.S. video game software sales reached $8.8 billion and computer game sales were $450 million.
The video game industry supports 120,000 direct and indirect jobs with an average salary of $90,000, according to the Entertainment Software Association.
Five of the 10 best-selling video games of 2012 featured violent content, according to a year-end sales report by NPD Group. They included such titles as “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” “Halo 4,” “Assassin’s Creed III,” “Borderlands 2” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”
Video game industry by the numbers
The average U.S. household owns at least one dedicated game console, PC or smartphone
Average game player age: 30
Average game buyer age: 35
Amount consumers spent on video games, hardware and accessories in 2011: $24.7 billion
Total amount taxpayers have repaid the entertainment software industry for its legal fees: $2.1 million
Source: Entertainment Software Association