By: Lauren Maher (Bugle Team)

Newspapers often report findings about the effects of violent video games on behaviour despite the true results being extremely mixed. Many studies report conflicting findings, making it difficult to draw any real conclusions. This article presents studies that question the role of violent video games in causing aggression, followed by an examination of the positive effects of video games and their potential uses in clinical settings.

Will playing violent video games make you more violent?

While not all video games are violent, a great deal of the most popular ones are e.g. Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Halo, which makes violent video games an important area to research. Anderson’s 2004 meta-analysis revealed that exposure to violent video games is linked to both aggression and decreased ‘helping’ behaviour.

On the other hand, a Time article by Ferguson (2011) argued that many studies of the effects of violence in video games lack ecological validity, suggesting the results cannot be generalised to real-life instances. Ferguson not only posited that the measures of aggression used are weak, but also that the exposure to video games in these studies is often very brief. The levels of aggression found may then be due to frustration caused by the difficulty level of these video games as opposed to being a direct result of their violent nature. Despite this criticism, increases in aggression have been tied to violence in other contexts, as found by Bushman & Anderson (2001) who researched the effects of brief exposure to violence in TV and film.

This study by Bushman & Anderson (2001) also highlights that the criticism of violence in video games, rather than being solely targeted at video games, appears to be part of a wider general direction of research examining the role of violence in the media.

General benefits of playing video games

Whilst violent video games may lead to aggressive behaviours, a review by Bavalier et al (2012) described how action video games can be beneficial to a variety of cognitive functions. Bavalier et al. (2012) illustrated how action video games can enhance visual perception (e.g. by producing a higher tolerance for distractors), cognitive functions (such as enhanced task-switching abilities), decision-making skills (increasing correct decision-making), and improvements in top down attention (including selective, divided and sustained attention). Bavalier also discussed a study by Rosser et al. (2007), which found that surgeons who played video games were faster and more accurate at performing surgery.

Developing Video Games for Use in Clinical Settings

Whilst action and/or violent video games may appear to be the mainstream choice, research has also examined the role of video games oriented towards physical activity in improving health. Bieryla & Dold (2013) for instance, found that training using the Wii Fit & balance board improved balance in a small sample of older adults. The use of video games in this instance confers two advantages: firstly, patients found the tasks to be enjoyable, increasing the likelihood of adherence to the training program. Secondly, it allowed patients to train their balance at home, rather than in an inpatient setting. This use of video games in health has been a relatively new direction in the industry. These products could potentially be used in conjunction with clinical support to aid the health of patients e.g. elderly patients with balance problems, obese patients etc. Furthermore, there are applications developed such as CogMed, which are being used to try and enhance working memory in children with ADHD.

In conclusion, the effects of video games seem to depend very particularly on the type of game and its general aim. The debate of whether video games can increase violence in players is very much unresolved given the vast literature of contradictory findings. However it seems safe to say the debate is very much alive and will hopefully shed light on the issue in the future. Notably, there also seem to be clear benefits to playing video games, as they appear to enhance a large variety of cognitive skills. Furthermore, video games can be specifically designed to aid certain populations and can therefore be used as a form of intervention or training.

Sources:

Anderson, C. A. (2004). An update on the effects of place violent video games. Journal of Adolescence.

Anderson, C. A, & Bushman, B. J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behaviour: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science, 12, 353-359.

Bieryla, K. A. & Dold, N. M. (2013) Feasibility of Wii Fit training to improve clinical measures of balance in older adults. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 8, 775-781.

Ferguson, C. (2011, December 11) Video Games Don’t Make Kids Violent. Retrievedf from http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/07/video-games-dont-make-kids-violent/

Rosser, J. C. J., Lynch, P. J., Cuddihy, L., Gentile, D. A., Klonsky, J. & Merrel, R. (2007). The impact of video games on training surgeons in the 21st century. Archives of Surgery. 142, 181-186.

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