Since video games first came on to the scene in the 1970s, there has been groundswell of concern over whether violence simulated on screen could potentially lead to violence in real life. In the last few years, these anxieties have reached a fever pitch as gun violence in the US has increased. This kind of fear is understandable– with new technology comes wariness about its long-term effects. And these fears were bolstered by early research that suggested that there was a link between video games and violence. However, as we’ll see, the research is, at best, inconclusive.
What does the research say?
In his August Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), Dr. Alok Kanojia discussed the relationship between video games and violence. As Dr. Kanojia told one Reddit user, “I think we tend to focus too much on violence and the impact on children, whereas I’ve seen more concerning complications from video gaming in terms of motivation, problem solving, and attention.” While some recent studies have shown that there is a small increase in aggressive behavior correlated with video game use, there have been a number of studies in recent years that have shown no causal link between video games and violence. Yet, over and over again, after many instances of gun violence, people return to the idea that video games must be to blame.
What is true is that if unchecked, people’s relationship to video games can create a wealth of problems for which there is very strong evidence. Focusing on video games as the root of society’s ills not only distracts from other factors that contribute to the rise in violence, but it also distracts from the proven effects of unchecked video gaming on mental health. Although it can be tempting to look for easy answers, whether we’re dealing with something like gun violence or mental health, getting to the root of causes and solutions will require more patience, research, and willingness to accept complicated answers.
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