For science: New long-term study shows video games don’t make adults violent
Before we start, yes, I’m sure many of our readers are feeling a big wave of “duh” at the statement in the headline, but remember that testable results carry more weight than anecdotal evidence and feelings. And these results are solid.
As researchers Simone Kühn, Dimitrij Tycho Kugler, Katharina Schmalen, Markus Weichenberger, Charlotte Witt and Jürgen Gallinat note in Does playing violent video games cause aggression? A longitudinal intervention study, the paper here is the “first to investigate the effects of long-term violent video gameplay using a large battery of tests spanning questionnaires, behavioural measures of aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy and interpersonal competencies, impulsivity-related constructs (such as sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk-taking, delay discounting), mental health (depressivity, anxiety) as well as executive control functions, before and after 2 months of gameplay.” While two months may not be that long, it’s pretty good when you consider the number of shortcomings we see in game aggression research.
What the research says
This is what you’re all here for, and the results are actually really good news for gamers: No significant changes in any of the assessed variables were found, “particularly not in the aggression levels over time in any of the three groups.” In fact, just three of the 208 statistical tests performed showed any significant changes that could allude to more violent behavior, and because of all the statistical tools looking to correct the sample sizes and predict for random variables, these are statistically explained away as coincidence.
Granted, there were some short-term increases in aggression, but just as in past studies, the effects were not only short-lived but difficult to replicate and far from consistent. It could be an issue with the way researchers look at aggression, but within our current methods, gaming is looking pretty harmless for adults.
Also, keep in mind that aggression wasn’t the only factor the researchers were looking at. Depression, anxiety, worldview, moral disengagement, even rape myth acceptance was tracked. Adult gamers showed no statistically significant trends that indicated gaming led to any negative consequences over a two-month period of violent gaming. This is the kind of thing that would have been nice information to present – if any scientists had been invited to talk to the White House when lobbyists and officials met to discuss it.
Factors to consider and future research questions
A two-month study isn’t really all that long, but compared to other studies that generally test for violence and aggression immediately after playing a game, it’s pretty good. We generally want thousands of participants, but since tracking them all is a real problem, this study’s 90-person participant with 48 women and people between 18-45 (average age was 28) isn’t bad at all, especially when the researchers used a lot of traditionally acceptable statistical measures and corrective measures to ensure reliability. We can’t play all the games all the time, but having a group that played The Sims 3, Grand Theft Auto V, and the non-gaming control group is pretty good. Participants were paid (even the non-playing group) when they came in to participate in the study.
Remember, few studies are going to be a “silver bullet.” The adult mind is quite different from a child’s, so this study shouldn’t be applied to kids. We also have to remember that games (not just digital ones) do teach. It’s difficult to measure by how much, but they’re used (digital or not) for teaching math, science, foreign languages, and violent actions. Yes, the US government clearly invests in games for combat simulations, and while games do have a number of cognitive skills they can teach, morality is among them.
That being said, any teacher will tell you that teaching isn’t easy. Neither is learning. We can’t say games don’t teach anything, but at the same time, there’s a process. As Dr. Malton Elson notes, at best, games reward actions. The actions may be violent, but they don’t make you aggressive. That’s a deeper issue also influenced by biology and genetics, and while it can potentially be learned, just consider how hard it is to change someone’s personality. If games could really do that, developers would be making big dough turning their stereotypical shy outcasts into highly desirable extrovert influencers. Trust me, I’d be reviewing the heck out of that game!
Moreover, while violence is linked to aggression, the two aren’t the same, especially if you cleave to the idea that games can desensitize players. That’s not within the scope of this study, though. We’re looking at whether or not video games made people aggressive as a result of playing games daily for two months. Maybe after two or 20 years the results could be different, or maybe it desensitized people, and yeah, the results are probably different for kids, but you undergrads and researchers out there can use this study as a jumping point to either confirm the findings (because, again, single studies aren’t enough– findings need to be repeatable) or take the research to the next level.
I know, I know, “So what? I already knew that!” But here’s the thing: Now we have more evidence. There’s research that shows that two months of playing one of gaming’s biggest scapegoats doesn’t turn adults into monsters. If you need to talk about supposed negative effects of games on adults with family, co-workers, lawmakers, or educators, this article is a good starting point. This isn’t just feelings or beliefs or lobbying; it’s groups of people who played vastly different games (or none at all), took all kinds of tests/questionnaires about potential anti-social behaviors, and came out A-OK.
The other side can also say, “So what?” but by having good research on your side, they need to provide something of similar or equal quality. If you have the time, look through their math and the corrective formulas – it’s intimidating how far the researchers went to not only check their work but give their research a big opportunity to be “inconclusive,” practically a research death-sentence. The other side can take this study and run it too. If it fails, it’s inconsistent, which is also terrible for any research and immediately calls it into question. If people are worried about any of the factors, they (or researchers) can modify just that and run everything again.
The idea is that there’s a very solid blueprint to follow. Something more than just feelings. You can argue feelings all day, but testable facts speak volumes, and having this research (currently) available to the public is a big deal for combating naysayers, whether they’re in the comment sections of the internet or the highest offices of government.