Video Games and Violence

Video games are a relatively new and widely used phenomenon. Many are violent (8 out of the top 20 games in 2011 had a Mature rating), which some consider to have an impact on the psyche of people. The question at hand is whether the rise of violent video games is impacting society in a way that violent television, movies, literature and other stimuli do not.

It should be noted that exposure to violence is nothing new in society. For centuries people attended public executions with the whole family, or went to cadaver dissection viewings. Violence has existed in literature since people created written language. Violent video games and other visual media, however, act in the unique way of exposing a person to detailed violence while also insulating the person from the reality of it. Additionally, video games are much more involved than passive television and movie viewing.

Despite the increased usage of violent video games, violent youth crimes have fallen. Sales of video games have more than quadrupled between 1995 and 2008. At the same time the arrest rate for juvenile murders fell 71.9% and the arrest rate for all juvenile violent crimes declined 49.3%. Additionally, in 2005, the U.S. had 2,279 murders committed by teenagers (27.9 per million residents) compared to 73 in Japan (3.1 per million). Per capita video game sales were $5.20 in the U.S. compared to $47 in Japan.

On the other hand, 60% of middle school boys that played at least one mature-rated game hit or beat up someone, compared to 39% of boys that did not play Mature-rated games, according to a 2008 study, Grand Theft Childhood. Another study found that violent video games reduced P300 levels in the brain compared to those playing non-violent video games when the subjects were later shown violent images. P300 is associated with activation of the aversive motivational system, which suggests violent video games desensitize people to violence. Antisocial Personality Disorder is also typified by low arousal in the aversive motivational system.

According to a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Michigan, direct increased aggression from violent video game play is short lived. Aggressive feelings and thoughts lasted less than 4 minutes and increased heart rate and aggressive behavior lasted 4-9 minutes after the games were played. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Research found that 45% of boys in grade 7-12 stated that one reason they played violent video games was, “it helps me get my anger out.”

The Entertainment Software Rating Board rates the content of video games depending on what age group the content is appropriate for. The ratings are Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen, Mature, and Adults Only. In 2011, 98% of parents felt the ESRB rating system is either very or somewhat helpful and 85% of parents were aware of the ESRB rating system. Additionally, 91% of parents say they pay attention to the content of the games their children play.

In 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that a California law imposing restrictions on violent video games violates First Amendment protection of Freedom of Speech. The California law required violent video games to include an “18” label and criminalized the sale of these games to minors. In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “A state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm… but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.” Based on this ruling, new restrictions on violent video games face serious legal obstacles to implementation.

Additional Resources

Voice of America, Are Violent Games Linked to Violent Crimes?

Policymic, Gun Violence and Video Games:

ProCon, Video Games:

Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association:


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