Can violent video games cause aggression?

2015-11-22 15:35

The South African Institute of Race Relations reports that only 23% of learners feel safe at our schools. This is in stark contrast to Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, where 70% of learners report feeling safe. While violence among young people is a global problem, it is important to understand the different causes. One possible explanation is the increasing availability of games with violent content.

According to GfK retail report, the international games hardware market grew by 23.6% in the fourth quarter of 2014. This trend also applies to the local market. More specifically, PwC Southern Africa projects that total spending on video games is likely to grow by more than 6.4% per annum from R1.3 billion in 2011 to R1.8 billion in 2016. Gaming now in the ‘‘third era’’ is characterized by marked improvement in graphics quality and by a big increase in violent content. Globally, 18% of the best-selling genres by units sold in 2011 were shooter games. Locally, the sports genre such as FIFA and Gran Turismo were the highest selling PS3 and X-Box units. The report shows that games with violent content such as God of War and Call of Duty were close followers. This suggests that playing video games with violent content is increasing.

A few international studies claim that adolescents who play violent video games were more likely to be hostile towards others, get into arguments with teachers, get involved in physical fights, and perform poorly in school. However, many studies question whether the aggression effect of playing violent games can be viewed as a serious problem. To get clarity about these conflicting viewpoints, we developed and tested our research model using survey data collected from over a hundred university students. We examined the extent to which excessive gaming as well as technology interactive richness was associated with aggression. Contrary to studies that make strong claims that playing violent video game leads to aggression, our study found little evidence to support these claims. Given the small and trivial nature of the effects we found, it remains unclear from the evidence whether playing violent video games can be cast as a direct cause of violent behaviour [However, our sample may have biased the findings. University students may be overrepresented by young people who can generally control their aggression].

Despite the sample bias, we think that violent gaming technologies does not have a strong influence on aggressive behaviour. It is more plausible that they are stimulating pre-aggressive individuals already predisposed by other social and psychological factors. We agree with researchers who suggest that delinquent peer influences, antisocial personality traits, depression, and abusive parents or guardians are generally higher risk factors for violence and aggression than technology-related behaviors. The increasing prevalence of drugs in South African schools is another high risk factor.

While gaming technologies may be one of the tempting scapegoats for explaining aggression and violence among younger people, we think that interventions will be better served by insights into the aggressor’s personal, family, and social context rather than on just technology-related behaviors.

Excerpt of a paper by N Fumhe and R Naidoo presented at the 2015 Annual Conference of the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists 

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