Video games are massively popular, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 made £490m in its first five days on sale, but do video games have a negative effect, and if so, why?
Explanations of the video games and aggression link
Desensitization – Funk said that people who are frequently exposed to violent video games become desensitized to the violence, and therefor are less likely to be disgusted by it in real life.
A difference between passive and interactive media – Porter and Starcevic suggest that interactive video games, in which the player is actively involved, are more likely to violent behaviour than passive media, for example television and magazines. Porter and Starcevic also suggested that due to the fast pace of video games players don’t have time to reflect on the negative consequences of their anti-social actions.
Research into the negative effects of video games
Gentile and Anderson (2003) found that, in a survey of over 600 adolescents, time spent playing violent video games was associated with aggressive feelings, arguments with teachers and were more likely to get in a fight. Even children who are naturally calm and unlikely to get in a fight but spent more time playing violent video games, were more likely to get into physical fights than children who are more aggressive and hostile but played fewer violent games.
Evaluation – the big strength of the correlational studies are that they can assess real world examples of real world violence. However, they only determine correlational links, not causal.
Anderson et al. (2007) surveyed children at two points across the year. He found those who had high exposure to violent video games became more aggressive, both verbally and physically, and less prosocial. Anderson’s study suggests that repeated exposure to violent video games not only increases aggressive behaviour, but also decreases prosocial behaviour.
Evaluation – Longitudinal studies are the only studies that can really examine the long term effects of video games. However, this also means the participants will encounter a lot of confounding variables across the length of the study, for example different participants will be exposed to different levels of violence apart from video games; this lowers the validity of the study
Experimental studies (those do in the laboratory with high control) have demonstrated short term increases in levels of physiological arousal, hostile feelings and aggressive behaviour following sessions of violent game play compared to sessions of non-violent game play. For example Anderson and Dill asked participants to ‘blast’ each other with white noise (showing real aggression would be unethical). He found those who had played the violent game Wolfenstein blasted their opponent with white noise for longer than those who had played the slow-paced puzzle game Myst. This shows that violent games can lead to violent responses and behaviour.
Evaluation – The biggest strength of laboratory experiments is that you can control a lot of the variables, something that isn’t possible with other designs. However, it is difficult to simulate ‘real world’ scenarios, for example Anderson and Dill had to use white noise instead of real aggression, like swearing or violence. A laboratory experiments can also be less reliable as it can create problems such as demand characteristics, for example the participant realises the experiment is observing aggression levels, so they make an effort to stay calm.
A meta-analysis by Gentile & Anderson (2003) found a consistent link between violent game play and aggressive behaviour in both children and adults. The link was stronger in more recent studies, possibly because newer games are more violent.
The positive effects of video games
Harris (199) found that there could be several positive outcomes from playing computer games, or example: relaxation, high self-esteem (from completing levels), co-ordination, puzzle solving, education and rehabilitation (for soldiers recovering from war).
Evaluation of the effects of video games
Dr Tyna Byron published an independent review in which she looked at the risks and benefits of video games. She concluded that due to methodological issues it is impossible to state that video games have a definite negative or positive effect; however, she did concede that it is more likely that video games have an overall negative effect.