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EXPERT REACTION: No long-term link between video games and aggressive behaviour in youth

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
Peer-reviewed: This work was reviewed and scrutinised by relevant independent experts.

Meta-analysis: This type of study involves using statistics to combine the data from multiple previous studies to give an overall result. The reliability of a meta-analysis depends on both the quality and similarity of the individual studies being grouped together.

People: This is a study based on research using people.

There’s no evidence to show a long-term link between aggressive video games and youth aggression, according to a new meta-analysis of 28 studies comprising around 21,000 participants. Overall, evidence suggested that violent video games did not have an appreciable impact on later aggression, measured on a range of time-scales between 3 weeks and 7 years. The study authors, one of whom is a New Zealand researcher, say that in some cases, poorer quality studies may have exaggerated the impact of games on aggression, with better quality studies clarifying that such effects are negligible.

Journal/conference: Royal Society Open Science

Link to research (DOI): 10.1098/rsos.200373

Organisation/s: Massey University

Funder: Supported by the Marsden Fund Council from Government funding, managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi; MAU1804.

Media release

From: The Royal Society

Society and scholars continue to debate whether violent video games have a long-term impact on youth. This meta-analysis considered data from 28 long-term outcome studies with approximately 21 thousand participants. The long-term impact of violent game play on aggression was examined. Overall, evidence suggested that violent video games did not have an appreciable impact on later aggression. In some cases, poorer quality studies may have exaggerated the impact of games on aggression, with better quality studies clarifying that such effects are negligible. It does not appear that regulation of violent games is likely to reduce aggression in real life.


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Expert Reaction

These comments have been collated by the Science Media Centre to provide a variety of expert perspectives on this issue. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. Views expressed are the personal opinions of the experts named. They do not represent the views of the SMC or any other organisation unless specifically stated.

Dr Simon McCallum, Senior Lecturer, Wellington Faculty of Engineering, Victoria University of Wellington.

Having taught game development for 16 years and been involved in the New Zealand and Norwegian game development industry, the question of the effects of violence has often been asked. This question seems to be motivated by fear rather than facts. Youth violence has decreased as game playing has increased. Large groups of computer game players spend time with each other without any violence, whereas over the weekend, school boys were stood down for having a punch-up after a rugby game. This sort of violence is extremely rare at computer gaming events.

The meta-analysis in this study provides additional support to the long-standing understanding of most people working in the game industry that the violence in games does not have long-term negative effects. The relationship between violence in games and aggression is so small that, as the authors cite, you would ban “potatoes or eyeglasses” because they have stronger effect sizes. Much of the existing research has methodological flaws and often seems to be trying to justify an existing belief rather than reporting data. The study covers a wide range of research and does an excellent job of digging into each article to find potential bias.

Many parents will still worry about content, and in New Zealand we have age warnings to help provide guidance on content. This study shows that young people are not likely to become more violent because of the computer games they play.  Parents can be reassured that they are not terrible parents if their children have played violent video games. What we as parents should do is play games with our kids and explain fantasy versus reality. Having conversations about content is far more important than shielding them from content. Children will model the behaviours they see from people they trust, our job as parents is to be the people they trust and model the behaviours we want for our children.

Last updated: 21 Jul 2020 12:10pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
None declared.
Dr Aaron Drummond, study lead author, and Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Massey University.

After conducting a meta-analysis on the available research, we find that playing violent video games does not appear to meaningfully increase the aggressiveness of players over time.

We pooled 28 studies containing approximately 21,000 participants to investigate whether people who played violent video games for longer than three months would experience increases in their aggressiveness. Our study also judged the quality of previous studies, looking at whether they used clinical measures of aggression or objective ratings of violent content. We hoped to determine whether previously observed effects may have been inflated by the quality of the studies conducted.

There is a long standing debate in the scientific literature about whether violent video games increase aggression. We found an extremely small effect of violent game play on aggression, which in our view is too small to be practically meaningful. More importantly, we found that high-quality studies typically had effect sizes which were statistically indistinguishable from zero, implying no significant relationship between violent gameplay and aggression in the highest quality studies. We also found evidence that longer time periods were associated with smaller changes in aggression suggesting that, contrary to previous suggestions, violent gameplay does not cumulatively increase aggression over time.

Taken together, the results strongly imply that violent games do not meaningfully increase the aggressiveness of players over time. We call for greater use of pre-registration practices in future work on violent video games to help reduce researcher subjectivity and increase the quality of research in this area.

Last updated: 21 Jul 2020 12:09pm
Declared conflicts of interest:
Aaron is the lead author of this study.

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