Violent video games have been blamed for aggressive behavior in the real world by some of their younger players. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who murdered 12 of their classmates at Columbine high school in Colorado in 1999 were known to enjoy Doom, a video game licensed by the US military to train soldiers to kill.
But a new study by researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, have found no connection between aggressive behavior in teenagers and the amount of time spent playing violent video games.
No link dispels commonly held view
'The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time,' says lead researcher Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute.
"Despite interest in the topic by parents and policy-makers, the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern."
The research used nationally representative data collected from British teens and their guardians in conjunction with official E.U. and US ratings of game violence.
Many studies have been done on the link between violent games and violent real-world behavior, this latest research from Oxford is the most comprehensive to date. It used a combination of subjective and objective data to measure teen aggression and violence in games.
Parents involved in the study for the first time
Instead of relying solely on self-reporting data from teenagers, Oxford researchers also gather data from teenage aged players parent and guardians to judge the level of aggression in their children.
The amount of violence in a game was determined using the official Pan European Game Information (EU) and Entertainment Software Rating Board (US) rating system.
"Our findings suggest that researcher biases might have influenced previous studies on this topic, and have distorted our understanding of the effects of video games," says co-author Dr. Netta Weinstein from Cardiff University.
To prevent a bias happening and to make the research more transparent, the research team pre-registered their hypothesis, methods, and analysis technique prior to beginning the research.
"Part of the problem in technology research is that there are many ways to analyze the same data, which will produce different results. A cherry-picked result can add undue weight to the moral panic surrounding video games. The registered study approach is a safeguard against this," says Przybylski.
Bias may have influenced previous studies
The researchers say that while they found no link between playing video games and aggressive behavior in teenagers, they are quick to point out that there are aspects of playing these kinds of games that may trigger a feeling of anger or frustration in players.
"Anecdotally, you do see things such as trash-talking, competitiveness and trolling in gaming communities that could qualify as antisocial behavior," says Przybylski.
"This would be an interesting avenue for further research."
The data for the study was collected from a nationally representative sample of British 14- and 15-year olds, and the same number of their carers (totaling 2,008 subjects).
The teenage players were asked questions about their personality and gaming behavior over the past month, while the player's carers completed questionnaires about their child's recent aggressive behaviors using the widely-used Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.
The full paper, "Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behavior: evidence from a registered report," can be read in Royal Society Open Science.