Do Violent Video Games Lead to Violent Behavior?

by | Jun 5, 2017


97% of 12-17 year-olds play video games regularly and 85% of those video games contain some form of violence.

Do violent video games lead to more violence?  The short answer: probably not, in fact, they may lead to a reduction in violent crime. A bit longer answer:

There have been hundreds of academic studies on this topic with varying and often contradictory results.  Some studies have found that individuals who play violent video games are more likely to have violent thoughts after playing such games and may be “primed for violence.” Other studies have found that while short term inclination to violence may increase, longer-term there is no additional violent tendencies. Others have merely found no link whatsoever between playing such games and violent behavior.

Interestingly, some recent studies look at the issue more broadly and theorize that violent video games actually lead to reduced violence because those people who would engage in violent crime are otherwise busy playing video games.  For instance, one study looked at the violent crime rate shortly after a new violent video game was released and found that violent crime dropped immediately after the video game release. Here’s a great summary of theory by Dr. Steven Levitt of Freakanomics fame:  “Maybe the biggest effect of all of having these violent video games is that they’re super fun for people to play, especially adolescent boys, maybe even adolescent boys who are prone to real violence. And so if you can make video games fun enough, then kids will stop doing everything else.”

Merely looking at the correlation between video game sales and violent crime would suggest that this theory may be correct.  From The Economist through 2009:


More recent data: total US sales of video game hardware and software increased 204% from 1994 to 2014, reaching $13.1 billion in 2014, while violent crimes decreased 37% and murders by juveniles acting alone fell 76% in that same period. Thus, while it is counter-intuitive, is possible (maybe even likely) that violent video games reduce violent crime or have no effect.

Finally, a related point – a study out of Israel found that playing video games improved learning, cognitive and interpersonal abilities. An interesting start-up out of U of C San Francisco is creating first-person perspective video games that are being shown improve cognitive abilities in older adults including short-term  memory and long-term focus.  The video games may also benefit those with ADHD, PTSD and depression.

1 Comment

  1. Ok, I do not play video games. However, at age 73, I am the first generation of people to adopt the personal computer as a life tool. I spend significant time using my computer to do things I did not use to do or doing somethings better/faster. Also, people do not now do as many social things face to face, like getting together and play cards. The computer for, better or worse, chews up time. Doing so, it leaves less time for destructive actions. An assessment of one, based on personal experience.


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