Playing Violent Video Games Does Not Appear to Lead to Aggressive Behaviour, Study Finds

As violence increases, so does the desire to understand what might be driving these acts. Some psychologists hypothesized that violent video games might be a contributing factor, but are they really to blame?
violent video games

E-sports are becoming just as competitive (and possibly lucrative) as traditional professional sports, with annual global video game sales exceeding $140 billion.

Violence is prevalent in a number of the most played video games, including Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, Rainbow Six Siege, Red Dead Redemption, Overwatch, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty.

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Fortnite at E3 by Sergey Galyonkin under CC BY-SA 2.0

Does aggressive behavior in video games encourage aggressive behavior in real life?

Everyone has heard that violent video games could be one of the reasons for mass shootings. But does such an assertion have any actual merit?


Based on research contrasting the behavior of people playing violent games with those playing peaceful games, some psychology studies have hypothesized that playing violent video games enhances aggressive behavior.

However, detractors claim that the findings do not consider additional potential influences, such as variations in the gameplay between violent and nonviolent games.

A study published in Collabra: Psychology debunked these claims. It found that playing shooter video games does not promote aggression.

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There is a desire to comprehend what might be motivating this conduct as mass violence across the world increases from year to year. For several decades, the possibility that violent video games may be a contributing component has been a hotly contested topic of discussion in the area.

While prior studies appear to support the notion that violent video games increase aggression, these studies have come under fire for having subpar data and analyses.

Most research looks into the impacts of playing violent video games without actually quantifying such play, which is a major weakness of the evidence thus far, according to study authors Niklas Johannes and colleagues. “If we don’t measure it, we can’t provide policymakers with advice regarding the implications of the behavior in question. These issues could lead to unreliable meta-analyses.”


What’s the focus of Johannes and colleagues’ research?

The study aims to shed methodologically sound light on the relationship between playing violent video games and hostility.


Johannes and colleagues used 1,488 Outriders players and 1,092 players of Apex Legends as samples. All participants must have actively engaged in the gameplay two weeks earlier, be able to communicate in English, and be residents of the US, UK, or Canada. Participants were asked to partake in 3 waves of the study, each about two weeks apart. Researchers tracked game play duration and aggressiveness.

Their findings

The results obtained revealed that playing violent video games had no discernible impact on aggression for either of the shooting games. There was also no tangible link between being aggressive and playing violent video games. It means the players did not play video games significantly more in weeks when they were feeling particularly irate about other factors.


This study discovered that each player would need to play for an additional 25–50 hours per day in order to see a half-point increase on the aggressive affect scale, which may be impossible. These findings line up with other recent meta-analyses and research that found no conclusive evidence of a connection between playing violent video games and hostility.

Limitations to Johannes and colleagues’ research

This study made efforts to more effectively address the hotly contested subject of whether or not video games lead to hostility and violence. It still has some restrictions, though.

One of these restrictions is that because participants chose to partake, it’s likely that they find the game to be more soothing than other players.


Aggression was unaffected significantly by playing these two online shooters. Since there were only two games played, both of which are shooters, future research could also include games with different types of violence.

A similar study was conducted at Illinois State University

A single game was modified by Illinois State University’s Joseph Hilgard and colleagues to study the distinct effects of two gameplay elements: difficulty and content.

The findings, which were published in Psychological Science, offer no proof that violent or challenging content increases players’ hostility toward others.


What did the team do?

For the study, Hilgard and colleagues created four variations of the computer game Doom II. The most violent versions included opponent sounds and graphics that were taken from the game mod Brutal Doom, which was created to make everything more intensely violent.

Alien opponents had to be defeated, which caused the adversaries to explode in an extremely graphic way. The less violent versions included zanier alien foes that were adapted from Chex Quest. Participants were given the duty of sending the aliens home with their “Zuercher” rather than killing them.


The adversaries in the more challenging game modes fought back, forcing players to restart the level if they took too many hits. In the simpler games, the adversaries would only approach the player slowly rather than engaging in combat.


Data from 275 participants indicated no evidence that playing the more aggressive or challenging versions of the game had an impact on how frequently players chose to subject their companion to the cold water. In other words, neither game complexity nor game violence enhanced aggression toward a hostile partner.

The researchers also looked at the ratio between the lengths of the index and ring fingers, which has long been thought to be a marker of male violence. A low ratio, which is linked to aggressive behavior, may suggest greater testosterone exposure in utero, according to scientific theory. However, Hilgard and his group did not discover a connection between this ratio and aggression.

The researcher’s conclusion

Research on violent video games has long been a field of low reputation, suffering from poor research techniques as well as poor data quality,” the researchers conclude. It can profit from open cooperation with industrial partners within an open data framework as few other fields can.


It may be necessary for researchers to reconsider whether violent video game manipulations are effective for revealing the mechanisms and causes of violence. Determining if and under what circumstances competitive or violent games lead to hostility will also require more research.

The researchers also hoped that future work could use the same data to address additional queries regarding the psychology of violent video games.

Featured image credit: Violent video game by Shutterstock


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