PLAYING violent video games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto really does make people more aggressive – but there is insufficient evidence to link playing such titles with criminality, a new study has found.
A review of previous research underlined the link and called on the computer game industry to design products with better parental control over the amount of blood and gore they contain.
It also found the controversial games make players less kind and sensitive, although there was insufficient evidence about whether they lead to criminal violence or delinquency.
The report by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media said: “The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”
It is the most comprehensive analysis of the issue to date, pooling data from a breadth of studies and undertaking multiple approaches to assimilating the literature.
Task force chair Dr Mark Appelbaum said: “Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but, to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence.
“However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best-established in the field.”
Video games with an “18” classification are known for their violence. Call of Duty allows players to take on the role of a blood-thirsty soldier in a number of violent scenarios - arming themselves with an arsenal of weapons including rifles, pistols and grenades.
The game has been mired in controversy, with Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik claiming he had trained himself to kill his 77 victims through playing the game.
Grand Theft Auto is well known for its violence which includes carjacking, gambling, killing and simulated sex with prostitutes.
Last year Grand Theft Auto V was removed from the shelves of Australian stores Target and Kmart amid fears that the game glamourised violence against women.
But the report said playing such games may be just one of the parts involved in turning someone into an aggressive or violent person.
It went on: “No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently.
“Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behaviour. The research reviewed here demonstrates violent video game use is one such risk factor.”
In light of the task force’s conclusions, APA has called on the industry to design video games that include increased parental control over the amount of violence the games contain.
Earlier this month, APA’s Council of Representatives adopted a resolution at a meeting in Toronto encouraging the Entertainment Software Rating Board to refine its video game rating system “to reflect the levels and characteristics of violence in games, in addition to the current global ratings.”
In addition, the resolution urges developers to design games that are appropriate to users’ age and psychological development, and voices APA’s support for more research to address gaps in the knowledge about the effects of violent video game use.
The resolution replaces a 2005 resolution on the same topic.
The task force identified a number of limitations in the research that require further study. These include a general failure to look for any differences in outcomes between boys and girls who play violent video games, a dearth of studies that have examined the effects of violent video game play on children younger than 10 and a lack of research that has examined the games’ effects over the course of children’s development.
Dr Appelbaum said: “We know there are numerous risk factors for aggressive behaviour. What researchers need to do now is conduct studies that look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors. For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?”
The comprehensive review looked at the research literature on violent video game use published between 2005 and 2013. This included pooled data from four studies that analysed more than 150 research reports published before 2009.
Task force members then conducted thorough reviews of the literature published between 2009 and 2013. This resulted in 170 articles, 31 of which met all of the most stringent screening criteria.
Dr Appelbaum added: “While there is some variation among the individual studies, a strong and consistent general pattern has emerged from many years of research that provides confidence in our general conclusions.
“As with most areas of science, the picture presented by this research is more complex than is usually included in news coverage and other information prepared for the general public.”
The American Psychological Association in Washington DC is the largest scientific and professional organisation representing psychology in the United States and includes more than 122,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students.