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I have been following this question casually over the past couple of years, and it seemed to me that there was no strong consensus either way on the subject. However, I recently read an editorial from one of the scientists involved in the Supreme Court case, Schwarzenegger vs. EMA, arguing that the evidence for psychological and physical damage to children is strong.

On the other hand, a quick check of the wikipedia article on the subject seemed to confirm my original impression, that there was still significant controversy on the subject.

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Good question. Ideally, the answers should show a collection of studies. Showing any single study is completely useless on this topic since it doesn’t (can’t!) show a consensus. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 11 '11 at 10:27
    
Just a personal observation, as a parent and grandparent. I have far less tolerance for violence in media than I did when I was younger. I think that's because I know it can really happen. If gamers can enjoy killing and being killed in a game that tells me two things. 1) It's good, because it means the gamer feels secure in knowing it can't really happen. 2) It's bad, because they are liable to think war is fun (as I did when I was a kid), and go into it for real, finding out too late that it's anything but. –  Mike Dunlavey Jun 23 '11 at 18:31
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Generally there are studies proving correlation between violence and liking violent games. However, this doesn't prove causality. And for more scientific proof, nowadays it's rather hard to find a control group of non-players. Also definition of what is "violent" video game vary a lot. –  vartec Dec 6 '11 at 9:35
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I always point out that violence has been part and parcel of human nature and culture for as long as we've been around, and long before there was anything like a video game. Essentially all of our major wars, persecutions, pogroms, genocides, and so forth have occurred prior to any "media" whatever. Stephen Pinker's new book maintains we are becoming less violen –  M. Werner Dec 8 '11 at 20:04
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and it's also always been part of human nature to blame bad behaviour of people (and especially kids) on anything new. Be it comic books, radio, television, soda pops, or now videogames. –  jwenting Dec 9 '11 at 12:43
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6 Answers

up vote 28 down vote accepted

We don’t know.

Wikipedia has an interesting break-down of the discussion which seems to be quite solid with a lot of references to actual studies.

The salient point is this:

One meta-analysis (with two follow ups …) found that exposure to violent video games causes at least a temporary increase in aggression and that this exposure correlates with aggression in the real world. […] However other meta-analyses using similar methods or focusing more specifically on serious aggressive behavior have come to opposing conclusions.

(Emphasis mine.)

Simply put, there is no consensus. Meta-analyses already include several studies on the subject so if said meta-analyses have conflicting outcomes this shows clearly that we don’t know either way.

On the other hand, I don’t know much about the respective qualities of these studies so it may well be that the analyses are very different in quality.

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And yes, I realise that this is the same article that you have linked to. It deserves an own answer because it is of high quality and outlines the issue very clearly. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 11 '11 at 10:39
    
Modern cognitive models of aggression tend to show from 3 to 5 dissociated facets of aggression only one of which is violent behaviour. Of what I've read, aggression is reasonably correlated with violent gaming but evidence of violent behaviour tends to not be. –  Jakub Hampl Mar 11 '11 at 23:01
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@KitSunde: the 9% is not the control group, because control group should be unbiased. In the Western World kids, who nowadays don't play video games and don't use internet, are nither average nor normal. –  vartec Dec 9 '11 at 9:41
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@KitSunde: it only 91%, because it's kids between 2 and 17. In the age group 2-5 it's still bit lower. And yes, I would find children who don't play games, don't use internet or don't watch TV, because parents won't let them. I wouldn't call them typical. –  vartec Dec 9 '11 at 11:15
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I used to get very aggressive playing Mario when I was losing lives the whole time. Is sportsmanship controlled for in these studies. The kid who keeps winning is probably not as violent as the kid who is cannon fodder. –  Tjaart Jul 26 '12 at 13:59
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The Swedish Media Council released a report reviewing the state of the research in Swedish, I've summarized and translated below. There is also an article published in English over on the local. From the summarized version of the report:

The Swedish Media Council has gone through research databases and gathered studies on violent videogames effects on aggression that has been published in international research journals in the period 2000-2011. Literature searches resulted in 161 papers that contained 106 unique empirical studies. The remaining 55 studies contained of metastusdies, research overviews, scientifical debate [not sure what the correct translation of vetenskapliga debattartiklar is], methodological critiques or comments to other papers.

Some key findings:

  • 67% of the studies are done in the lab and do report increased aggression, but only 7% measured aggression before and after. The measured effect remains for 4-30 minutes, and it's unknown if there's long term effects.

  • 22% are done via questionnaires where it's a 50/50 split if there's an increase or not, with the ones showing no effect being more thorough.

  • 11% are longitudinal (usually questionares) with 11 of 12 reporting on increased aggression, but only 3 of them gathered backgrounds data like family conditions and general psychological well being.

The report raises 3 main issues with the research showing that agression is linked to violent video games:

  1. The studies measure agression by judging it on a persons agressive feelings, thoughts, associations and attitudes. But the report stat that the link between those things and a manifestation of agression is lacking empirical support.

  2. It's not clear from the research if the people would react in the same way when they are outside of a laboratory setting.

  3. The research fails to take in relevant background information and the studies show that the inclination to play violent video games and agressive behavior both depend on things like a bad family situation.

It does say that there is a statistical correlation between violent video games and agression, but that it's not a causal one explaining, in reviewing the conclusions:

  1. It's more common for the research to show that violent video games cause agression, but there are severe methodological problems with this research, and therefore it has not been proven.

  2. That violent video games would cause agression in people that have this tendency already hasn't been explored deep enough to be conclusive in any way. The studies that show this can be interpreted this way as well as 3, 4.

  3. The inverted causality that agressive people play violent video games has been shown thoroughly in the research.

  4. Other factors like family conditions cause both agression and playing violent video games has been shown in the research that explores this.

In conclusion they comment that 8 other meta studies has been published by (non-Swedish) government agencies and independent research organizations in the 21th-century and that this one is in line with the previous ones. They also state that while the research doesn't show that this effect is not proof that it's not there at all. However if there is an effect then it would be a really small one.

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Having just read a Slashdot article "Violent Games Credited With Reducing Crime Levels" on this topic that suggests that violent video games reduce violent crime, I thought it worthwhile to post it to this interesting thread.

The Slashdot article cites the paper "Understanding the Effects of Violent Video Games on Violent Crime", dated April 7, 2011, the abstract for which is (my emphasis):

Psychological studies invariably find a positive relationship between violent video game play and aggression. However, these studies cannot account for either aggressive effects of alternative activities video game playing substitutes for or the possible selection of relatively violent people into playing violent video games. That is, they lack external validity. We investigate the relationship between the prevalence of violent video games and violent crimes. Our results are consistent with two opposing effects. First, they support the behavioral effects as in the psychological studies. Second, they suggest a larger voluntary incapacitation effect in which playing either violent or non-violent games decrease crimes. Overall, violent video games lead to decreases in violent crime.

The answer, based on this study, is: Violent video games cause or correlate with an increase in violent behaviour. However, it's worth noting that this violent behaviour is offset by the distraction and release of aggression through playing of the (violent or non-violent) video games, resulting in an overall reduction in violent crime.

While this study purports to answer the question, a lack of consensus is likely to remain on the topic. I think this study is, however, an important piece.

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"Why lock potential criminals up at vast expense when you can give them Call of Duty and they'll lock themselves up?" -Frances Woolley –  Borror0 Jun 23 '11 at 13:28
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OK, getting over the irony of an ex-action-movie star trying to make an argument against violent video games...

The gamer bias in me wants to say that's silly! However the evidence is strongly in favor of violent video games predicting violent behavior in kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization I generally look to for advice on raising my kids, and they agree as shown in this study: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/122/5/e1067

That being said, I grew up in a time when everything was blamed for any perceptible increase in violence, from rock music to violence on TV. When I see the studies on video games my initial response is to roll my eyes and start the next round of Call of Duty. Most studies deal with kids who play hours of violent video games a day and don't deal with moderate gaming, or address it as in the study I linked to above: game in moderation.

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Good link. Still, this is only one study and it’s easy to find several who say the opposite so this is meaningless. We should try finding a systematic review or at least a collection of studies to form an opinion. –  Konrad Rudolph Mar 11 '11 at 10:29
    
Can you include a summary of the study's findings? –  MrHen Jun 23 '11 at 15:51
    
Still, I wonder where do they get a control group of normal 15-year old boys, who never played any "violent" games. –  vartec Dec 7 '11 at 17:23
    
+1 for "everything was blamed for any perceptible increase in violence, from rock music to violence on TV". "TV gives you square eyes" was something my mother firmly believed (in the literal meaning that your eyes would change shape). –  jwenting Dec 9 '11 at 12:45
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Video games have been shown to raise aggression when played and directly afterwards and much of the evidence I have seen points to the effect described above whereby violent people are attracted to violent video games.

There is little to link violence to explicit video games but some that suggests in some cases it may increase anti-social behaviour.

Firstly a caveat - research on violence and video games is limited, from Adachi et al (2011) "The effect of violent video games on aggression: Is it more than just the violence?"

Experimental research has shown that playing violent video games produces higher levels of aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and aggressive behavior (in the short-term) than nonviolent video games. However, there are two major limitations with these investigations. First, the majority of experimental studies that have compared the effects of violent versus non-violent video games on aggression have failed to equate these games in terms of competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action. Thus, although the common finding is that violent video games produce higher levels of aggression than non-violent video games, other unmatched factors beyond the actual violent content may be responsible for the elevated levels of aggression. Second, previous experimental studies have tended to use a measure of aggression that may also measure competitiveness, leading to questions about whether violent video games are related to aggression or competitiveness.

On the subject of violent video games having negative outcomes, Gentile and Anderson stated in in "Taking Sides" (p. 1098-5409):

Gentile and Anderson believe the research has made it clear that playing violent videogames leads to violent behavior. These researchers claim that several things happen when a child is playing violent games: an increase in physiological arousal, aggressive cognitions and emotions, aggressive behaviors, and decreased pro-social behaviors.

However the co-author (the book is a debate type thing) states:

That there is not a causal connection between violent video games and violent behavior. In the second article, she summarizes several of her relevant research studies, including multiple qualitative and quantitative projects, a survey of over 1,000 middle school-aged children, and in-depth conversations with 42 youths in focus groups. While she allows that some individuals may have bad experiences with video games, she reports that playing such games, even violent ones, is a normal part of adolescent development. Indeed, they may even have pro-social and relationship-building consequences.

Williams (2011) "The effects of homophily, identification, and violent video games on players":

After an experiment with 148 male participants, results indicated that skinning a video game character to physically resemble the player led to greater identification and psychological involvement with the game's character but did little to impact the feeling of presence. Exposure to violent content also led to greater physical hostility than exposure to nonviolent content. An interaction effect revealed playing a violent game with a character physically resembling the player led to even greater hostility.

Sester and Bartholemew (2011) "Violent and nonviolent video games produce opposing effects on aggressive and prosocial outcomes":

Experimental studies routinely show that participants who play a violent game are more aggressive immediately following game play than participants who play a nonviolent game. The underlying assumption is that nonviolent games have no effect on aggression, whereas violent games increase it. The current studies demonstrate that, although violent game exposure increases aggression, nonviolent video game exposure decreases aggressive thoughts and feelings (Exp 1) and aggressive behavior (Exp 2). When participants assessed after a delay were compared to those measured immediately following game play, violent game players showed decreased aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior, whereas nonviolent game players showed increases in these outcomes. Experiment 3 extended these findings by showing that exposure to nonviolent puzzle-solving games with no expressly prosocial content increases prosocial thoughts, relative to both violent game exposure and, on some measures, a no-game control condition.

Bosche (2010) "Violent video games prime both aggressive and positive cognitions":

Previous studies have shown that violent video games prime aggressive thoughts and concepts. Interestingly, positively valenced test stimuli are rarely used in this field, though they might provide useful information on the nature of the emotional response to virtual violence and its associative structure. According to the General Aggression Model (GAM) and its extensions (Carnagey, Anderson, & Bushman, 2007), normal negative reactions to violence are expected. Alternatively, playing violent video games might be construed as engaging in positively valenced playful fighting behavior. To test the potential of violent video games to prime positive concepts, N = 29 adult males played either a violent or a nonviolent video game for 20 minutes and were subsequently tested in a standard lexical decision task consisting of positive, aggressive, nonaggressive negative, and neutral target words. The data show that the violent video game primed aggressive concepts as expected, but also raised positive concepts, and did so independently of the participants’ history of playing violent video games. Therefore, the results challenge the idea that violent video games inherently stimulate negative concepts only.

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Johnson, Jones, Scholes, and Carras (2013) published a review of research literature that mostly focused on the positive aspects of video gaming, which they argue have been overlooked due to dominant societal preoccupations with theories about its effects on violent behavior (Kutner & Olson, 2008; Ferguson, 2007; Ferguson et al., 2013). They include a section reviewing violent games specifically though, which I'll paraphrase here.

As others have already noted, existing research on relationships between video games and violence has been insufficient and heavily criticized. A relatively convincing study found longitudinal relationships between playing violent video games and being rated as more aggressive by teachers and peers (Gentile & Gentile, 2008). However, problems with other studies have included publication bias and unsupported generalizations from in-lab results to behaviors in normal contexts (Boyle, Connolly & Hainey, 2011; Ferguson, 2007; Kutner & Olson, 2008; Sherry, 2004, 2007) and dependence on self-reported subjective experiences (Lemmens et al., 2011; Möller & Krahé, 2009; Anderson et al., 2010; Shibuya, Sakamoto, Ihori, & Yukawa, 2008) or self-reported aggressive behaviours (Shibuya et al., 2008; Bucolo, 2010). Criticisms aside, two of these studies did not demonstrate any sustained causal relationships anyway (Lemmens et al., 2011; Shibuya et al., 2008).

After correcting for publication bias, Ferguson (2007) found no meta-analytic support for the relationship. Ferguson and colleagues (2013) later found no effects in their own study either, and claimed to have eliminated the likelihood of a false null result. Anderson and colleagues (2010) did one of those controversial meta-analyses supporting the relationship that's listed in the Wikipedia page to which @KonradRudolph's accepted answer links, but Wikipedia covers that particular controversy well enough already, so I'll leave it alone. Suffice it for here to say that Ferguson and Kilburn (2010) weren't convinced.

Johnson and colleagues (2013) also recommend Carras et al. (in prep), "For a more complete exploration of these issues and the research regarding long-term outcomes of videogame play," but it looks like they haven't completed their analyses yet at this time. BTW, I have cited Johnson and colleagues for a related answer on Cognitive Sciences about the addictive quality of gaming.

References

- Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., Rothstein, H. R., & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151–173. Retrieved from http://lilt.ilstu.edu/mjreese/psy453/Anderson%20et%20al,%202010.pdf.
- Boyle, E., Connolly, T. M., & Hainey, T. (2011). The role of psychology in understanding the impact of computer games. Entertainment Computing, 2(2), 69–74.
- Bucolo, D. (2010). Violent video game exposure and physical aggression in adolescence: Tests of the General Aggression Model. University of New Hampshire.
- Carras, M. C., Johnson, D., & Jones, C. (2014). Adverse effects of videogame play on health, behavioral and educational outcomes in longitudinal studies of young people (unpublished manuscript). Further info available at http://www.crd.york.ac.uk/PROSPERO/display_record.asp?ID=CRD42012002882#.Uww4b4V5Pmw.
- Ferguson, C. J. (2007). The good, the bad and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of positive and negative effects of violent video games. Psychiatric Quarterly, 78(4), 309–316.
- Ferguson, C. J., Garza, A., Jerabeck, J., Ramos, R., & Galindo, M. (2013). Not worth the fuss after all? Cross-sectional and prospective data on violent video game influences on aggression, visuospatial cognition and mathematics ability in a sample of youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(1), 109–122. Retrieved from http://static1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20131108072659/the-kings-hand/images/a/ae/Not_worth_the_fuss.pdf.
- Ferguson, C. J., & Kilburn, J. (2010). Much ado about nothing: The misestimation and overinterpretation of violent video game effects in Eastern and Western nations: Comment on Anderson et al. (2010). Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 174–178. Retrieved from http://www.igea.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Ferguson-Kilburn-2010.pdf.
- Gentile, D. A., & Gentile, J. R. (2008). Violent video games as exemplary teachers: A conceptual analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(2), 127–141. Retrieved from http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/~dgentile/pdfs/G2_Exemplary_Teachers_in_press.pdf.
- Johnson, D., Jones, C., Scholes, L., & Carras, M. C. (2013). Video games and wellbeing: A comprehensive review. Sydney: Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre. Retrieved from http://www.youngandwellcrc.org.au/document/ea0e9511fce02b8be23990_07ef7fc4c7/Videogames_and_Wellbeing.pdf.
- Kutner, L., & Olson, C. (2008). Grand theft childhood: The surprising truth about violent video games and what parents can do. Simon and Schuster.
- Lemmens, J. S., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2011). Psychosocial causes and consequences of pathological gaming. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(1), 144–152.
- Möller, I., & Krahé, B. (2009). Exposure to violent video games and aggression in German adolescents: A longitudinal analysis. Aggressive Behavior, 35(1), 75–89. Retrieved from http://www.vfa-ev.de/fileadmin/File/Moeller_Krahe_AB2009.pdf.
- Sherry, J. L. (2004). Flow and media enjoyment. Communication Theory, 14(4), 328–347. Retrieved from http://cht.tcm.ncku.edu.tw/attachments/053_96_Flow%20and%20Media%20Enjoyment.pdf.
- Sherry, J. L. (2007). Violent video games and aggression: Why can't we find effects? In R. W. Preiss, B. M. Gayle, N. Burrell, M. Allen, & J. Bryant (Eds.), Mass media effects research: Advances through meta-analysis (pp. 245–262). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
- Shibuya, A., Sakamoto, A., Ihori, N., & Yukawa, S. (2008). The effects of the presence and contexts of video game violence on children: A longitudinal study in Japan. Simulation & Gaming, 39(4), 528–539.

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