Today, 65% of American adults andnearly all teenagers play video games.
Games look evermore real.
They can, and do, show incredibly detailed violence.
And since their beginnings, video gameshave come with an implicit assumption that they're probably doingsomething bad to us.
77% of parents believe mediaviolence, including video games, is contributing to America'sculture of violence.
But what do we actually knowabout how violent games affect us? Psychologists have been studyingthis for decades.
But right now, the research communityincludes a small but vocal subsection convinced that theperceived scientific consensus linking violent games to aggressionis completely wrong.
Alongside moral panics and conflictingresearch, huge amounts of money have been made selling videogames, violent or otherwise.
In 1976, the industry wasalready making $25 billion annually.
In 2018 it mademore than $136 billion.
So the stakes are high.
Depending on what scientists find, there's awhole lot to be gained, or lost.
Brad Bushman and Christopher Fergusonare perhaps the best known researchers representing each sideof this dispute.
They are both psychologists who havespent years researching video games and violence.
They use similarmethods and do similar experiments.
But they've wound up on either side ofa line drawn clearly in the sand.
So why do these researchers disagree sostrongly, and how did we get here? So you can't look atat anybody without pointing your gun at them.
In 1976, video game company Exidyreleased a game called Death Race.
To play it, you put yourhands on an actual steering wheel.
Your foot's on a pedal.
You drive around a car andmurder anything in your way.
You hear the screams of yourvictims and their gravestones litter the screen.
Soon after its release, therewere calls to ban it.
There was outrage and many were worriedabout what it was doing to their kids.
OK, so death race did come outin 1976, that's four years before Pac-Man.
Its graphics are primitive and barelyrecognizable, but the game resulted in what was perhaps the firstwidespread panic about violence in video games.
And while that may seemlaughable now, those concerns didn't go anywhere.
Do violent video gamesmake for violent kids? Officials say they are responding tocomplaints from parents that children have skipped school or stolen money toplay the games and made a nuisance of themselves.
Outrage exploded again in1992 with the release of games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap.
Mortal Kombat! Parents are often the first toask, could this, lead to this? Mortal Kombat featured especially violentdeaths and Night Trap showed sexual violence against women.
Cold blooded murder is making Mortal Kombatthe most popular video game in history.
Kids relish their victoryand their bloody choice .
Should they pull out their opponents heartor simply rip his head off just to see a spinal cord dangleat a pool of blood? Parents were terrified.
Congress got involved.
There was no rating on this gameat all when the game was introduced.
Small children bought this at Toys “R” Usand he knows that as well as I do.
In 1994, the Interactive DigitalSoftware Association, now called the Entertainment Software Association, foundedthe Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB.
The ESRB introduced a rating system similarto the one that had been used to rate movies for decades.
Last March, we promised you ourindustry would develop a rating system that would put the controls back inthe hands of consumers, and especially parents.
The system we present toyou today redeems on that pledge.
While there are absolutely popularnonviolent games, undeniably violent games like Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, PUBG and Fortnight continue to be hugely successful.
Epic Games alone, thepublishers of Fortnight, made a reported $3 billion in 2018.
Huge games like Fortnight or Call ofDuty or World of Warcraft are created by organizational behemoths with massivebudgets and scores of employees.
According to John Staats, the firstlevel designer ever for World of Warcraft, there's just too much atstake to be willingly creating something that might be dangerous.
If you've worked in the gaming industry, you're also hyper aware of the responsibility that you have because Imean, it's a class action lawsuit.
It's a big thing.
Games are as hard, they're hard enough to make as it is.
You're talking hundredmillion dollar budgets.
They don't risk anything.
So if there was really anydanger, they're not dummies, they would definitely be avoidingany potential damage.
Because they have shareholders.
They answer to their shareholders.
I mean, it's not justa bunch of nerds.
You actually have to have the moneyguys who are actually really calling the shots.
And they'reno dummies either.
I don't see any game companies really takingthe time to think about it or care about it unless it comesclose to affecting their bottom lines.
But politicians, concerned parents and themedia are thinking about it, and that alone canhave real-world consequences.
Walmart is announcing it istemporarily removing advertising displays for violent video games followingthe recent mass shootings.
Recently, when President Trump implicatedviolent video games in mass shootings, shares of major videogame companies fell sharply.
We must stop the glorificationof violence in our society.
This includes the gruesome and grislyvideo games that are now commonplace.
So the question is, are violent games actually doing something bad to us? The internet is full of both peoplewith a vested interest in violent games and conflictingnarratives about them.
There is zero connection betweenentertainment and behavior, and that's been studied over and over and overagain and even ruled upon by the Supreme Court.
This was a, maybe avideo game to this evil demon.
He wanted to be a super soldierfor his Call of Duty game.
What is causing trouble amongAmerica's youth in schools? Oh, it has to be a video game.
Anyone of thought should find thatinsulting at the face of it.
Video games give you the skilland the will to kill.
It is the moral equivalent to puttinga military weapon in the hand of every child in America.
And it turns out that theconversation happening publicly often has very little in common with whatinterested psychologists are actually researching.
It's areasonable question, right? You see people, and particularly atrisk groups like children, playing these violent games.
And it's prettyreasonable to ask like, well, does that cause them to behavemore violently in real life? Psychologists have been trying to get tothe bottom of this for decades, and it's important to first understandhow they go about seeking answers to questions like thisin the first place.
You can't measure violent criminalbehavior in a laboratory experiment.
For example, we can't give our participantsguns and knives and see what they'll do with them afterthey play a violent game.
Because of that, when you seeheadlines about video games and violence, the underlying research wasprobably actually about aggression.
There are a few fundamental types ofstudies that can be done in these situations: experimental studies, cross-sectionalstudies and longitudinal studies.
An experimental study involvesa carefully constructed scenario in a controlled environment.
You bring in participants, some of whomare asked to play violent games.
Afterwards, you measure their aggressive behavior, which is defined as any behavior intended to harm another personwho doesn't want to be harmed.
If you're studying kids, you mightjust watch their behavior on the playground afterwards.
If they're adults, you use aggressionproxies, like how long you make someone hold their arm in ice orhow long you blast someone with awful headphone noise, or givesomeone an electric shock.
Then there are cross-sectional studies, whichjust means you take some measurements at one point in timeand see if they're correlated.
So you could, for example, findpeople whose favorite games are violent and see if those people are morelikely to have a history of aggression.
Lastly, there are longitudinal studies, which are just like cross-sectional studies, except you takemore than one measurement over time.
These are the basic toolsresearchers have at their disposal, not just for studying video games, but forthe majority of psychology as a whole.
According to many researchers, theevidence is clear: there is a connection between playing violentvideo games and aggression.
First, they can makeus more aggressive.
Second, they can make us more numbto the pain and suffering of others.
And third, they can make us moreafraid of becoming victims of violence ourselves.
One of Bushman's most recentstudies looked at how playing violent games might affect what kidsdo if they find a gun.
They used an actual handgunthat had been disabled.
We had them playthe video game Minecraft.
We had a gun version where theycould kill monsters with a gun.
We had a sword version where they couldkill monsters with a sword, or we had a nonviolent condition withno weapons and no monsters.
We found the largest effects forthe condition with the guns.
Playing a violent game with swordsalso made children engage in more dangerous behavior around guns.
The kids who played the violent versionof the game were more likely to touch the gun, pull the trigger, andpoint it at themselves and others.
To a smaller but very vocal groupof researchers, the evidence points in an entirely different direction.
People really wanted this to be trueand there really was this kind of like set group of scholars that sortof invested their lives in this.
We don't generally find thatplaying more action-oriented games is predictive of violence oraggression later in life.
It seems to be the knowledge ofthe fictional nature of what people are engaged with seems to blunt to anykind of learning experience from that.
If there is a divergence betweendifferent groups of studies, why would that be? And I think, you know, myanswer would be that unlike a lot of studies that existed before, I triedto use standardized well, clinically validated measures for alot of my studies.
And I started embracing preregistration, youknow, earlier than a lot of other people did.
You know, and I'mtrying to do it without sounding like defensive.
I don't in any way mean tosay that my stuff like, you know, perfect or, you know, beyondany kind of critique.
You don't win science byconsensus, actually, you know, even if there was a consensus.
Nonetheless, scientific consensus isa powerful tool.
And for researchers, one way togauge the consensus on any particular topic is through meta-analyses, studies thatcombine the results of many individual studies intoone larger analysis.
In 2015, the American PsychologicalAssociation released one such meta-analysis after forming a task forceof 10 experts chosen specifically for both their areas of expertise andbecause they didn't have a vested interest in video game research.
It was an attempt at an objectivereview of the most recent research on video games and violenceat that time.
Mark Appelbaum, professor emeritus at UCSan Diego, chaired that task force.
I'm fundamentally anapplied statistician, methodologist.
I have been on a number ofAPA task forces before, women's mental health and abortion, a bunch of these.
It's not unusual for those of uswho are more on the methodological side to be asked.
And I got acall from someone at the American Psychological Association and they said, do you knowanything about what's going on in video games? In the field, not the content.
And I said, not much.
And they said, good.
The task force did its work, and here's what they concluded.
Does playing these games where there isthis violent content, does it seem to have some impact? Yeah, it seemed pretty consistent, studyafter study, that you did find things that happened in thissort of behavioral aggression domain.
And this is with regard toaggression, not with regard to violence.
And that's the maintakeaway from the report.
The APA task force says if we lookat all the way psychologists know how to measure aggression, playing violent videogames seems to be having an effect on people.
But they did notconclude that playing video games makes you violent or commit crime.
And that lines up with what mostother researchers in the field are finding.
I've been studying the effect ofviolent video games for 10 years now.
I can tell you that there isa causal link between playing a violent video game and behavior.
Simulated violence in video gamesmay influence a player's thoughts, feelings and physical arousal, affecting the individual's interpretation of other behavior and thenincrease our own aggressive behavior.
In violent video games, there'sdefinitely this triangulation where you get the same pattern ofresults for laboratory experiments, cross-sectional studies andlongitudinal studies.
The magnitude of the effect isnot especially small or especially large.
It's about the same size effect thatyou get for most variables in social science studies.
So exposure to violent video games, inthis case, is not the only risk factor for aggressive and violent behavior, but it's not a trivial risk factor either.
The majority of published studies on theeffects of violent video games do show some kind ofeffect on the player.
Depending on the study, thefindings could be correlational, demonstrating a connection but not attributing cause, or causal, suggesting that the game actually caused the effect.
Christopher Ferguson and others take issueand disagree with the APA, Bushman, and the psychology community'sperceived consensus that there's a link between violentgames and aggression.
They cite conflicts of interest, misguided research methods, and things like publication bias, the idea thatscientific journals are biased in which studies they decide to publish, and the replication crisis, the idea that some established research isunable to be later replicated.
At this point, you really can lookat a number of other research groups and I'd say there's maybe about, maybeten to a dozen of these preregistered studies and almost, maybe, only oneof them I can think of found evidence for any kind of, youknow, effects, and that one was a correlational effect.
Video games are a little bit differentfrom more passive forms of media, such as watching television or watchinga movie or a video.
They're directly tied or linkedto the violent character.
They directly rewardviolent behavior.
And we know that reward is avery powerful motivator of human behavior.
For years, people have tried toargue that the interactivity of games makes them remarkably different from, say, watching television or reading a book.
But we don't really have alot of evidence to suggest that games are super different from other forms ofmedia for the most part, in terms of having more of an impact onpeople than television or books or other forms of media.
Ferguson's position is perhaps best summedup by this excerpt from his 2017 book Moral Combat, co-authored with Patrick Markey.
Quote, “Within the world of videogame research, a David and Goliath battle is underway.
The Goliaths are a well-organized, politically connected, and well funded group of senior scholars who havebeen linking violent video games to horrific acts of real-world brutalityfor over thirty years.
These anti–video game giants are beingchallenged by a group of younger, progame researchers, many of whom grewup surrounded by Atari, Nintendo, and PlayStation systems.
Theirs is an epic struggle for truthas they attempt to challenge the much more powerful anti–videogame empire.
” But ultimately, the arguments happeninghere are about statistics, research methods and personal motivations, all of which don't especially matter to manypeople reading headlines.
If two researchers publish a violentvideo game study, one of those researchers finds that exposure toviolent media increases aggressive behavior, the other researcher finds thatexposure to violent media has no effect on aggressive behavior, themass media will definitely publicize the latter.
It will geta lot more media attention.
It's often suggested that since violentcrime, gun deaths and cases of bullying are decreasing, or that becausethere's much less violent crime in Japan or South Korea, where gamesare also widespread, that it proves there's no connection betweenviolence and video games.
But violent crime could decrease while videogames are at the same time making people more aggressive.
Aggression doesn't necessarily mean violence, and it doesn't mean crime.
But it's true thatpublication bias exists.
It's true that there isa replication crisis in psychology.
It's true that in 2011, theSupreme Court ruled that the research presented to them did not prove thatviolent video games cause minors to act aggressively.
For the EntertainmentSoftware Association, the lobbying group representing the video game industry, that Supreme Court ruling says a lot.
From our perspective, this issuehas been debated and resolved by the Supreme Court, which is why youhave seen very few attempts to regulate the sale of videogames since that decision.
It's a very powerful reminder that thereason we have a First Amendment and free speech and that wehave the ability to express ourselves, particularly through video games, is becausewe're in a country that allows for the ability for people tochoose what they want to hear and what they want to sayand how they connect.
From the beginning, video game companieshave been accused of doing terrible things to those who playtheir games and those accusations often didn't have much basis in fact.
So it's not surprising that gamecompanies and gamers themselves might be defensive and quick to reject researcherswho suggest a connection with aggression.
The fact remains that thereis an abundance of research suggesting a link between violentvideo games and aggression.
But you can takethat seriously without panicking.
Many things contribute to someone'stendency towards aggression, like watching sports, your socioeconomicstatus, or your gender.
There's research suggesting kids who playviolent games may be affected negatively, but there is noresearch suggesting playing violent video games will make someonea school shooter.
It is easier to look at amass shooting as many people have, many politicians have, and say, hey, the faultfor this is video games, violent video games.
And so people have tendedto look at, kind of, the research and the facts and the gamesthemselves with that preconceived notion in mind.
Similarly to how if you're abig video game fan, you're probably looking at games and saying, oh, ofcourse these games cannot have any effect on my mental state or cannotmake me more aggressive or anything like that.
I certainly think they'relike ethical questions of like, is this game glamorizing the military? Is this game a fetishization of warin a way that makes people feel uncomfortable? And those are the ethicalquestions that I think people have to wrestle with a lotin the video games world.
At the same time, there's researchsuggesting playing games can be in other ways beneficial, and thatcollaborative games might counteract some of the negative effectsof violence in games.
It's a nuanced, ongoing scientific debate.
So, don't panic, video games are notturning you or your kids into monsters.
But they're probably doing something.