The first long-term study on if there is a link between real life violence and video game violence has unsurprisingly found no link whatsoever. In fact the reverse may be true.
The only potential correlation found in this study found that over the last century an increase in violent video game consumption led to a decrease in real life youth violence.
The debate over whether the consumption of violent video games, movies or television shows have had an effect on violence in society has been raging since the 1920s. Attention has been consistently brought to the issue in recent years due to the mass shootings which have been taking part in America and the finger being pointed at video games specifically. This new study conducted by Christopher Ferguson from Stetson University in the US has shown that across several decades, there have been no significant links between the consumption of media violence and instances of societal violence.
The history of research on this topic has mainly been in lab settings where the level of aggression is tested before and after the consumption of violent media. This was done by monitoring heart rates and brain activity when playing violent video games or watching violent movies. Ferguson argues that these lab tests aren’t helpful, as they don’t accurately mirror what goes on in real-life. This is mainly due to the increase in aggression having no quantifiable effect on the subjects and levels of aggression do not indicate levels of violence.
Instead Ferguson decided to take a look across several recent decades to see if there were any measurable trends. Ferguson analysed the instances of movie violence and actual homicide rates between the years of 1920 and 2005. He used several independent rating experts to evaluate the frequency and level of violence in the most popular movies released during these decades; he then correlated the data to homicide rates in corresponding years. No link could be made, except potentially in the mid-19th century.
In this case the movie and real life violence increased briefly but the trend was reversed after 1990. Following the beginning of the 90s a higher level of movie violence became correlated with fewer homicides. This was also the case during the two decades between the 1920s and 1940s.
After his study concluded that there was no measurable link between movies and violence Ferguson moved on to video games. In this case the independent ratings experts were the US Entertainment Software Ratings Board to measure the frequency and level of violence in games between 1996 and 2011.
The data did in fact appeared to show the reverse of what mainstream media would have us believe. An increase in violent video game consumption correlated with a decrease in youth violence, just as it did for films after 1990, Ferguson is not prepared to say the result is anything other than a coincidence. He can say for sure though, that while media violence is definitely being consumed more now than ever before, there is no clear evidence to link media violence with societal violence.
Ferguson said in a press release that, “Society has a limited amount of resources and attention to devote to the problem of reducing crime. There is a risk that identifying the wrong problem, such as media violence, may distract society from more pressing concerns such as poverty, education and vocational disparities and mental health. This research may help society focus on issues that really matter and avoid devoting unnecessary resources to the pursuit of moral agendas with little practical value.”
This comes as pleasing news to a gaming community which has been under fire recently for the values it portrays. This study has shown that as expected viewing violence does not indicate that someone will become violent and even in some cases that the reverse may be true. If violent teens are going to have an outlet for their violence gaming appears not to encourage them but rather dissuade them and calm them down. When a violent crime occurs now the world over I sincerely hope excuses are not made that he played Call of Duty or he was an avid watcher of Tarantino films. Maybe we can focus on the violent individual and not what he was consuming, and maybe, just maybe, get to the root of that persons’ troubles.