The link between video game violence and real life violence

The link between video game violence and real life violence

by Karlo Bojčić

Through several generations there has been an ongoing scientific debate that exposure to violent media could lead to violent individual’s behaviour. This includes diverse examples through history, such as cinema, comic, music and television. One of the debate elements was that video games have greater influence on individual’s behaviour. It is because video games provide players with an interactive process which could have greater impact on players via closer identification with the main character.

Video games are popular in Croatia.  Some evidence on the popularity of video games in Croatia could stem from the fact that the PlayStation logo is the most recognized symbol by Croatian children and adolescents, as reported in a study by Brandwatch in 2018. The aforementioned study analysed 50 million photos on Twitter, posted from September 1, 2018 to 28 February, 2019 worldwide. Using advanced logo recognition tools, the study concluded that in Croatia the Playstation brand surpasses all others, as can be seen on figure below.

Figure 1. Top logos by European countries, according to Brandwatch.
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A recent study conducted in Croatia, among 531 students aged between 11 and 24 years (Livazović et al., 2018, in press) showed that 57,8% of examined students play video games at least one to two hours a day, while 14,5% play video games more than 10 hours a day. The data is presented in Figure 2. shows that shooter video games were the most popular video game genre with 45,3% of examined students reporting playing shooter video games at least once a month, and 14% of examined students playing shooter video games every day. The data for playing shooter video games is presented in Figure 3.

Figure 2. Average time of playing video games on personal computer or video games consoles. The solid fill indicates share of time consumed by playing video games.

Figure 3. Frequency of playing shooter video games. Percentages represent the shere of students playing shooter video games.

As mentioned, Croatian children and adolescents often play video games, and a good portion of these games are violent. So, is there a danger that playing violent video games can result with violence in real life? According to governments in Nepal, Iraq, and India violence in video games can make people violent in real life. The governments of these countries have adopted or proposed laws prohibiting violent video games (Žalac, 2019a; 2019b). The state of Pennsylvania is on a similar track, as their lawmakers have published a bill that proposes an additional 10% tax on violent video games. The money from the “sin tax" would go into fund that aims to enhance security measures against shootings at schools (Makuch, 2019).

There are numerous studies showing that violent video games lead to violence in real life. In their meta-analysis, Anderson et al (2010) identified 74 studies and found that playing violent video games is associated with higher levels of aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition and physiological arousal. There is also some evidence that the influence of violent video game on individual’s behaviour may be larger than the influence of violent television contents or films. Also, exposure to violent video games was associated with desensitization and lack of empathy. Studies carried by Wiegman & Van Schie, and Dill also confirm that violent video games cause violent behaviour (Ružić, 2011). According to some scholars, players get carried away by the video game so they transfer the violence from the virtual to the real world.

On the other hand, Ferguson and Kilburn (2010) found the opposite, in which increases of violence in video games were correlated with decreases of violence in real life. They suggested that when other risk factors (like depression, peers, family) are controlled, video game effects drop to near zero. Similarly, a study conducted in 2015 by DeCamp illustrates how the effect of playing violent video games on violent behaviour is reduced almost to zero when controlling for other violence risk factors. Ferguson quotes several studies that deny links between video game violence and real life violence (Ferguson, Konijn, 2015).

In 2015, Markey, Markey & French conducted a study in which they followed annual trends in video game sales from 1978 to 2011. No association was found between video game sales and violent crime in that period. Monthly sales of video games were associated with decrease in heavy assaults. They were not associated to homicides. There was also a tendency of decrease of homicides in the months following the release of popular M-rated video games (which may may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language and are generally suitable for ages 17 and older). A possible explanation for this decrease in violence is that playing violent video games leads to catharsis. Players who play violent video games can release their aggression in the virtual world, rather than in real life. Other explanations are that individuals predisposed to violent behaviour tend to seek out violent media, like video games. Because they play video games at home, there is less violence in real life.

The impact of video games on an individual’s behaviour may be overstated based on solely correlational research. Correlation does not imply causation. Also, causality is often seen as a one-to-one causality. Players won’t become violent just because they play violent video games. This is not how causality should be understood. There are many risk factors for violence. Some of the most significant are genes, having sensation-seeking personality, seeing or hearing domestic violence, lack of parental monitoring, lack of parental attachment, poverty, peer influences and depression (Ferguson, Kilburn, 2010; DeCamp, 2015). As the number of risk factors increases, so does the chance of violent acts by an individual.

In conclusion, there is some evidence that could relate video game violence to real life violence, as well as evidence that suggest video game violence may be harmless. Based on the presented research findings, it is implied that violent video games have negative influence on some individuals, especially those who are also affected by more significant risk factors. Therefore, it is implied that measures to reduce violence might be more effective if they were directed towards other, more significant risk factors rather than violent video games.


Anderson, C. A., Akiko, S., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L.; Bushman, B. J.; Sakamoto, A., Rothstein, H. R., Muniba, S. (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.

DeCamp, W. (2015). Impersonal Agencies of Communication: Comparing the Effects of Video Games and Other Risk Factors on Violence. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4(4), 296–304

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.

Ferguson, C. J., Konijn, E. A. (2015). She Said/He Said: A Peaceful Debate on Video Game Violence. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4(4), 397–411.

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Ružić, N. (2011). The Internet and Video Games: Causes of Increased Aggressiveness Among Young People. Medijske studije, 2(3-4), 16-27.

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