Violent video games can make children think and behave more aggressively in ways that resemble the effects of televised violence, according to a study released Thursday by the American Psychological Association. As a result the Washington, D.C., group called on the gaming industry to cut back on the violence in titles sold to kids.
"Violence in video games appear to have similar negative effects as viewing violence on TV, but may be more harmful because of the interactive nature of video games," said Dr. Elizabeth Carll, co-chair of the APA's six-member video game violence group, in a statement announcing the study. "Playing video games involves practice, repetition and being rewarded for numerous acts of violence, which may intensify the learning. This may also result in more realistic experiences which may potentially increase aggressive behavior."
The APA — which represents 150,000 psychology professionals and students — also called on publishers to be more diligent in attaching negative consequences to violent behavior. "Showing violent acts without consequences teaches youth that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict," Carll said. "Seeing pain and suffering as a consequence can inhibit aggressive behavior." The group reported that violent perpetrators in interactive media go unpunished 73 percent of the time.
The Entertainment Software Association, which represents video game publishers, rejected the APA's call for the industry to tone things down and questioned the group's findings. "The APA continues to disregard a body of other credible research and analysis from such sources as the U.S. Surgeon General, the State of Washington's Department of Health, and from a professor at Harvard Medical School's Center for Mental Health and Media, to name just a few, which challenge claims that video games cause aggression or crime," ESA President Douglas Lowenstein said. He also cited a study announced last week by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that there was no "strong" link between violent video games and aggressive behavior.
The University of Illinois study tracked levels of aggression and the number of serious arguments reported by 75 individuals, ages 14 to 68, who were tasked with playing the massively multi-player online game "Asheron's Call 2" for an average of 56 hours each over the course of a month. None of the 75 had played the game before. Researchers compared their findings with those reported by 138 individuals who did not play the game and found no significant difference in the aggression reported by the two groups.
APA representatives could not be reached by press time to describe the workings of their study.
The debate about the effects of violent video games has raged since the 1980s and has often been spiked by such envelope-pushing games as "Mortal Kombat," "Doom" and "Grand Theft Auto." Earlier this month defense lawyers representing 20-year-old Devon Moore publicly pinned part of the blame for their client's fatal shooting of three Alabama police officers on Moore's experience playing "GTA." The trial judge barred that argument from court testimony, though Moore's defense did tell jurors that their client had said, "Life is a video game. Everybody has to die sometime," according to an Associated Press report. Last week Moore was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Late last month, four U.S. senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, called for a $90 million study of the effects of video games on children and more stringent legislation to reduce the sale of violent and sexually charged games to minors (see " 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' Gets 'Adults Only' Rating").