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Did You Know Violent Games Won’t Make Your Kids Killers?

by Josh Reedy


We’ve always been told they will make our kids violent.


After the horrendous shooting of students at Columbine High School in 1999, the question of whether violent video games cause those who play them to be violent in real life is being asked by most parents. As you dig deeper into the topic as I intend to, the answer just might surprise you. Let’s start with a psychological perspective.

Psychology searches for an answer. 

In 2015 the American Psychological Association updated its resolution on the effects of violent video games on the people who play them. They sought to answer the question: will playing a violent video game cause my child to become violent? The short answer…we simply do not know. Thank goodness that it isn’t the end of the conversation. It is an interesting point and the reasons we don’t know are even more interesting. 

The problem of ethics and poor data.

Any scientist who believes that exposure to violence will cause children to become violent or act out violence would need to expose children to violence to prove that hypothesis. In fact, scientists do not put that to the test. They cannot ethically expose those children to violence. This has extremely limited the number of studies that have been done and the scope of those studies. However, many studies that have been done don’t include exposing participants to violent video games. Rather, collecting self-reported data from children who were exposed. The self-reported data is known to be less reliable than data collected by a controlled study. 

We aren’t even speaking the same language!

Further, there is a disagreement on the use of terms for describing any negative behavior that results from playing violent video games. The largest is the difference between aggression and violence. It is uncontested that violent video games (or violence of any type) cause children to be more aggressive in their actions. Perhaps speaking unkindly, pushing buttons, swearing, or treating toys in what would be considered a “mean” manner. Violence is when the actual act of being violent to someone. Hitting, pretending to pull a fake gun, slapping, biting, and of course actual shooting. While all violence is an act of aggression, not all aggression is violence.

Is any of this normal?

All of this has created a communication and research gap that leaves us with more questions than answers. Researchers agree that anything a child or adolescent observes can influence them to mimic or view that behavior as normal. This is not new. As humans for generations have learned how to hunt, wage war, compete in athletic sports involving physical dominance and even pretend to fight with children as a form of play. So perhaps a certain level of exposure is normal?

Surely that can’t be true; we have all read that the teenagers who led the Columbine shooting played Doom religiously, one of the more violent games of 1999. Please click here to see some gameplay from this 1999 “Violent Shooter Game.” 

Do violent video games decrease violence?

Although I am being sarcastic, it is to prove a point. At that time video games were not even close to what could be called realistic. This is pertinent to the main argument of how video games cause those who play them to be violent. Consequently, they act out these behaviors and therefore will be more likely to consider them normal. However, this has not been proven to be true. Actually, studies have shown that as the sales of violent video games have skyrocketed teenagers. Further, adolescents completing violent crimes have drastically decreased by more than HALF!

This does pose a strong argument that perhaps these violent video games do not by themselves cause those who play them to be violent. Similar aggression has been shown in a study of elementary school students who watched an adult punch a rubber clown. Later, they mimicked the same behavior. Violence can show children an unhealthy pattern to follow. Whether it be the latest download of Fortnite, a parent yelling angrily at the car next to them, or a stranger in a rage at McDonald’s. 

So then, what do we do?

What ALL sources agree on is that parenting in the moment is the most telling factor as to the future of our children. Unfortunately, children who grow up in violent homes are much more likely to act out violent behaviors. Children not raised in violent homes draw their own conclusions about what’s right and wrong from the world around them.

However, many psychologists recommend playing video games with your children to better understand what is in them and have the opportunity to explain things that might be confusing.

Use the ESRB rating on the back of the game. This will warn you of excessive violence, gore, swearing, and sexual content. This is invaluable information to help stay away from the games which are unnecessarily violent. 

“Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.

Proverbs 3:31

Josh Reedy is a husband to his wife Elizabeth and father to three cats, Logan, Slade, and Raven (All named after comic book characters).

An avid gamer, he brings to the table a degree in Pastoral Counseling and a passion for seeing Jesus glorified in all entertainment, including video games.

Full-time Josh is an Operations consultant with an emphasis on technology. He has several hobbies: First and foremost, he loves to play video games. Next up, playing music on his guitar, and lastly building super-fast gaming computers from scratch.

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