Since the 1990s there has been an outcry about the rise of violent computer games which were supposed to corrupt children and turn them into psychopaths. Now studies have shown that the violent games did not make a blind bit of difference.
A group of researchers, led by biological psychologist and video game violence skeptic Peter Etchells, has published an analysis suggesting that players of violent games might face a very small increase in risk for behavioural problems.
The area is tricky because it is possible that people with behavioural problems would seek out violent media rather than have it caused by violent games. Then if you focus on the violence, rather than things like the fact that they are challenging, competitive, fast-paced, these could also cause the problem.
Etchells and his team used a study which was based on games from the ’90s.
The data used in this analysis came from people participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which had started with more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. Around 2,400 of the children in the study had answered a questionnaire on their gaming habits when they were eight or nine years old, and around 5,000 had completed an interview called the Development and Well-Being Assessment (“DAWBA”) at the age of fifteen. Approximately 1,800 children fell into both categories.
The researchers focused on two outcomes of the DAWBA: risk for depression, and risk for “conduct disorder.”
Then, they tried to eliminate or control for as many confounding factors as possible. They looked for children who had been rated as high-risk for conduct disorder by their parents when they were seven years old and removed them from the study. The researchers included family history of mental health, maternal education and socio-economic status, religiosity, family structure, gender, bullying victimhood, IQ, and social and emotional problems in their model as well.
Children who had reported playing shoot-em-up games at the age of eight or nine had a slightly increased chance of conduct disorder. The effect was weak, though; just on the border of statistical significance.
The weakness is that ’90s games are not the same sort of thing. However the research suggests that the problem is small potatoes.
“Some have claimed that the magnitude of this effect is larger than the effect of exposure to smoke at work on lung cancer rates. Our findings do not support such claims.”