Academics have continued to debate the influence video games have on youth and adults with regards to aggression and violence since the industry first emerged, and while there are still many who insist gaming is linked to violence, especially in adolescents, a new study has taken a different approach and found things may not be so simple. A study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence led by Whitney DeCamp and Christopher Ferguson made a point to study not only the correlation between games and violence, but also took into account other factors that most studies have failed too, such as family history, mental health, and a variety of other variables. What they found was that, even when a slim correlation between video games and violence was found, once other factors were taken into account, the relationship vanished.
DeCamp and Ferguson make the point that, despite no real consensus being reached on the connection between real life violence and video game play, many scientists and pundits still insist a relationship exists. To try and paint a better picture, their study examines not only that relationship but also takes into account a child’s relationship with their parents (both in how affectionate and how strict parents are with their teens), exposure to real violence or yelling in the home, being hit by an adult, and demographic factors like race, gender, and class. It also clarifies the video game factor by including not only the amount of games played, but the propensity for someone to play particularly violent games. What they found was that if only the video games and violence variables were taken into account, there is a positive correlation. However, once the other variables are included, the majority of the relationships vanished. Only one group kept a weak positive relationship (for eleventh grade girls) while another went in the opposite direction, indicating more video game exposure resulted in less violence (for eighth grade boys). The study points out that this is consistent with other studies that take into account not only time played but tendency to game.
Given that, it should not be assumed that exposure to fictional violence would be likely to cause similar emotional responses—whether fear, depression, or behavioral disturbances—as is commonly seen for exposure to real-life violence.
To further solidify its findings, the relationship between the other factors (parental influence, exposure to real life violence, etc.) all had strong relationships with violent behavior. This is consistent with years of criminological research about what causes youth to behave violently. They also point out that there are several other factors that are proven to influence violence that they did not include, and that these could further diminish any relationship between video games and the behavior. DeCamp and Ferguson include in their discussion that they hope the study will lead to further research that takes into account more factors and does not just examine a black and white correlation.
Finally! Someone figured out that you can’t just study something so complex through a dichotomous design! It is a shame we need a study to tell us that there are real life issues that deal a far heavier blow to our kids than Grand Theft Auto, but I am glad it finally happened. I hope this can pave the way for studies which actually give gaming a fair chance. Now if only someone would take on my study proposal….