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The Impact of Guns in Video Games Targeted at Children

Duo playing video games

Video games are more popular than ever, and it seems that the presence of guns and violence in video games is at an all time high. According to a 2019 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), 72% of adolescents in the 10-19 year old range play video games. With such a rise in the presence of guns and violence in video games, some important questions must be answered as it relates to the impact on children.

Does the presence of guns and violence in video games impact children? If so, how?

In general, research shows that violent video games make people more aggressive. 

As Andrew Fishman (MSW, LSW, Clinician, Response Center for Teens) writes in his article for JCFS.org: 

In 2015, The American Psychiatric Association (APA) Task Force on Violent Media analyzed 31 similar studies published since 2009 and concluded that “violent video game use has an effect on… aggressive behavior, cognitions, and affect.”

The three most common ways that researchers test the level of aggression in a laboratory are with the “Hot Sauce Paradigm,” the “Competitive Reaction Time Test,” and with “Word or Story Completion Tasks.”

The “Hot Sauce Paradigm” was one of the tests done to determine a correlation between video games and aggression.

In the “Hot Sauce Paradigm,” researchers instruct participants to prepare a cup of hot sauce for a taste tester who hates spicy food yet must consume all the hot sauce. The more hot sauce the participants put into the cup, the more “aggressive” the participants are said to be.

In the “Competitive Reaction Time Test,” participants compete with a person in the next room. They are told that both people must press a button as fast as possible when they see a light flash. Whoever presses the button first will get to “punish” the opponent with a blast of white noise. They are allowed to turn up the volume as loud as they want for as long as they want. In reality, there is no participant in the next room. The researchers are measuring how far they turned the dial and how long they held it for. In theory, people who punish their opponent more severely are considered to be more aggressive.

During a “Word or Story Completion Task,” participants are shown a word with missing letters or a story without an ending. Participants are asked to guess what word can be made from those letters or to predict what will happen next in a story. When participants choose “aggressive” words (such as assuming that “M _ _ _ E R” is “murder” instead of “mother”) or assuming that characters will hurt one another, they are considered more aggressive.

These tests have been used to examine whether violent games increase aggression. Several representative studies are summarized below. In each study, the participants assigned to play a violent game seemed more prone to acting or thinking aggressively than those who played a non-violent game for an equivalent amount of time.

Violent video games - Call of Duty
Some studies found that people who played violent games like Call of Duty were more likely to display aggressive behavior.
  • 2000: Undergraduate psychology students played a video game for thirty minutes and were given the Competitive Reaction Time Test. Those who played Wolfenstein 3D (a violent game) turned the “punishment” dial for a longer period of time than those who played Myst (a non-violent game).
  • 2002: Participants played a video game for twenty minutes, and were given a story completion task. Players who played Carmageddon, Duke Nukem, Mortal Kombat, or Future Cop (violent games) were more likely to predict that the characters in an ambiguous story would react to conflict aggressively than those who had played Glider Pro, 3D Pinball, Austin Powers, or Tetra Madness (non-violent games).
  • 2004: Participants played a video game for twenty minutes, and were given a word-completion task. Players who played Dark Forces, Marathon 2, Speed Demon, Street Fighter, and Wolfenstein 3D (violent games) were more likely to predict that word fragments were part of aggressive words than non-aggressive words than those who had played 3D Ultra Pinball, Glider Pro, Indy Car II, Jewel Box, and Myst (non-violent games).
  • 2004: Participants played a video game for twenty minutes, and were given the Competitive Reaction Time Test. Those who played Marathon 2 (a violent game) turned the “noise punishment” dial to higher levels than those who had played Glider PRO (a non-violent game).
  • 2014: Participants played a video game for thirty minutes, and were given the hot sauce test. People who played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (a violent game) put more hot sauce into the cup than people who played LittleBigPlanet 2 (a non-violent game).

This research indicates that consistent exposure to violent video games does have an impact on the gamer.

Consistent exposure to violent video games can have a correlation with more aggressive behavior.

What are the long-term effects of exposure to guns and violence in video games?

Andrew Fishman states that some researchers who study aggression use the General Aggression Model (GAM), a unified theory of aggression created by the researcher who authored many of the papers which found a link between aggression and violent video games. The theory explains that many things may increase aggression in the short-term, including being insulted, unpleasant noises, and the temperature of the room.

The GAM theory further suggests that repeatedly acting on aggressive impulses may push people toward becoming permanently more aggressive. For example, a normally peaceful person may act out when insulted. The more times the person acts out, the more “accessible” violent responses become and the more likely this person is to act violently in future situations.

This makes intuitive sense, and researchers sometimes state that even a tiny increase in aggression could be cumulative and lead to long-term aggressive tendencies. 

However, it does not appear that this is true. Researchers recently surveyed more than 1,000 British teens aged 14-15 on how often they play games, independently examined how violent those games are, and asked their parents to report how aggressively their children acted over the past month. They examined whether each variable was connected and found no evidence of a correlation. Teens who played violent games many hours per week did not act more aggressively than those who played peaceful games or no games at all.

Should children play video games with guns and violence?

Parent and child playing video games
If you are concerned about video games your child may be playing, play with them or discuss what happens in the games together.

This topic is personal and should be determined on an individual basis. There are mixed reviews regarding how children are impacted by the presence of guns and violence in video games. Therefore, many find it helpful to take the following steps:

  • Have conversations regularly with your children regarding the games they play and the difference between the game and real life.
  • Play video games with your child in order to stay in touch with what they’re exposed to and how the games are impacting them.
  • Intentionally have your child play video games with guns and/or violence in a common area so you can be aware of how they respond and be available for them.
  • Determine which video games are age-appropriate for your child and set limits on the amount of gaming.

For more information on all things firearms, child access prevention, and more, find a Concealed Coalition class near you today!

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