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Family Matters

About this Blog

Linda Mintle, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist, author of 16 books, a national expert on family issues and the psychology of food and weight. She's an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School, a national speaker, writer, and news contributor.

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What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?


A preteen asks, “My mom and dad don’t want me to play violent video games. My friends say they are really fun and only entertainment. It seems everyone plays these games, and they aren’t shooting people at school. What’s the big deal?”

The big deal is that violent video games can lead to aggression. Studies support the idea that violent video games also can increase delinquency. Here’s what studies tell us about violent video games:
  • They aren’t just entertainment. If you play violent video games, you can think and act more aggressively. And because you are male, you may even see the world as hostile after playing these games.
  • Violent video games can teach you violent ways to think.
  • Violent video games allow you to practice being violent.
  • For heavier consumers of violent media (four or more hours a day), the impact is less school effort, poorer reading skills, less time playing with friends, fewer hobbies/activities, and overweight. There is a relationship between playing a lot of video games (any games) and poor grades. More time playing games leads to poor academic achievement.
  • The games can make you less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
  • The games can also make you more fearful of the world and see it as a scary place.
  • If you practice violence in games, you can access this information for real-life situations.
  • The more knowledgeable you become about violence, the more it may affect your personality (not in a good way!).
  • The more violent video games played, the more delinquent behavior occurs.
The big deal is that we don’t know how much those games affect you in terms of violence and shooting people. We do know that you are affected, and one effect is increased aggression. So why play these games?

Let me also reassure you that not everyone is playing these games. Some parents have enough sense to know that putting violent images in the head of anyone is not a good idea. We think a lot of stuff doesn’t bother us when in truth it does. Listen to your parents. They aren’t trying to make your life miserable. They understand the potential dangers of these games. They probably want to do everything they can to prevent you from doing things that will hurt you. Sounds like you have great parents!

Related Information:

Dr. Linda will be speaking Monday, October 25, at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York, on the topic sexuality, as part of their chapel series. For more information regarding media and children, check out her website, www.drlindahelps.com and click on Parenting.

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Thursday, October 21, 2010 4:31 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Dear Dr. Linda, thanks for this post. My son too has played xbox live for over a year. As time went on, he played more and more, especially this summmer - sometimes late into the night. I would get frustrated and actually get in fights with him over this obsession - and that is truly what is becomes - an obsession. I prayed very hard over this and one day this summer I came home from work and he had everything packed up and posted on craigs list to sell it. He told me he could not control himself with the game and wanted to get rid of it. Thank You Dear God. Well as time pasted and he didn't play he desired to buy another used on back. See how subtle this is - he convinced himself he now could control himself. I had and have to stand firm on God's providence and wisdom and tell him no. Yes I think these games too are really detrimental to our kids. Thanks for the warnings to our families. Praises to God, Jean.
Left by Jean (Dixie) on Oct 22, 2010 7:18 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

While the scope of your argument appears to be strictly violent video games, I would still like to address your points as an avid gamer. First, I would like to point out that I do not feel children should be playing games rated Mature (age 17+). If a child is too young to see The Godfather, there's absolutely no reason why he should be reading the book or playing the video game, or any similar video game (Grand Theft Auto comes to mind). It's been pointed out by the government that the video game game industry does a better job of keeping Mature-rated titles out of the hands of minors than the movie industry does of keeping R-rated movies out of the hands of minors.

"Violent video games can teach you violent ways to think."
And so do some sports, like football and wrestling. But in addition to being violent in nature, games (and even these sports) can also teach you spatial reasoning and force you to be cognizant of more variables around you than just "GO CRAZY!"
Left by Milo on Oct 22, 2010 11:17 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

"For heavier consumers of violent media, the impact is less school effort, poorer reading skills, less time playing with friends, fewer hobbies/activities, and overweight."

Most of this is certainly true, though it doesn't pertain to only violent media. I can spend all day reading The Brothers Karamazov instead of studying for my calculus test or getting exercise.

But I will also say that a recent game (Assassin's Creed 2) I played, which took place in Renaissance Italy, contained an absolute wealth of information about historical figures, important works of art, architecture, and the Renaissance in general unlike any I had seen before within a video game, so kudos to those developers. Another game (Bioshock) used political philosophy to portray an attempted social utopia as the backdrop to its overall narrative, which spurred my own interest in political philosophy. Again, kudos to the developers for rekindling my interest in reading after college almost obliterated it.
Left by Milo on Oct 22, 2010 11:17 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

"The games can make you less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others."

During the ending of the game Mass Effect, the player finds themselves at a critical juncture in the mission: you are found in between two members of your squad who are in dire need of your help. Your decision to save one will result in the death of the other. The choice was agonizing, even long after the fact, when the squad member you did save began screaming at you that you should have saved the other.

I feel like I'm beginning to ramble here, so I'll wrap up:
Most of your points are completely applicable to other forms of media. The bookworm who never goes outside won't make many friends and will find himself awkward in social situations.

As for the "studies" put out, there is no definitive, conclusive study that says, without reservation, that violent games cause violent behavior. The best they show is correlation, which does not imply causation.
Left by Milo on Oct 22, 2010 11:18 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

The "increased aggression" most studies show can be brought on by jumping up at someone and yelling "BOO!" Children were violent long before video games, and I am sure they will be violent long after video games are replaced by the newest form of entertainment.

Violence has been a mainstay in entertainment for literally thousands of years. HOWEVER, that does not mean kids should have carte blanche to consume whatever media they choose. It is ultimately up to their parents to set reasonable boundaries.
Left by Milo on Oct 22, 2010 11:23 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Not many free speech advocates are going to take the time to sign up for this site in order to post a rebuttal to this article. But, I think it's important to comment on this, especially since it's been linked on GamePolitics, a well-respected gaming blog.

First and foremost, Linda is not an expert on this field, so you can't take her words as a primary source. She provides no references to the studies that she mentions in her article. There's no excuse for not listing sources, especially when it's so easy. I'll demonstrate:

http://www.science20.com/news_releases/video_games_and_violence_are_studies_biased

Many of the studies that do exist on this topic come under harsh criticism for failing to account for factors outside of video game play, such as the consumption of other violent media, socioeconomic status, abusive family life, etc. Those studies, at most, show a short-term statistical correlation between consuming violent media.
Left by derekhansell on Oct 22, 2010 11:27 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Secondly, parents are responsible for monitoring the media that their children consume. Violent video games typically carry a Teen or Mature rating to inform parents of the intended age-group for those games. Parents choose to ignore the ratings at their own peril, though what peril may result, if any, is unproven (see my first point).

Thirdly, to Jean. I will say I have an immense amount of respect for your son, who recognized that he was unable to balance his schoolwork with having a video game system in the home. That HE had to recognize that and parent himself is indicative of YOUR parental shortcomings. If you were concerned with his excessive play, you, as THE PARENT, should have taken control of the situation. That your son is more responsible than you are is of grave concern. Since Linda is a licensed marriage and family therapist, perhaps she could give you some guidance on how to parent your son, instead of hoping that God will take care of it because you prayed really hard.
Left by derekhansell on Oct 22, 2010 11:55 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Hello there, Mrs (Ms?) Linda Mintle. I was linked here through a friend, and felt that I had to respond. You see, I am a 16 year old teenager, and I'm finding some rather blatant holes in your post here that would really help your argument better. Don't let my age paint a false judgement of me, if you please.

To put it simply, Mrs Mintle, it is incredibly obvious that you haven't a single clue about the subject of this post. Let's take it from the top:

"The big deal is that violent video games can lead to aggression. Studies support the idea that violent video games also can increase delinquency."

Right off the bat, here's a problem. You never link to these studies, never quote them. Anyone who actually looks for said studies will find that there's as many that your point as there are studies that disprove it. It's a difficult subject to study as there are all manner of variables that none of the studies take into account.

(to be continued)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 2:15 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

(Continued)

As any good writer knows, sources need to be cited if you have them, instead of just claiming that they exist.

"They aren’t just entertainment. If you play violent video games, you can think and act more aggressively. And because you are male, you may even see the world as hostile after playing these games."

Again, you cite no source for this, no study that says this. To use your tactic against you; several studies suggest the opposite! Violent games can actually allow people to relax and blow off steam. And if you wish to read up on it, Google "Middlesex violent videogame relaxing study" or some combination thereof. The person who carried it out went by the name Jane Barrett, if it helps.

(To be continued)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 2:29 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

"Violent video games can teach you violent ways to think."

As opposed to books and films and even music? People like you are always incredibly concerned with painting videogames as horrible, evil things, but I never see you protesting, say, the Caesarean section via vampire fang in the fourth Twilight book (a series of books read by girls of all ages, including preteens, mind you!).

That said, violent videogames aren't the only thing that encourages violence in people or teaches them violent ways to think. In fact, a lot of children are probably influenced more by books or cartoons as opposed to videogames.

"Violent video games allow you to practice being violent."

This is the point where your argument really begins to fall apart because it becomes increasingly apparent that you haven't the slightest clue what you're on about. I'll say more on this in my next comment.

(To be continued)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 2:34 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

The most recent videogame I've played that could be classed as violent is called Just Cause 2. Just Cause 2 has you play an American government agent deployed to a South Asian dictatorship to destabilise the country and overthrow the government. According to you, violent videogames allow me to practice being violent, correct?

In Just Cause 2, aside from basic guns, your main weapon is an arm-mounted grappling hook that lets you defy not only gravity but practically every law of physics. You can break falls by using it against the ground, for example. I don't see how I can practice being violent with a weapon so hilariously fictional.

On the topic of violent shooting games; there is simply no way you can call that practice. Even in the first person shooters. Can you hazard a guess as to why?

Because guns require a lot of practice to just fire properly in the first place, let alone hit anything. These games don't account for recoil, or proper reloading, or anything of the sort (TBC)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 2:39 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

You cannot train yourself to fire guns on a videogame. Even the ones that don't use guns but instead some form of melee weapon, you can't practice with that either. There is a massive difference between holding a V-shaped piece of plastic and clicking buttons and using weapons. I thought this patently obvious to anyone.

"For heavier consumers of violent media (four or more hours a day), the impact is less school effort, poorer reading skills, less time playing with friends, fewer hobbies/activities, and overweight. There is a relationship between playing a lot of video games (any games) and poor grades. More time playing games leads to poor academic achievement."

This would be a valid point if I and my own classmates didn't prove it wrong last summer; all of us are avid videogame players, and all of us did very well in our GCSEs. In fact, one of my friends achieved the highest possible grade in 7 of his 11 subjects.

Correlation does not imply causation.
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 2:42 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

On the piece about games affecting education; that has actually nothing to do with the media being violent or not. In fact, it doesn't even have all that much to do with just videogames; you could substitute any form of media (literature improves reading skills, but reading all the time still isn't good).

"The games can make you less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others."

A lot of people who don't play videogames (such as yourself) don't know that videogames have evolved as a medium; they don't require "points" anymore, and often they're more like interactive movies. There are many, many games out there that make people think, make people afraid, make them happy, sad, energetic and even make them think better of themselves. To say that videogames stop people from empathising with others is simply silly.

(TBC)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 2:57 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

"The games can also make you more fearful of the world and see it as a scary place."

I haven't ever seen this sort of symptom addressed in any kind of study. In fact, I'm pretty sure you just made this one up as I can't find any sort of evidence to back this claim up at all.

"If you practice violence in games, you can access this information for real-life situations."

Because all videogames are accurate simulations of real life, right down to the molecular level. This one is just simply wrong; by their very nature videogames are terrible for training people to be violent. In real life, people don't become weightless ragdolls when they die, and their bodies don't fade away before your eyes right afterwards. Videogames can't let you simulate the recoil that results from the discharge of a firearm, nor can they properly simulate the use of melee weapons.

(TBC)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 3:03 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

"The more knowledgeable you become about violence, the more it may affect your personality (not in a good way!)."

How so? You don't say how it may adversely affect someone's personality, and no it's not obvious. Not all videogames with violence glorify it, you know. Tying into the empathy issue; in The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, towards the end of the game the main character (a child) faces off against the main villain (an evil warlock). The main villain pulls no punches and beats the main character ruthlessly, in a display of brutality that shocked and sickened many players. It made them care for the main character, it made them want to protect him and the people around him from the villain. I don't see how that's an adverse effect to one's personality.

"The more violent video games played, the more delinquent behavior occurs."

Again, you cite no sources to prove this point. It's just pure conjecture; violent videogames do not encourage smoking or binge drinking, (TBC)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 3:09 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

(Continued) They don't encourage theft or vandalism. They don't encourage crime. There are all manner of factors that play a part in deciding whether or not someone engages in delinquent behaviour, most importantly family and social backgrounds, not to mention social class.

"The big deal is that we don’t know how much those games affect you in terms of violence and shooting people. We do know that you are affected, and one effect is increased aggression."

According to some sources. According to others, decreased aggression or even relaxation can occur. The one major criticism launched at all of these studies is that none of them really take many important factors (family life, social background) into consideration.

In regards to shooting people; the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech Massacre (the most destructive school shooting at this point in time) was not inspired by violent videogames or even any real violent media. (TBC)
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 3:15 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Video games led me down a dark and lonely road. The countless hours I spent absorbed in their violence caused a rift to form in my marriage, and ultimately drove me to kill my wife, Mary.
Left by James Sunderland on Oct 22, 2010 3:16 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

May God have mercy not just on my soul, but on the soul of every fool who decides to spend his days playing video games, thereby forfeiting his access to Paradise.
Left by James Sunderland on Oct 22, 2010 3:19 PM

# RE: Response to Richard

Richard, you are sounding a tad crazy which will probably just confirm Dr Mintle's opinion about teenagers who play violent videogames.

I think this argument is about making wise choices and setting reasonable limits. I think parents need to help their teenagers make wise choices so they will be prepared to make those choices on their own when they no longer live at home. I personally love videogames and I play them a reasonable amount of time. I am introducing my kids to videogames with age appropriate and educational games. When they get older I will help them make wise choices about videogames, books, and movies until they are able to do it on their own.
Left by Kevin on Oct 22, 2010 3:22 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter in the V-Tech Massacre, was mentally ill and had a history of problems. He was incredibly antisocial and believed that he was standing against what he perceived as high class people tormenting those of lower classes. He wasn't inspired by violent media of any sort; he was seriously mentally unstable. In a lot of cases, media just has nothing to do with it.

In conclusion, violent videogames aren't anywhere near as dangerous as you believe. Videogames in general are treated really harshly by people who don't understand them and don't care to. A lot of problems with delinquents can actually be attributed to terrible parenting rather than media. And even then, the rather sexualised music videos that are shown daily on music channels like MTV are probably worth more attention than videogames.

Good day, Mrs/Ms Linda Mintle. You may not read this (might have stopped at "I'm 16", unfortunately), but if you do, I do hope you don't brush it off.
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 3:25 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

@Kevin: In what way am I sounding "a tad crazy"? I'm not swearing, I'm not condemning her, I'm not writing her off as stupid or anything. I'm merely examining her post.

And how am I sounding crazier than James Sunderland up there?
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 3:28 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

The James Sunderland post is obviously fake since he is the lead character in Silent Hill 2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Hill_2) in which the main character kills his wife Mary.

I don't think the author was saying that videogames teach you how to actually fire a weapon. I can tell you from personal experience that I played Grand Theft Auto for a week or so and then as I was driving I got an urge to ram someone off the road who was driving to slowly. Did I do it? No. Did I think about it? Yes. Did GTA have something to do with that? I believe so.

Adults are better able to separate videogames from reality. Teach a child that you "win" the videogame by bashing people with a baseball bat and they will likely try it in real life. A teenager is somewhere in between an adult and a child so I think parents need to decide what they can handle.
Left by Kevin on Oct 22, 2010 3:52 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

@Kevin: I believe that's referred to as "road rage", and it says more about your own problems with anger than the influence videogames have on people. I really doubt Grand Theft Auto inspired you to do that, as if it did inspire people to run others off the road, then there would be a lot more vehicular accidents than there are currently (given the absolutely massive fanbase the series has).
Left by Richard on Oct 22, 2010 3:57 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

As a child, my friend Jak and I decided we should go to Misty Island, even though it was advised against by the local sagely priest. When we had arrived, I was attacked by a strange man. An explosion occurred, and I was knocked into a pit of dark eco. The substance had drastically changed my figured to the point I looked like an orange weasel.

I must live with this deformity every day of my life. No woman will ever love me, because I look like an animal.

I believe that video games had an influence on my decision to visit that island that day.

Young ones, I urge you: Do not fall victim to the preying maw of video games like I did. Quit while you can, before it ruins your life.
Left by Daxter on Oct 22, 2010 5:57 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Linda Mintle, Ph.D. - for having a Pd.D., you appear to lack significant knowledge about how to do research. Did you know that the video games industry regulates itself very well? ESRB ratings are found on most games. Did you also know that the studies you cite have also been discredited for various reasons (usually sloppy science to "prove" that they result in violence)? Your answer to the question should have been, "Your parents don't want to have to play video games to see if they are okay for you to play and therefore have simply made a parental decision to not let you play. You may not like the decision, but that's life. If it concerns you, you should sit down and hear their side of the story. When you have children, you can do the same for your kids but be a responsible parent - don't just let your kids play anything and join in with them when they do play so you know what sorts of things they are learning."
Left by Opposing Force on Oct 22, 2010 6:35 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

If this is true of video games, it is true of all other forms of entertainment and media. Men have been fighting wars long before a single pixel in a video game was created. However, it’s not as if the violence can’t be mitigated.

The onus is on the parents of these children. Simply praying blindly for your child to resolve his videogame addiction certainly isn't going to cut it. The prayer should be that you, as a parent, may have the patience and guidance to teach your children to separate video games from reality, and to have them understand how to properly behave in society.

Do not blame videogames when it is your negligence of your child's moral upbringing that is at fault. Fighting with your children and throwing your hands up in defeat isn't enough. You should take the time to truly understand what it is that your child is doing, what they’re interested in, before making accusations and unfounded claims about it.
Are video games the witch craft of the 21st century?
Left by Lydia on Oct 22, 2010 7:37 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

To all who find it their responsibility to chastise me on my mothering skills, I appreciate your input, but still in all, you may be ignorant in the way the Lord has worked this out. I spent many a day upholding the reality of the pitfalls of video addiction, upholding the reality of things becoming idols, upholding the need for change. But with anything that becomes an addition, the addict must ADMIT they have a problem for the resolve to stop with adhere. Granted, I as a mom could have taken it away, but I am not dealing with an eight year old kid, but a young adult whom I believe the Lord wants to make choices for himself too. I did my part, I guided him in TRUTH, and YES YES the Lord did answer my prayer through Grace and Intervention. I have NO REGRETS, but Praise and Graditude for a lesson well learned. Jean.
Left by Jean (Dixie) on Oct 23, 2010 6:21 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

Well, i think you' re wrong. I'm a teeneger (a girl) and i like playing a lot of types of videogames, also violent ones. If in a violent game i have the chance to kill everyone or to destruct a city i'll do that, cause i find it funny. In the reality if i see a fly in my house i can't kill it, i have to catch it and let it free through the window, and if you have any doubt i am totally against the violence and i'm very (maybe too much) sensitive.

I think it depends of the child and how manipulable is he or she. I believe that kids must play viodegames accord to their age, but when you reach some age like 15, for example, maybe he/she can think for him/herself and diference the game and de reality.

I think that all of that delinquence and that stuff it's about how parents teach their children and how they adapt in the world that we live in, and not about some bloody pixels, i think that is to point to another way, instead of the really origin of the matter.

Sorry about my bad english
Left by Artume on Oct 23, 2010 11:00 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

LEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOY JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Left by Bernardo Kelly on Oct 23, 2010 5:08 PM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

My son was ten years old when he got into the driver's seat of our car and drove it quite confidently. When I recovered from the shock he excitedly told me "Mum,it's just like on Burnout! Next time I want to try a do'nut!" That's what he learned from car racing games. If he can learn to drive - what else can he learn?
Left by mandyb_10 on Oct 27, 2010 3:11 AM

# RE: What’s the Harm in Violent Video Games?

You people seriously need to stop worrying about influence as much as your children themselves. Just because they see something they might not see in they're normal community on a video game doesn't mean they're going to go nuts and start thinking its okay to rape people and shoot up schools. When someone learns something from a video game it goes into a mental vault, kids these days think that its alright to blame a violent video game for something wrong they did. They've become a crutch for delinquents, they think.. "Oh I've done something wrong how can i get out of it" They immideitly go to blame something else like if a child in the 80's or 70's would blame another child. All it is, is video games getting a bad rap because so many people have them to blame as an option.
Left by Drew L. on Apr 16, 2012 10:00 AM