From Violent Games to Socially Responsible Ones

Some psychological research on the effects of violent video games; a video interview with David Grossman on how understanding the behavior of soldiers in combat reveals the risks of media violence; some important links on socially responsible gaming.


 The Effects of Violent Video Games

Violence is a complex phenomenon with multiple causes; to create a more peaceful society, we need to address all of them, and, pay particular attention to how they interact together. Some of us may indeed be at greater risk of engaging in violence, whether due to biological factors or to early experiences of parental neglect, but societal factors play a dominant role. At its essence, violent behavior is learned and popular culture’s embrace of violence — its messages that violence is normal, effective, and even fun — represent a powerful form of socialization.

Media violence has been studied for over 50 years, and among researchers there is a consensus that it plays a significant role in promoting violence in society,  Indeed, some researchers now refer to media violence as a cause of violent behavior, while stressing that it is a factor that is neither necessary nor sufficient.  However, this does not minimize the significance of media violence, and indeed it has been argued that statistically-speaking the relationship between media violence exposure and increased aggressiveness is larger than the relationship between lung cancer at work and passive smoking, condom use and protection against sexually-transmitted HIV, and calcium intake and bone mass, and only  slightly smaller than the relationship between smoking and cancer (Bushman and Anderson, “Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation.” American Psychologist (June/July 2001): 477-489).

 As our understanding of the human brain advances, we are also gaining a better understanding about how media violence and violent video games influence us. We are learning, for example, that much of our thinking occurs at an unconscious level, and that the more frequently we are exposed to a particular world view that values the use of violence, the more certain neural connections are reinforced at the expense of others. Aggressive behavioural scripts thus become cognitively more available and increasingly linked to positive emotions, and are then easily activated unconsciously to interpret new situations and shape our responses. Concurrently, the accessibility of nonviolent scripts and the normal negative emotional reactions humans have to conflict, aggression and violence are reduced. (See, for example, Anderson, “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 4.3 (December 2003): 81-110).

To read some important articles from the leading researchers on media violence, click here


Watch an interview with Lt. Col. David Grossman as he discusses his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, On Killing.   The book examines how military training is designed to break down our innate inhibition against taking human life, while raising the disturbing implications this has for our popular consumption of violent media. To watch the video, check out our

Roots of Violence/Media Violence page.

Towards Socially Responsible Gaming

An important response to the popularity of violent video games is to develop alternative gaming experiences. Rather than develop games which perpetuate in the virtual world the worst of what we can do to each other, why not use games to transform our thinking, promote empathy for others and show us that cooperation and new ideas can lead to the creation of more just and caring societies?

To see some of the best of these, check out the following links:

  • Games for Change is a nonprofit organization that seeks to facilitate the creation and distribution of social impact games. You will find a number of games which are ideal for young adults, including Darfur is Dying and Climate Change.
  • World without Oil is an on-line collaborative game where one must learn to live for 32 weeks in a world without oil; the site includes 10 lesson plans to help teachers integrate the game into their teaching.
  • Evoke is a social network game to help empower people worldwide to find solutions to today’s pressing problems.
  • Superstruct was played by more than 8000 people from September to November 2008, who had to come up with ways to save the planet; you can have a look at the archive which offers a fascinating look at the potential of gaming to inspire solutions.
  • Spent invites players to make hard decisions around poverty and unemployment and uses facebook to encourage players to reach out to their community to find solutions.

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6 Responses to From Violent Games to Socially Responsible Ones

  1. Sarah B.-R May 13, 2015 at 10:09 am #

    This view on what makes us violent is very interesting. This shines the light on how it’s important to realize what is bombarded to us be it through video games or the media. It also demonstates that it is both nature and nurture that can make us prone to violence.

  2. Matthew Côté May 14, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    While I agree it might be possible that video games might make people a bit more violent in some ways, every time i see a school shooting or something on tv it really annoys me that they somehow try to blame video games. Playing violent video games would never make someone do something so horrible. You have to have some type of mental disorder to do something so awful and the fact that some people think that video games could influence someone to do something like that blows my mind.
    Some people might ask why it seems that every school shooter has played violent video games, and the answer to that is that almost every kid nowadays plays those games so it is very common in the most average of people to play them yet they don’t shoot up schools.

  3. Francesca Varrone November 27, 2015 at 9:12 pm #

    I agree sometime when people start blaming video games for the persons violence in society. But sometimes this is just a way to get out of the problem and just blame other people then themselves. We find it easier to blame the video games then society itself. Some will not become violent after playing a violent video game.

  4. Emily November 28, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    It is amazing to see that other alternatives are being made to violent video games. Today, we are a very technological based society and what is shown through our media does have an impact on us and how we perceive the world. The causal relationship between media violence and aggressive behavior is one that has been studied for decades now and it is important that we end this trend that,“violence is what sells”. If more of these socially responsible video games come to light, more positive values will be promoted instead of negative ones. A peaceful world then seems more attainable.

  5. Simona Santorelli December 10, 2015 at 11:11 pm #

    Violent video games do have an impact on people’s behaviour, especially children. They tend to imitate what they see on television because they think it is ok to do it since other people are doing it as well. If these violent video games become more censored and less violent, then it can make a difference in the aggressive behaviours seen in this world. Violent video games are of course not the only reason for aggressive behaviours, there are many other factors that contribute to violence in the world, but video games are extremely important because they can influence children at a young age which can affect their behaviour when they are older.

  6. Félix Perron December 13, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    Thinking about the fact that one of the most mundane things that someone can do like watching the television can tell you that violence is normal and even fun is really scary. If its link with increased aggressiveness is larger than the one between condom use and protection against sexually-transmitted HIV, then the very fact that almost everyone has a television is utterly scary. On the point of responsible gaming, I believe it is absolutely possible to create such games. A lot of games promote kindness and the will to help others not through brothers in arms at war. Some try to develop the players creativity. Games are not all mindless shooters that make our society more violent.

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