Video Games

Violent Video Games Don't Cause Gamers to Stick More Pins in Voodoo Dolls

Another study finds that playing violent video games does not increase aggression



A widely reported analysis by the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Violent Media reviewed 170 studies on how playing violent video games might affect aggressive tendencies in gamers. The Task Force members concluded last year that "the research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and heightened aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions, and aggressive affect and reduced prosocial behavior empathy and sensitivity to aggression."

Now a new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology asks, "Does playing video games with violent content temporarily increase aggressive inclinations?" Short answer: No. From the abstract:

The current study tested whether participants who played a violent video game (VVG) would exhibit increased aggressive inclinations relative to those who played a non-violent video game (NVG). Participants (N = 386) were randomly assigned to play a VVG or a NVG prior to presumably interacting with another (non-existent) participant. We then measured participants' aggressive inclinations: Participants reported how many pins they would like to stick into a "voodoo doll" representing their interaction partner, and participants reported how likely they would be to actually harm their interaction partner. We did not detect any differences between conditions for several outcomes: the amount of aggressive inclinations displayed during the interaction, the number of pins participants chose to stick into a representation of their interaction partner, and participants' self-reported likelihood they would harm their interaction partner. Thus, the hypothesis that playing a VVG would increase aggressive inclinations was not supported in this study.

As interesting as such experimental work is, the point made by 230 psychological researchers in an open letter when the Task Force was launched seems more salient:

During the video game epoch, youth violence in the United States and elsewhere has plummeted to 40-year lows, not risen as would have been expected if the 2005 APA resolution were accurate. Although we do not assert video games are responsible for this decline (such would be an ecological fallacy), this decline in societal violence is in conflict with claims that violent video games and interactive media are important public health concerns. The statistical data are simply not bearing out this concern and should not be ignored.

In any case, more and more evidence from psychological experiments and the real world point in the direction that playing violent video games is mostly harmless.

NEXT: When Police Abuse Is 'Normal'

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Does playing video games with violent content temporarily increase aggressive inclinations?” Short answer: No.

    Clearly they’ll need more funding until they get the right answer.

    1. ^this^

      In the meantime, the nannies will just keep on making shit up.

    2. I’m making over $16k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. Then this work is for you… Go to website and click to Tech tab for more work details…

  2. Sure video games make people become violent. They also make people do drugs and other bad stuff. Just ask Australia:

    Aussie banned games list

    1. They banned Leisure Suit Larry? Monsters

      1. Reading the reasons for the bans is hilarious.

        “Banned because of drug use related to incentives and rewards”

        “Banned because of high impact sexual references”

        “Banned because of sexuality and nudity in relation to incentives and rewards” *LOL*

        1. high impact sexual references

          Someone please define this for me.

          1. Ask the Aussie government nannies. No one else knows what the hell that means.

          2. “He dove from the highest rung of the ladder and formed himself in a mighty missile of love as he plunged toward her eager womanhood…”

            1. Quit peeking through my windows, Sweet’n’Low!

        2. “Banned because of sexuality and nudity in relation to incentives and rewards”

          Note that ‘Stralia has legalized prostitution – just don’t depict it in the pixel worlds.

    2. Fallout 3 – Originally banned due to drug use related to incentives and rewards. Edited worldwide due to the small change needed (the name of morphine was changed to Med-X).

      Well now that I know that, I feel the need to score some morphine.

      1. Modders put the drug references back in, at least in the US.

        1. And now I’m addicted to Jet. Thanks Bethesda!

        1. That’s just bath salts, right?

      2. Unintentional but hilarious side effect: it’s not obvious that Med-X is addictive from just the name (e.g., Rad-X isn’t). If it had been named Morphine, on the other hand, it would be obvious to most everyone.

        So they forced a game to make a change that is the exact sort of thing (renaming/relabeling an addictive drug) that they would put people in real life in jail for.

        1. I think it would have been funny to have random food be addictive also. “I’m hurtin’, man. Can I score some Mirelurk from you? I swear I’ll pay you back, dude.”

          1. Food is addictive, SF.

            *pats belly*

            1. Food. Not even once.

          2. In “Survival” mode, food is addictive, as in, if you don’t eat regularly, your health goes down and eventually you die.

      3. I found out yesterday that the British analgesic Solpadeine is OTC and contains codeine. It’s used as a hangover remedy. Lucky bastards.

  3. Ron, does the study mention whether or not the games were multiplayer using voice?
    Cuz I think that would have a HUGE impact on whether or not you’d want to stick pins in a doll when you were done playing.

    1. Multiplayer games are a quick look into just how shitty the human race is in general. Not that this needed more proof.

  4. I would think the inherent frustrations involved with nonviolent games would make me more prone to actual violence.

    1. Unlimited ammo and dumb AI is what jacks me up.

  5. Reading about statist bullshit briefly makes me feel very aggressive. Should probably ban statism, just to be safe.

  6. Garbage in, garbage out.

    I’m betting that their definition of violent video games includes any game where the player gets to engage in shooting, beating up, or blowing up.

    Because of ideological predispositions, they aren’t going to distinguish between games involving heroic violence – the protagonist fighting bad guys in order to save the town/world/princess, etc – and games involving nihilistic violence – killing random prostitutes for points.

    Violence is violence!

    Of course, for most of recorded history, in any culture where some of the boys were expected to grow up to be hunters, warriors, etc., those boys were not only permitted to engage in violent play, they were taught stories ballads, etc. about heroic predecessors, with a strong hint of “go thou and do likewise.”

    If you put the kind of heroic violence boys were traditionally taught to admire together with nihilistic violence and put it into a general “violence” category, you’ll get nonsense results.

    1. I logged into my steam account and found that they had released a free HD remake of Bioshock so I have it a whirl. They did a great job. After you kill someone you can whack the fuck out of their head with a wrench to expose the gooey grey matter and realistic skull chunks! Soon I was smacking everything to see its creamy center.

      1. People don’t give you boxes of chocolates anymore, I’d wager.

    2. I’m pretty sure the jihadists see themselves as the heroes too.

    3. Sounds like a reasonable definition to me.

      Do video game players (generally speaking, I’m sure some do) really distinguish that much? Do they care if the character is a hero or baddie, or do they just want a good shoot-em-up game where they get to kill people and blow shit up?

      And while people still do need to be prepared to fight in self defense, I think it is mostly a good thing that most boys don’t grow up anymore believing that going to war and killing people is the ultimate expression of their manhood.

      1. Do they care if the character is a hero or baddie,

        I bet they do, to some extent.

        Its been a big feature of RPGs for years now that you can take a good path or a bad path.

        1. One of the perks of playing video games is being able to be the bad guy without actually causing any harm.

          Being evil IRL tends to get you put in prison, dead, or nominated for President.

        2. I really don’t know. My experience with more recent games is pretty much limited to messing around for a little while, just blowing ship up or whatever happens in the game, and then getting bored.

  7. A dude at work is into playing Payday – where you pull off bank heists.

    It sounded intriguing until I gave it a try and was completely put-off by the zombie guards walking right past you as you huddled in an empty hallway and continued to walk past the bound and gagged bank manager lying on the floor.

    1. They could be off-duty cops, right?

  8. analysis by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Violent Media

    I can’t imagine a task force with that name would arrive at any other conclusion. The conclusion was drawn before the first toadie intellectual was hired to arrive at it.

    1. That was my first thought as well.

      1. Oh, I doubt it was your first thought.

    2. …to study the effects of man caused climate change.

  9. Citing a bad study that vindicates your point of view is as bad as the other side citing a bad study that conflicts with your point of view. How many pins an individual would like to stick in a voodoo doll as a measure of aggression is prima facie bullshit. I’d love to see the determination of external validity on that measure. How much participants would like to harm their partner seems better but it’s also problematic in that the participants’ self-reported feelings were entirely without consequence.

    1. TG: If you read through the various techniques that many other researchers have tried to use to measure aggression sticking pins in voodoo dolls looks sophisticated. In any case, that’s why I cited the open letter’s observation that even as video games have proliferated, violence has gone down.

      1. Yeah, I was being a bit unfair I guess. Much (most?) of the social science research on this specific topic is garbage so actually finding a good study is extremely difficult.

    2. THe headline does seem to acknowledge that it doesn’t really tell you about anything besides video-gamers’ propensity to stick pins in dolls.

  10. I like how since they can’t prove that games cannot actually cause physical harm, they need a much more subjective criteria.

    I’d be more worried about the guy who did not stick any pins on the doll.
    “That cheap tactic? Oh I am so glad he used it. My loss just shows how much more I need to learn. Why would I want to stick pins in his figure?”

    1. Not sure why that (or better “meh, it’s only a game”) isn’t a better response than some pointless aggression against a doll.

  11. Need a Judas Priest video game

  12. Can we please just make everything gay and transgender so everyone will shut the fuck up?

    In May, Frozen fans launched an online campaign asking the producers of the movie to make Elsa (Idina Menzel) a lesbian in the sequel. Now, the animated film’s stars, Kristen Bell and Menzel, are sounding off on Elsa’s sexuality.

    1. Correct response: “Not today, man. Fuck you.”

      1. I’m not sure exactly what you have against yuri.

    2. Also, Frozen came out in 2013, why is everything in the grocery store still Frozen themed? Why is Frozen the most common image I see in the lower 57 states? It’s now a running joke between me and my daughter, where I threaten to buy her Frozen themed stuff, and she says, “Nooooooooooooooo!!!!”.

      I’ll take my answer off the air.

        1. I can’t, the only way I can let it go is to wear a blindfold while doing my grocery shopping!

      1. Dude. Let. It. Go.

        1. So I see there’s a wall of silence more silencey than the Clinton foundation surrounding this.

          1. I advise you to turn away and slam the door.

      2. So the literally frigid girl should be a lesbian? Bed death, indeed.

    3. Kristen Bell — wood

      I saw her do a live medley of the songs from Frozen. She is an amazing performer.

      1. Ok, so Frozen is just that good? I’ll accept that. I’m skeptical, but I can accept it.

          1. It’s a shitty copy of the video, but I don’t have time to go find the high-quality original.

      2. Bell is a doll baby of the first order. She is smoking hot.

      3. I’ve been a fan of her since Veronica Mars. It was a well-written role, but she knocked it out of the park. And her ability to switch characters on the fly is amazing.

    4. Were any of these fans of a childrens’ Disney movie under the age of 19?

  13. I left to wonder if these people understand video games are nothing like reality. It is possible to get decenitized to violence such that you do it more readily than you ever thought possible. To get to that point, however, you have to be exposed to actual violence. Video game violence is so different than actual violence, there is no way playing video games could ever desensitize you to violence.

    I suppose if in they ever get VR technology way beyond what it is now that video game violence could theoretically get realistic enough to desensitize players to real violence. Even if the technology gets that far, I doubt it will result in much if any increased violence however. Realism in video games is fun to an extent. Few people would want to play a hyperealistic and super violent VR video game. Violence is really disturbing and not fun for most people. That is why you have be desensitized to it before you readily deal in it. Most people are not going to want that experience.

    Beyond that, even the ones who do, becoming desensitized to violence is not the same thing as engaging in it. Most people who have been in combat come back pretty desensitized to violence. That however doesn’t mean they go out and start killing people.

    1. Eh, they don’t give a fuck whether you actually do more violence or not. They simply understand that politics is culture and culture is politics, and so this new media has to be taken over by the Correct-Thinking Ideology. “Makes children violent” is just an entry point. There is also “toxic masculinity”, “over-competitiveness”, “Institutionalized misogyny” and other shit I forgot about being hammered on.

    2. There is something in society that needs controlling. It will be controlled.

  14. Their problem is focusing on games that feature violence, like FPS and the ilk.

    Have the study look at people who spend hours upon hours lovingly crafting their Madden team into a juggernaut. Executing perfect trades and FA signings with their eye on building a dynasty. Then have the RNG make their All-Pro, 99s on all pertinent stats QB retire after 3 seasons in the league because of an injury.

    I have never, ever been as filled with blinding rage as when that tidbit of information appeared on my screen.

  15. Its not videogames that make people violent – its being 12 years old and unsupervised that makes them violent.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.