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Literature Review on the Causality of Playing Violent Video Games and Aggression

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Literature Review on the Causality of Playing Violent Video Games and Aggression

With more than 550 million gamers spending a total of $27.5 billion, China is the absolute ‘top player’ worldwide covering 41% of the global game revenue in 2017 (NewZoo, 2017). Recently, concerned over violence and gambling displayed in video games, the Chinese government is tightening the vetting process and has not approved any video game licenses since April (Bloomberg, 2018; Mashable, 2018). Indeed, since the inception of violent video games (VVGs), the issue of its influence on players’ aggression remains intensely controversial among scholarly literature, policy makers, and the general public (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010).

The primary focus of this review is the debate of whether there is a causal relationship between VVGs and aggression. VVGs refer to games containing intentional attempts by individuals to harm others (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Aggression is typically defined as “behavior directed toward another individual carried out with the proximate (immediate) intent to cause harm” (Anderson & Bushman, 2002).

Numerous studies consistently argued that playing VVGs is a direct cause for participants to behave, think and feel, more aggressively (Kirsh, 1998; Carnagey & Anderson, 2004). Anderson and Bushman (2002) conducted a study aiming to examine whether a brief experimentally manipulated exposure to video game violence can temporarily produce aggression in reaction to potential conflicts. The result among 224 participants supported their hypothesis: the experimental group who played VVGs for 20 minutes did think, feel, and act more aggressively compared with the non-VVGs group. Another longitudinal study also provides convincing evidence that playing VVGs would increase the physical aggressiveness in the long-run. Participants were 1595 U.S. and Japanese youth between 9 and 18 years of age from three independent samples. Different measurements from three to six months were used separately. Researchers found a significant positive relationship between VVG exposure at Time 1 and aggressive behaviors at Time 2 in all samples (Anderson et al., 2008). A comprehensive meta-analysis involving 136 papers and more than 130,000 participants strongly supported the claim of the causal relationship for both short-term and long-term effect (Anderson et al., 2010).

However, some other studies doubt the causal relationship between VVGs-playing and aggression for various reasons.

One of the oppositions is that the evidence for long-term effects of VVGs on aggression is weak and unclear. A 3-year longitudinal study of 165 Hispanic adolescents found no evidence that exposure to VVGs would lead to negative outcomes (Ferguson, Miguel, Garza & Jerabeck, 2012). Other longitudinal studies were also criticized for their problematic methodologies. Due to its small sample size, the causal relation between VVGs and aggression found in a 30-months German study involving 143 adolescents was difficult to generalize to a larger population (Krahé & Möller, 2009). The two-year study involving 430 pupils presented an unclear or “bidirectional” relationship in VVGs and aggression because of its small lags between two measurements (five months at average) – so it was possible that VVGs would attract a player who was more aggressive already (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007).

Another significant concern is the impact of the third variables. Third variables that may cause aggression include pre-existing aggression, family violence, gender and so on (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010). These factors may also contribute to aggression and will increase the confusion of the effect of VVGs if not well-controlled. A two-year longitudinal research involving 316 participants demonstrate a causal relation between VVGs and aggression in the long-term, but this causality was eliminated when variables such as aggressive personality traits and gender were controlled (Wallenius & Punamäki, 2008).

The longitudinal study conducted by Ferguson and other researchers also suggests that rather than exposure to VVGs, vulnerable personal traits (such as depression, antisocial traits), family environment and peer violence were better predictors of individual aggression (Ferguson, Miguel, Garza & Jerabeck, 2012). Proponents of the ‘causality relation’ have defended their claim by stating that third variables themselves can be the result of exposure to VVGs, thus taking too much of it into account will underestimate the significance of VVGs (Bushman, Rothstein & Anderson, 2010). While both of the claims make sense, further research into third variables must be conducted.

Some critics also argued that publication bias does exist in both experimental and non-experimental studies of VVGs’ impact on aggressive thought, feeling, and behaviors. A meta-analysis conducted by Ferguson (2007) found statistical evidence in relevant published articles between the years of 1995 and 2005 in PsycINFO. He found that the impact of VVGs on aggression seemed to become less critical when publication bias was amended (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010).

Overall, the evidence of whether or not there is a causal relationship between VVGs exposure and aggression is mixed and inconclusive. Numerous experimental and cross-sectional studies have supported the claim that playing VVGs do produce aggression, but there is much weaker evidence of long-term effects than that of short-term effects. Furthermore, the possible influence of third variables and publication bias has not been fully explored, making the actual impact of VVGs on aggression more ambiguous.



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