Blood and gore. Intense violence. Strong sexual content. Use of drugs. These are just a few of the phrases that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) uses to describe the content of several games in the Grand Theft Auto series, one of the most popular video game series among teenagers. The Pew Research Center reported in 2008 that 97% of youths ages 12 to 17 played some type of video game, and that two-thirds of them played action and adventure games that tend to contain violent content. (Other research suggests that boys are more likely to use violent video games, and play them more frequently, than girls.) A separate analysis found that more than half of all video games rated by the ESRB contained violence, including more than 90% of those rated as appropriate for children 10 years or older.
Given how common these games are, it is small wonder that mental health clinicians often find themselves fielding questions from parents who are worried about the impact of violent video games on their children.
The view endorsed by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is that exposure to violent media (including video games) can contribute to real-life violent behavior and harm children in other ways. But other researchers have questioned the validity or applicability of much of the research supporting this view. They argue that most youths are not affected by violent video games. What both sides of this debate agree on is that it is possible for parents to take steps that limit the possible negative effects of video games.
Much of the research on violent video game use relies on measures to assess aggression that don’t correlate with real-world violence. Some studies are observational and don’t prove cause and effect.
Federal crime statistics suggest that serious violent crimes among youths have decreased since 1996, even as video game sales have soared....