Do violent video games make people violent? In the aftermath of the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings, this question has once again become a hot-button issue in our society. The reason we don't have a definitive answer is because it's hard to test scientifically. You can't take people who have played violent video games and those who haven't, and then give them knives and guns and see what they'll do. That's not what we call ethical research.
What we do know based on the studies that have been conducted is that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and elevate heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, kids who play a lot of violent games don't have much interest in charity or helping others. Yet, exposure to all kinds of violent media - not just video games - increases feelings of aggression and decreases feelings of empathy.
In my opinion, I don't think violent video games are the problem. Taking them away isn't going to stop people from shooting up schools and movie theaters. There are always going to be psychopaths no matter what we do. I think the more important issue lies in our society's backward attitude towards parenting. As I say over and over again, kids are more likely to be good kids when their parents are around. Sure they'll experiment and do stupid stuff from time to time, but they're going to be a lot better off if they live in a stable home with two happily married parents who they feel close to. Although violent video games can contribute to kids acting nasty, they are not responsible for all the rudeness and nastiness we see in the world today. It evolves from kids not being surrounded by cohesive families and communities.
A while back, I was watching a medical special about a 6-year-old kid in India who was born with the half-formed body of a twin attached to his abdomen. He was taken to a hospital in New Delhi and a team of amazing surgeons removed the growth. However, it wasn't the medical feat that impressed me. What struck me most was that when he came home, the entire village was outside with musical instruments and flags to welcome him back. These impoverished people who don't even have shoes, bathrooms, or air conditioning were all out there smiling and cheering for him. I thought, "They may have virtually nothing, but at least they have intact families and a tight-knit community."
Our kids, by and large, don't have that. As we all know from William Golding's terrific book, Lord of the Flies, children who receive very little caring or involvement from their parents revert back to being monsters. We need to realize that the problem is much bigger than violent video games - it's how we're raising our kids.