Does playing violent video games make kids more violent?

My 11-year-old is begging to play teen-rated violent video games. Is there any research to show that playing violent video games desensitizes a child to violence or makes him more violent?

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

There is great data that shows the correlation between violence on the screen (video game, TV show, movie or otherwise) and aggression in play/life. We also know that seeing violence on the screen desensitizes children to violence. When you see a teen in the emergency room after a gunshot wound, the most frequent comment is, “I didn’t know it would hurt so much.”

Video games were developed by the U.S. military after World War II, when our troops froze on the beaches of Normandy. Through video game technology, the accuracy of hits among trained military in actual warfare has increased exponentially, with shooters able to respond quickly and precisely to perceived threats. This is a real plus during an actual war, but not so great when applied to a neighborhood’s schoolyard shooting. Some of the video games rated Mature (M) support violence toward innocent bystanders, where the ends justify the means in order to kill the enemy. Having this violence viewed as “normative” or expected behavior can perpetuate a cycle of violence, or desensitize young people to its effects.

Video game technology does have its advantages. Surgical skill has increased dramatically when laparoscopy games have simulated live surgery, enhancing technical skill for surgical residents and medical students without having the guinea pig be a live patient. Some video games teach history (a point not lost upon my 12-year-old son when trying to “sell” his latest desired video game), and others have a moral code that may or may not be clear to the child. There are descriptions of each game available on the Web, and 11-year-olds probably should not be choosing games rated Teen (T), let alone M. For more information on media effects on your child, visit the Center on Media and Child Health.