Video Games and Their Psychological Effects


Each week people throughout the world spend millions of hours playing video games. Is this part of the problem with society today, or is it a new and positive form of entertainment? Since the early 1980’s people have been questioning the negative side effects of video games. Extremists are shouting that it is corrupting children by teaching violence. They have a good point when looking at notoriously violent games like Grand Theft Auto. On the other hand, game developers praise the interactive medium as revolutionary. The “Godfather” of video games, Shigeru Miyamoto, who created hits like Donkey Kong, and Mario Brothers, once said, “Video games are bad for you? That is what they said about Rock ‘n Roll.”


So what can the field of psychology add to this debate? Many studies have been preformed to test the effects video games could have on people’s behavior and cognitive abilities. These studies have shown that there are many different positive and negative effects ranging from increased violence, to increased visual attention (Anderson & Buchman 2001, Green & Bavelier 2003).


It is important to briefly discuss the many different types or genres of video games since they all prove to have various psychological effects. Some games are violent, and some aren’t; some will require you to focus on many things at once, while others will require you focus on only one thing at a time. These unique differences that are experienced while playing a game are commonly referred to as “gameplay elements,” and are thought to be responsible for positive or negative psychological effects.


Technology is a large determining factor regarding what type of gameplay elements can be available within a game. For example, during the birth of the video game industry, the only violent gameplay elements included a yellow chomping circle eating blue ghosts, or a big gorilla throwing barrels down a building. This simplicity was mainly due to a lack of technology. As the industry and technology have matured, so have the games. Now games are being created where people can decide to perform complex, violent actions that break many social norms like, stealing a car, picking up a prostitute for extra “health,” then gunning her down to get your money back.


These advances in technology have been instrumental not just in producing new violent activities, but in the creation of a wide variety of intriguing gameplay elements such as: extremely sophisticated racing, very stylish cartoon adventures, epic and immersive story lines, and even interactive karaoke. It is evident that performing a study on video games in general would prove rather difficult due to their wide variety. For this reason many of the current studies classify specific types of games by their unique gameplay elements. For example “violent games” or “puzzle games.”


The negative effects of video games are similar to the negative effects of television (Anderson & Bushman 2001). Most of the studies that have been done to link adverse effects have mainly revolved around aggressive behavior studies. For the past 40 years Craig A. Anderson has been best known for his numerous studies linking violent games and violent behavior, and the effects of other forms of violent media.


The possible relationship between video games and aggressive behavior has become a hot topic of debate since the tragic Columbine shootings. The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, enjoyed playing a bloody video game called Doom. Harris’ version of Doom had been modified to include two shooters with extra weapons, unlimited ammo, and victims who could not fight back. Many claim that this eerie similarity is a powerful case study to suggest the serious influence of violent video games. Others dismiss its importance due to an equal possibility that killers might have an intrinsic motivation to play killing games.


This event caused many studies to be completed that effectively correlate violent video games to short-term aggressive behavior (Anderson et al. 2001). Even small amounts of game playing, even as little as 20 minutes, can affect behavior (Anderson & Murphy 2003). When other non-violent games were played such as Lemmings (a popular puzzle game), the levels of aggression followed more normal patterns. Although studies have not linked long-term or serious violence with video games, many scholars expect to see this link become more