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Ohio State professor: Violent video games can make players more aggressive

OSU communication and psychology professor Brad Bushman speaks about the effects of video game violence at the Journalism Building Feb. 6. Credit: Logan Hickman / Lantern photographer

OSU communication and psychology professor Brad Bushman speaks about the effects of video game violence at the Journalism Building Feb. 6.
Credit: Logan Hickman / Lantern photographer

“I play violent video games all the time and I’ve never killed anyone.”

That’s a common response Ohio State professor of communication and psychology Brad Bushman receives from those who disagree with his position on the effects of violent media.

Bushman’s response to these statements is a slow, loud, sarcastic clap accompanied by, “Oh, you’ve never murdered? Good for you. I’m so proud.”

Bushman has studied violence and aggression for about 25 years. He has been examining the relationship between violent content in video games and aggressive behavior for more than 10 years. Thursday, he presented his lecture, “Blood, Gore and Video Games: Effects of Violent Content on Players” to a group of about 25 students and faculty in the Journalism Building.

Bushman used a meta-analysis of 381 separate studies involving a total of more than 130,000 participants to come to his findings.

Evidence has shown an increase in the aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behavior of the participants who played violent video games. Subjects who were exposed to violent gaming also had lower ratings of empathy and willingness to help others, Bushman said.

Bushman said he’s confident the research indicates a direct relationship.

“We know for sure there is a causal link between violent video games and aggression,” Bushman said during the lecture.

Compared to violence portrayed in TV and movies, Bushman said video games cause more aggressive thoughts and behavior.

“Watching a television program is passive, while video game playing is active,” he said. “Video games require the player to identify and interact with a violent character instead of just observing them, and results have shown this causes a greater effect.”

Fourth-year in psychology Ethan Graves asked about the context of violence in video games during the questionnaire portion of the lecture.

“Does the reason behind the violence in a game determine how the player is affected?” Graves said.

Bushman said it does, and used “Grand Theft Auto” game modes as an example. Players can progress in story mode with specific objectives and missions, or they can choose free mode to run around the city doing whatever they want. Bushman said any “violence portrayed as justified violence has a stronger aggression effect on people,” meaning the story mode, with its achievements and missions, has more significant effects.

Second-year in chemical engineering Eric Falascino said he plays video games on a daily basis. While he prefers sports games like “NHL” or “Madden NFL Football,” he also likes to play “Grand Theft Auto V.”

“Violence (in video games) definitely affects the player, to a degree,” Falascino said. “You get used to seeing violence, and you become more tolerant of it, but it’s all up to self-control. You might think others are affected more, or that ‘I don’t do that,’ but deep down, it might cause some aggression.”

Bushman said there are other problems in place as well.

“People always believe that violent media affects other people and not themselves. It’s a very robust effect called the third-person effect,” Bushman said in an interview with The Lantern Tuesday.

Bushman said his main goal is for people to recognize these effects exist. Parents make the rules for their children, but often their regulations are based on their own opinions.

“Scientific data trumps opinion every time,” Bushman said. “I don’t care what you believe personally about the effects of violent media … Scientists have done hundreds of studies about it. I don’t need to take your word for it, I can look at the research evidence.”


  1. Hello. I am very interested in this study since I am a indy game developer and am currently working on a shooter style game centered around vehicle combat, sort of Twisted Metal meets Call of Duty.

    Naturally I don’t want to cause any harm so the idea that I could be giving my game a fire button or an animation of a vehicle exploding is troubling.

    Of note, I have been playing violent video games since there has been violent video games. Every single one. From wolfenstein, mortal combat, doom, rise of the triad, manhunter, postal, every game I have heard of with excessive violence I will at least review. So far this has never, ever evoked a violent response out of me. I have no criminal record, certainly no violent crime, I’ve never killed anyone and frankly I don’t even care for hurting people when it’s justified. There is no good violence, to me. So that’s my anecdotal evidence that these sort of games don’t cause the problems we are seeing.

    To put it another way, did the car make a person a drunk driver? Or was it something else…

    However. Poker makes me want to seriously hurt people. Also I found organized sports evoke a murderous glee in people that is apparently ‘OK’. Sanctioned hatred. I think in the effort of fairness, this study should be balanced out with comparable studies of any other competitive activity. I think we’ll find it’s intense competition that brings out the worst in us, violent videogames are just a competition open to everyone with a quarter to spend.

    Also, those other established venues of competition have a system in place of auditing players behavior, be it rules or just peer pressure, and since that system does not exist online in any meaningful way, poor behavior is rewarded with at least indifference, if not outright medals and trophies. How many cyclists would openly dope if we hadn’t thrown Armstrong out? Every single one of them.

    My plan is to incorporate a system of balances in the game design so that poor behavior is detected and leaves the player weakened, in some way. For instance if you kill civilians in my game, the plan is that when a certain character upgrades into their ‘super’ form, that character only exists to hunt down those who were killing civilians, and they get a huge bonus for catching them, and they get equipment that is much better than everyone elses. However if there’s no poor behavior, theres nothing for this character to do and they’re mostly harmless. So if a player acts like a jerk, they will meet the avenging spirit sooner or later, and they will lose, and they will learn it’s best to not act like a jerk. I think that is what more games need to do to encourage decent, honorable gameplay.

    I’m glad to see these sort of studies from my home town of Columbus Ohio. This is an important subject we must understand asap.

  2. Ni hao me?

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