After students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire in their Colorado high school in 1999 -- shooting 20 people and killing 13 -- Linda Sanders filed a lawsuit. Her husband was a teacher at Columbine and among the dead. The media revealed that Harris and Klebold played a lot of violent video games, including "Wolfenstein 3D," "Doom," and "Mortal Kombat." Sanders named multiple video game publishers, including Sony and Nintendo, in the suit as well as Time Warner and Palm Pictures since the shooters had apparently watched "The Basketball Diaries," in which a character uses a shotgun to kill students at his high school. In today's ultra-violent media world, it appears there's plenty of blame to go around. But is it legitimate?
As of 2001, roughly 79 percent of America's youth play video games, many of them for at least eight hours a week [source: National Institute on Media and the Family]. Beyond the obvious issues of concern, like "what happened to riding bikes around the neighborhood," there are bigger questions. Many people wonder how this type of exposure to violence as an adolescent effects social behavior. The rise in dramatically violent shootings by teenagers, many of whom apparently play violent video games, is helping the argument that video game violence translates into real-world situations. But other people aren't convinced and insist that video games are a scapegoat for a shocking social trend that has people scared and looking to place blame. Entertainment media has always made a great scapegoat: In the 1950s, lots of people blamed comic books for kids' bad behavior [source: CBS News].
Video games as we now know them are only about 20 years old, so there's nowhere near the amount of empirical evidence for or against their violent effects than there is surrounding, say, television violence. And even that's not a done deal.
So what exactly does science have to say about violent video games? Is there any evidence that shows a cause-effect relationship between shooting people in a game and shooting people in real life? On the next page, we'll see what the studies say.
Studies on Video Game Violence
In 2006, an 18-year-old named Devin Moore was arrested in Alabama on suspicion of car theft. The police officers brought him into the station and started booking him without any trouble. Minutes later, Moore attacked one police officer, stole his gun, shot him and another officer and then fled down the hall and shot a 9-1-1 dispatcher in the head. He then grabbed a set of car keys on his way out the back door, got in a police car and drove away.
Moore had no criminal history. According to the lawsuit filed against video game companies after the incident, Moore had been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto before the killings [source: CBS News]. At least on the surface, the connection between Moore's game play and his real actions is logical: In "Grand Theft Auto," players steal cars and kill cops.
But the argument is an old one. We've heard it for decades about violent TV. Science has come to a general consensus that violent TV does have an effect on kids' behavior, although doesn't say it causes children to act out the violence they see on the screen.
The basic claim in the video-game controversy is that video games are even more likely to affect people's behavior than TV because they're immersive. People don't just watch video games; they interact with them. The games are also repetitive and based on a rewards system. Repetition and rewards are primary components of classical conditioning, a proven psychological concept in which behavioral learning takes…