The debate over the behavioural impact of violent video games has gone on for years. Critics of these games, some of which feature nothing but brutal violence for hours, say that they influence players to be violent in the real world.
Others not only dismiss these claims—one popular counter-argument being that audiences don’t walk out of violent blockbusters looking for people to strangle—but also cite research to show that gaming is good for mental development and hand-eye coordination.
A new piece of research— from the US—however, will boost critics and make gamers squirm.
A team at the Indiana University School of Medicine has found that after playing a violent video game for around 10 hours over a week, a sample of young adults showed altered functioning in certain brain regions.
The researchers spotted lower activity in the left inferior frontal lobe and anterior cingulate cortex—areas associated with empathy, conflict monitoring, error detection and emotional control. If these changes in brain functioning persist then it could impact the player’s behaviour. However the study also said that the changes reverse themselves almost completely over a subsequent week of not playing the game.
The study is by no means conclusive—so critics don’t have sufficient evidence yet to enforce a ban on violent games. Further research will have to show if the changes will lead to altered, leave alone violent, behaviour. And it will also have to demonstrate if the altered behaviour is dependent on the frequency and duration of gaming sessions.
It will also be interesting to see how brain functions are altered in the case of people who play physical sports such as rugby or football. What if the human brain is programmed to flip into special modes based on activity?
But even if research proves to have pith, there is much more to gaming than shooting or running over people. Platforms such as Wii and iPhone have seen resurgence in casual fun gaming. And the Los Angeles Times reports that while overall games sales in the US only rose by 3% this October compared with last year, sales of dancing games such as Dance Central and Zumba Fitness shot up by 135%.
But one then wonders: does dancing make you violent?
Video games and violence: is there a link? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org