Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Today, 65% of American adults and nearly all teenagers play video games. Games look evermore real. They can, and do, show incredibly detailed violence. And since their beginnings, video games have come with an implicit assumption that they're probably doing something bad to us. 77% of parents believe media violence, including video games, is contributing to America's culture of violence. But what do we actually know about how violent games affect us? Psychologists have been studying this for decades. But right now, the research community includes a small but vocal subsection convinced that the perceived scientific consensus linking violent games to aggression is completely wrong. Alongside moral panics and conflicting research, huge amounts of money have been made selling video games, violent or otherwise. In 1976, the industry was already making $25 billion annually. In 2018 it made more than $136 billion. So the stakes are high. Depending on what scientists find, there's a whole lot to be gained, or lost. Brad Bushman and Christopher Ferguson are perhaps the best known researchers representing each side of this dispute. They are both psychologists who have spent years researching video games and violence. They use similar methods and do similar experiments. But they've wound up on either side of a line drawn clearly in the sand. So why do these researchers disagree so strongly, and how did we get here? So you can't look at at anybody without pointing your gun at them. Right. In 1976, video game company Exidy released a game called Death Race. To play it, you put your hands on an actual steering wheel. Your foot's on a pedal. You drive around a car and murder anything in your way. You hear the screams of your victims and their gravestones litter the screen. Soon after its release, there were calls to ban it. There was outrage and many were worried about what it was doing to their kids. OK, so death race did come out in 1976, that's four years before Pac-Man. Its graphics are primitive and barely recognizable, but the game resulted in what was perhaps the first widespread panic about violence in video games. And while that may seem laughable now, those concerns didn't go anywhere. Do violent video games make for violent kids? Officials say they are responding to complaints from parents that children have skipped school or stolen money to play the games and made a nuisance of themselves. Outrage exploded again in 1992 with the release of games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap. Mortal Kombat! Parents are often the first to ask, could this, lead to this? Mortal Kombat featured especially violent deaths and Night Trap showed sexual violence against women. Cold blooded murder is making Mortal Kombat the most popular video game in history. Kids relish their victory and their bloody choice . Should they pull out their opponents heart or simply rip his head off just to see a spinal cord dangle at a pool of blood? Parents were terrified. Schools panicked. Congress got involved. There was no rating on this game at all when the game was introduced. Small children bought this at Toys "R" Us and he knows that as well as I do. In 1994, the Interactive Digital Software Association, now called the Entertainment Software Association, founded the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB. The ESRB introduced a rating system similar to the one that had been used to rate movies for decades. Last March, we promised you our industry would develop a rating system that would put the controls back in the hands of consumers, and especially parents. The system we present to you today redeems on that pledge. While there are absolutely popular nonviolent games, undeniably violent games like Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, PUBG and Fortnight continue to be hugely successful. Epic Games alone, the publishers of Fortnight, made a reported $3 billion in 2018. Huge games like Fortnight or Call of Duty or World of Warcraft are created by organizational behemoths with massive budgets and scores of employees. According to John Staats, the first level designer ever for World of Warcraft, there's just too much at stake to be willingly creating something that might be dangerous. If you've worked in the gaming industry, you're also hyper aware of the responsibility that you have because I mean, it's a class action lawsuit. It's a big thing. Games are as hard, they're hard enough to make as it is. You're talking hundred million dollar budgets. They don't risk anything. So if there was really any danger, they're not dummies, they would definitely be avoiding any potential damage. Because they have shareholders. They answer to their shareholders. I mean, it's not just a bunch of nerds. You actually have to have the money guys who are actually really calling the shots. And they're no dummies either. I don't see any game companies really taking the time to think about it or care about it unless it comes close to affecting their bottom lines. But politicians, concerned parents and the media are thinking about it, and that alone can have real-world consequences. Walmart is announcing it is temporarily removing advertising displays for violent video games following the recent mass shootings. Recently, when President Trump implicated violent video games in mass shootings, shares of major video game companies fell sharply. We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. So the question is, are violent games actually doing something bad to us? The internet is full of both people with a vested interest in violent games and conflicting narratives about them. There is zero connection between entertainment and behavior, and that's been studied over and over and over again and even ruled upon by the Supreme Court. This was a, maybe a video game to this evil demon. He wanted to be a super soldier for his Call of Duty game. What is causing trouble among America's youth in schools? Oh, it has to be a video game. Anyone of thought should find that insulting at the face of it. Video games give you the skill and the will to kill. It is the moral equivalent to putting a military weapon in the hand of every child in America. And it turns out that the conversation happening publicly often has very little in common with what interested psychologists are actually researching. It's a reasonable question, right? You see people, and particularly at risk groups like children, playing these violent games. And it's pretty reasonable to ask like, well, does that cause them to behave more violently in real life? Psychologists have been trying to get to the bottom of this for decades, and it's important to first understand how they go about seeking answers to questions like this in the first place. You can't measure violent criminal behavior in a laboratory experiment. For example, we can't give our participants guns and knives and see what they'll do with them after they play a violent game. Because of that, when you see headlines about video games and violence, the underlying research was probably actually about aggression. There are a few fundamental types of studies that can be done in these situations: experimental studies, cross-sectional studies and longitudinal studies. An experimental study involves a carefully constructed scenario in a controlled environment. You bring in participants, some of whom are asked to play violent games. Afterwards, you measure their aggressive behavior, which is defined as any behavior intended to harm another person who doesn't want to be harmed. If you're studying kids, you might just watch their behavior on the playground afterwards. If they're adults, you use aggression proxies, like how long you make someone hold their arm in ice or how long you blast someone with awful headphone noise, or give someone an electric shock. Then there are cross-sectional studies, which just means you take some measurements at one point in time and see if they're correlated. So you could, for example, find people whose favorite games are violent and see if those people are more likely to have a history of aggression. Lastly, there are longitudinal studies, which are just like cross-sectional studies, except you take more than one measurement over time. These are the basic tools researchers have at their disposal, not just for studying video games, but for the majority of psychology as a whole. According to many researchers, the evidence is clear: there is a connection between playing violent video games and aggression. First, they can make us more aggressive. Second, they can make us more numb to the pain and suffering of others. And third, they can make us more afraid of becoming victims of violence ourselves. One of Bushman's most recent studies looked at how playing violent games might affect what kids do if they find a gun. They used an actual handgun that had been disabled. We had them play the video game Minecraft. We had a gun version where they could kill monsters with a gun. We had a sword version where they could kill monsters with a sword, or we had a nonviolent condition with no weapons and no monsters. We found the largest effects for the condition with the guns. Playing a violent game with swords also made children engage in more dangerous behavior around guns. The kids who played the violent version of the game were more likely to touch the gun, pull the trigger, and point it at themselves and others. To a smaller but very vocal group of researchers, the evidence points in an entirely different direction. People really wanted this to be true and there really was this kind of like set group of scholars that sort of invested their lives in this. We don't generally find that playing more action-oriented games is predictive of violence or aggression later in life. It seems to be the knowledge of the fictional nature of what people are engaged with seems to blunt to any kind of learning experience from that.