How do violent video games affect our kids?

Many parents wonder if there is a correlation between on-screen violence and physically aggressive behaviour - find out what the research shows



Blood, gore, brutality, death, dismemberment: all staples in so many video games and enough to make a lot of parents worry about what it’s doing to their kids. Is there a link between on-screen and real-world violence? Even if it’s not likely to turn my kids into serial killers, how is it affecting them?

There are a lot of opinions about this topic: just watch the panels of experts on the news anytime a mass shooter is reported to have enjoyed playing particularly gruesome games. But in fact, there aren’t a lot of clear, research-supported answers on links between on-screen violence and the real world.

Here’s what we know:

  • No one has proved a direct cause-effect link between video game violence and actual violence.
  • What the research has shown, for years now, is that there is an increase in aggressive behaviour (including verbal aggression) among both boys and girls exposed to all kinds of violent media, including television and movies. The factors that increase this risk include poverty, exposure to violence in the home, and over exposure to age-inappropriate violence.
  • Studies also consistently show children exposed to a lot of violence become desensitized to it, and see it as normal.

So what’s the best advice for concerned parents?

Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media, says there are things parents can do to help their kids and teens navigate the gaming world.  She suggests:

  • Try to steer your kids towards age-appropriate games. Be blunt and tell them some are for adults, not children or teens. Don’t necessarily rely on age ratings set by the gaming industry. Research parenting or other websites to get a better idea of the content of a particular game.
  • Watch out for games that show violence with no consequence, link sex and violence, or marginalize a particular group of people (including hate speeches).
  • Some games have settings that control the level of violence; if so, use them.
  • Most importantly, talk to your kids. Find out what they like about the game, how it makes them feel and, most of all, try not to be judgmental about it. Most age groups understand the difference between on-screen and off-screen violence, but talk about it anyway. A lot of teens are attracted to games that are escapist, outrageous or extreme, mostly because they’re so different from real life, she says.

“The best thing you can do is talk through the issues,” Knorr said. “Get them to demo the game for you and talk about what comes up. Approach it with an open mind.”

It’s easier to have control over what younger children play, not so for teens, who often have money of their own to buy games, or will play them at a friend’s house.

“What you do have control over is the conversation you have with your kid,” Knorr said.  “Even in the teen years they’re listening and absorbing the messages that you send.”

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media provides game reviews and age guidelines on its website: commonsensemedia.org/video/game-reviews.

As well, it publishes an annual list of the most violent games. The 2018 list will be published soon. The 2017 list can be found at commonsensemedia.org/blog/10-most-violent-video-games-of-2017-and-what-to-play-instead.

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