Video Games and Violence

“Active Shooter,” the video game that simulates a school shooting, has been pulled from its June 6, 2018 release date following the outrage of parents, educators and others. The video game allows players to choose between being the school shooter or being a member of the SWAT team disarming the shooter. A video clip of the game shows the shooter firing at civilians—mostly women—as they try to run away. To the left of the screen is a box that keeps count of how many police officers and civilians are killed.

After more than 215,000 people signed the petition, “Valve Corporation: Do not Launch Active Shooter,” it was pulled from release. Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in February at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida commented on Twitter,

“I have seen and heard many horrific things over the past few months since my daughter was the victim of a school shooting and is now dead in real life. This game may be one of the worst.”


According to Raise Smart Kids, which downplays the association between video games and violence and  includes first-person shooter games in its recommendations, video games enhance mental skills:

  • Problem-solving and logic
  • Hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills
  • Planning, resource management, and logistics
  • Multi-tasking, managing multiple objectives
  • Quick-thinking, fast analysis
  • Accuracy
  • Strategy and anticipation
  • Situational awareness
  • Reading and math skills
  • Perseverance
  • Pattern recognition
  • Estimating skills
  • Inductive reasoning and hypothesis testing
  • Mapping
  • Memory
  • Concentration
  • Decoding visual information
  • Reasoned judgment
  • Risk-taking
  • How to respond to challenges
  • How to respond to frustrations
  • How to explore and rethink goals
  • Teamwork and cooperation
  • Management
  • Simulation, real world skills


While many child advocates, like Raise Smart Kids, and news commentators downplay the effects of virtual violence, a sizable majority of media researchers both in pediatrics and psychology believe that existing data show a significant link between virtual violence and aggression. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a meta-analyses of more than 400 studies on violent media of all types, found that there was a significant association between exposure to media violence and

  • aggressive behavior
  • aggressive thoughts
  • angry feelings
  • physiologic arousal

Another meta-analyses of 140 studies looking only at video games found slightly larger negative effects. While these correlations are in the small to moderate range, they are stronger than the associations between passive smoking and lung cancer. According to the AAP:

“A national discussion regarding the risks of media violence is necessary and critical for the health of our children and youth. Unfortunately, media reports frequently present “both sides” of the media violence and aggression issue by pairing a research scientist with an industry expert or spokesperson or even a contrarian academic, which creates a false equivalency and the misperception that research data and scientific consensus are lacking.”

The AAP recommends the following to parents, pediatricians and policy makers:

  • Pediatricians should make children’s “media diets” an essential part of all well-child exams. In particular, emphasis must be placed on guiding the content of media and not only limiting quantity.
  • Impartial ratings, such as those issued by Common Sense Media, can be used to help guide selection.
  • Parents should be mindful of what shows their children watch and which games they play. When possible, parents would cosplay games with their children to have a better sense of what the games entail.
  • Young children under six do not always distinguish between fantasy and reality and should be protected from virtual violence.
  • First-person shooter games, in which killing others is the central theme, are not appropriate for any children.
  • State and local policy makers should promote legislation that provides caregivers and parents better and more specific information about the content of all media, especially with regard to violence.
  • Laws should be enacted to prohibit a minor’s easy access to violent media.
  • Pediatricians should advocate for more child-positive media.

The AAP recommends the following to the entertainment industry and other media:

  • Avoid the glamorization of weapon carrying and the normalization of violence as an acceptable means of resolving conflict.
  • Eliminate the use of violence in a comic or sexual context or in any other situation in which violence is amusing, titillating, or trivialized.
  • Eliminate gratuitous portrayals of interpersonal violence and hateful, racist, misogynistic, or homophobic language or situations unless explicitly portraying how destructive such words and actions can be. Even so, violence does not belong in media developed for very young children.
  • If violence is used, it should be used thoughtfully as serious drama, always showing the pain and loss suffered by the victims and perpetrators.
  • Video games should not use human or other living targets or award points for killing because this teaches children to associate pleasure and success with their ability to cause pain and suffering to others.
  • The news and information media should acknowledge the proven scientific connection between virtual violence and real-world aggression and the current consensus of credentialed experts in this field and should avoid equating unscientific opinions and industry marketing tracts with peer-reviewed and vetted scientific research.
  • The federal government should oversee the development of a robust, valid, reliable, and “parent-centric” rating system rather than relying on industry to do so.

For independent video game reviews, see Commonsense Media.

For related posts, see “Living in an Online World, Screen-Free Week.,” and “Going Screen-Free.”

About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.

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Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

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