The slow drip, drip, drip feed of violence

Games gaming5This blog continues the series about Gaming and Learning.  It poses the questions about the more insidious learning that might be happening around violence.

I suspect most parents would have a bit of a niggling feeling about the violence that creeps into the house along with the games.    What exactly might they be learning?  Of course with games, the kids aren’t passively taking it in, as with a TV show (be it news or show), they are active participants, right there in the fight.  What consequences might this be having?

If our kids receive a dose of this violence every day, or even once a week, what is its effect?  Do the effects accumulate over time?

A recent study looked at exactly this.  It’s findings suggest there are negative effects accumulating over time. The study looked at adult participants playing a violent video game  three days consecutively.  It found increases in aggressive behaviour and also increased expectations that others would act aggressively towards them.

Apparently this is the first study to look at the effects over extended time.  Other studies have looked at a single violent gaming session and found increased aggression.

“Playing video games could be compared to smoking cigarettes. A single cigarette won’t cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression.” said psychologist Dr. Brad Bushman, co-author of the study.

The study compared the behaviours of those playing nonviolent games. They showed no changes in either their hostile expectations or their aggression’.

According to the review, Bushman said,

It is impossible to know for sure how much aggression may increase for those who play video games for months or years, as many people do, wondering about the slow drip feed of violence children are receiving through the video games they get. It does sneak up slowly…

This is a big worry.  The  aggression and violence that kids experience in gaming, is possibly also being reinforced in movies, news reports and TV shows.  How much is the violence itself in these games that is the attractor for kids, or is it just a ‘good game’ in terms of characters, storyline and challenges?  Do kids stop seeing the violence after a while?  Is that good or bad? How does it actually translate to real behaviours in the real world?  Does the moral context of the game have any bearing on what they would actually do themselves given a real situation?  Most of these things would be difficult to test practically or ethically.

In the meantime, our kids are guinea pigs in all of this.

The best way of course is not to let any of it into the house, but its not that simple.  What starts as a fairly innocuous Batman taking care of the bad guys in younger ages, escalates  into the likes of the’Injustice league.’  Same characters, just more graphic, and more violent.  When and where to draw the line is challenging.

I suspect that what a lot of,this comes down to is what we model as adults as acceptable behaviour, but we do need to take care of the game diet – what we are feeding our children’s minds – and how often?

The review of the study can be found here, at

The next blog in the series moves to some more positive learning, and is about. ‘Impressing the Principal, with the help of gaming.’ The previous blog in the series was Proliferation of games in the cupboard.




Author: Janis Hanley

Janis Hanley creates education programs for museums. She has a strong interest in digital engagement. Her programs have received several Queensland National Trust awards. Janis is the Queensland representative of the Museums Australia Education committee, and founder/coordinator of MAEdQ - a Queensland Network for Museum Educators . Janis is currently researching the value of digital story telling in community museums.

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