Do violent video games lead to real violence?
After students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire in their Colorado high school in 1999 -- shooting 20 people and killing 13 -- Linda Sanders filed a lawsuit. Her husband was a teacher at Columbine and among the dead. The media revealed that Harris and Klebold played a lot of violent video games, including "Wolfenstein 3D," "Doom," and "Mortal Kombat." Sanders named multiple video game publishers, including Sony and Nintendo, in the suit as well as Time Warner and Palm Pictures since the shooters had apparently watched "The Basketball Diaries," in which a character uses a shotgun to kill students at his high school. In today's ultra-violent media world, it appears there's plenty of blame to go around. But is it legitimate?
As of 2001, roughly 79 percent of America's youth play video games, many of them for at least eight hours a week [source: National Institute on Media and the Family]. Beyond the obvious issues of concern, like "what happened to riding bikes around the neighborhood," there are bigger questions. Many people wonder how this type of exposure to violence as an adolescent effects social behavior. The rise in dramatically violent shootings by teenagers, many of whom apparently play violent video games, is helping the argument that video game violence translates into real-world situations. But other people aren't convinced and insist that video games are a scapegoat for a shocking social trend that has people scared and looking to place blame. Entertainment media has always made a great scapegoat: In the 1950s, lots of people blamed comic books for kids' bad behavior [source: CBS News].
Video games as we now know them are only about 20 years old, so there's nowhere near the amount of empirical evidence for or against their violent effects than there is surrounding, say, television violence. And even that's not a done deal.
So what exactly does science have to say about violent video games? Is there any evidence that shows a cause-effect relationship between shooting people in a game and shooting people in real life? On the next page, we'll see what the studies say.