Do violent video games lead to real violence?

Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris (L) and Dylan Klebold were avid video game players. Is there a link between playing video games and committing violent acts? See more video game system pictures.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images

On April 20, 1999, two seniors walked into their Colorado high school carrying assault rifles, and they opened fire. They shot dozens of people, killing 12 students and one teacher, and the nation was floored. School shootings had happened before, but this was a new scope of carnage, and in the ensuing search for answers it came out the shooters had spent a lot of time playing violent video games [source: Ward].

Since then, in the wake of each new, senseless massacre, the entertainment proclivities of the shooters are one of the first things reported by the press. The 20-year-old who killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012 played violent video games. So did the 24-year-old who shot dozens of people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that same year [source: Jaccarino].

Perhaps that reporting is for good reason: An estimated 97 percent of America's young people are playing video games, with many of the most popular ones featuring violent content [sources: Markey, NPD]. And by a 2008 estimate, they're playing them for an average of 13.2 hours per week [source:Gentile]. On top of the obvious generation-gap questions (what happened to riding bikes around the neighborhood?), we now face more ominous ones. What appears to some to be a connection between violent game play and actual violence has many wondering about the effects of immersive violence on young minds.

Video games as we now know them have really only existed since the mid-1970s, 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 those effects remain a source of controversy). But the rise in dramatically violent shootings by teenaged gamers is bolstering the side of the argument that says video game violence translates in some way to the real world.