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Do violent video games make us violent?

Watch Can Violent Video Games Play a Role in Violent Behavior? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Media outlets spent the day speculating about a CBS report that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza had blacked out his bedroom and game-room windows, and spent hours playing violent video games.

But what do we know about Adam Lanza? And what have experts determined about the relationship between video games and real violence?

As part of a week of special PBS programming on the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, PBS NewsHour spoke with psychologist Brad Bushman and public health expert Cheryl Olson about the impact of violent video games on behavior. Later tonight, FRONTLINE presents a compelling special: Raising Adam Lanza.

Check out all of PBS’s special coverage at and get a preview of Need to Know’s After Newtown special airing Friday, February 22, 2013: “Gone Boy.”

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  • Minji Cho

    On PBS, some of the mental health professionals compared the violent video games to that of violent contents in the age-old fairytales; and ascertained lack of correlation between violent media to that of violent behavior of youths. I don’t think this comparison is fair; the violence itself is as old as humanity, as these fairytales suggest. But there is a huge difference in written words that incite one’s imagination, to that of a virtual experience of these addictive video games where the player is immersed in a virtual reality and an actual purveyer of the violence by their physical response. I would think this could have a strong impact on developing brain, especially if there is some susceptibility. After all, there are plenty of people that engage in at risk behavior and come out unscathed, that does not mean we should condone such behavior.

  • George Houchens

    When a teenager shoots and kills on a video game, there’s no repercussions. Nobody dies, nobody suffers. If the game is lost, you just start another game. Now make that teenager a kid with social disturbances and let that kid play violent gun-based games incessantly. Let that kid be upset at what he/she feels is unfair treatment. Then give that kid medications that have a history of unpredictable violent reactions. Let that disturbed, medicated kid live in a house with a single female parent who decides to introduce that kid to shooting the real thing as a kind of mental tranquilizer. Then assume that in a fit of medicated rage, the kid is able to access those guns, load them, and commit acts of violence.
    There you have Sandy Hook. There you have Columbine.
    Does anyone really believe that more gun control will prevent these kinds of scenes?
    I dont.

  • unkerjay

    Violence is a complex problem. There is no one button fix, no panacea. “Gun” violence is capacity, it is assault weapons, it is handguns, it is means, it is motive, it is legislation, it is enforcement, it is catalysts, it is social, it is psychological, it is cultural, it is societal, it is economic, it is pathological, it is constitutional. It is a multi-legged stool of which no one leg makes the critical difference.

    It is consensus, opportunism, politics, economics all rolled up into one significantly consequential issue.

    As with many other multifaceted issues, it’s worth, I think, looking at what’s going on not just in America, but around the world in determining what doesn’t work and what might. Within our own borders it’s easy to say this or that won’t work. Lower or higher rates of morbidity in other countries certainly may either affirm or refute local conclusions. Some may be applicable within our system. Others would likely require an abdication of the legal constraints of our system and consequently would be unworkable.

    At some point we really need to stop taking the word of those on EITHER side with vested interests and allow for some objective research from EITHER side as to what realistically works OR doesn’t and then work to achieve some consensus as to a workable solution that respects the rights of those who own guns as well as those who don’t and would rather not be a part of a system that forces guns upon them as well as those who would rather not be a part of a system that they believe is bent on disarming them.

    Violence, I believe, is something that requires a comprehensive, holistic look at prevention, intervention REGARDLESS of the victim, REGARDLESS of the means simply because, if not guns, it will be something else by someone hell bent on doing others harm. If not assault rifles, hand guns, rifles, LEGAL weapons. Ban high capacity magazines and criminals will manufacture their own.

    Most of all, let’s go where the EVIDENCE leads us. And for lack of evidence let’s gather some and not be led by those who are more interested in momentum rather than progress. There is no security in proposed solutions that demonstrably don’t work. Neither is there security in inaction. At some point a solution that works is at best NOT going to be the preferred solution of either the NRA or gun control advocates. Ultimately incidents like Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Colorado and elsewhere demonstrate fundamental flaws in our existing processes.

    Either we say “ENOUGH” and resolve to do what is necessary based on sound evidence of what makes a difference or we capitulate to inaction as competing interests overwhelm us with disinformation, driven by politics, economics, and other vested interests.

    Every time something like this happens, the simple question is “Had enough yet?” and inaction resoundingly answers “No”.

  • unkerjay

    Short answer:

    Violent video games don’t “make” us violent any more than food “makes” us fat.

    Next question.

  • Tommy Albright

    NOT ME, I don’t play them !!!

  • Greg

    I play violent video games myself, and they really are exactly the opposite of evil- they help me relax and get my mind back on whatever work I have in front of me.
    The thing we really need to focus on is bullying, because that I know will cause more want to kill than Call of Duty.

  • Brandon McKoy