Elizabeth Donovan M.A.

Youth and Tell

Video Game Violence: Does Player's Personality Matter More Than the Game?

Study says it's not about the video game, it's about the player.

Posted Sep 22, 2011

*Lisa has found that the online gaming community has given her a way to fit in despite the violence in some of the games. "Gamers have their own social networks, you know.Whether it's chat-room role-playing, Xbox LIVE or meeting for group D&D - it brings a whole new group of people into your life that you might know only tangentially." Lisa, like many teens, appreciates the online socialization factor as much as she does the video games – and she's not alone. A recent survey conducted by Pew Internet & American Life Project found that a whopping 99 percent of teenage boys and 94 percent of girls play video games on a regular basis.

If you're the parent of a teenager, then you probably already know about some of the hottest video games on the market and the time your teen spends playing them. Today's games are far cry from the archaic graphics of the Atari generation's Pitfall and Space Invaders. Video games today are highly interactive making them more fun, thrilling, and addictive than ever. The downside? Instead of running the risk of being eaten by alligators as you swing through the digital jungle, you may be blown up into a thousand pieces, decapitated, or brutally stabbed to death. The violence in today's gaming is bigger, badder, and more prevalent than ever before and so are the number of teens playing them.

For years, there has been an ongoing debate between parents and the media about the level of violence teens are exposed to in video games. Hot games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto VI, Halo, and Dead Space were all ranked by by PC Magazine in the top ten most most violent video games of all time. Chances are your teen either owns one or has played one of them before. But if you are worried that these games will turn your son or daughter into an homicidal maniac, then you can take refuge in the latest research that says it's not about the violence as much as it is about the player's personality traits.

The study published in the journal Review of General Psychology found an increased hostility in teens with certain personality traits such as those with low tolerance for agreeableness and conscientiousness and with extremely high neurotic tendencies. The researchers also found that it was not the violence in the video game that perpetuated violent behavior in some teens, but rather how their personalities tolerated and integrated the violent content of the video games. Interestingly, it was the competition in the games that had the most influence on aggression as opposed to the violent content. It's important to note that even with the latest findings, the potential risk still exists for some teens to become violent if their personality characteristics cannot integrate and process the 'competition' of the game in a healthy manner. However, the good news is that the study suggests a smaller percentage of teens may be effected than previously thought.

As gaming grows in popularity so does the debate over the impact of violence in video games on our youth. While this study certainly sheds light on how teens integrate violence into their personalities, there are other studies that dispute this finding. The bottom line? Most of us would agree that games like Grand Theft Auto IV isn't meant for young children and there aren't many parents who would support allowing their teen to play a game that involves assaulting a police officer. However, parents now have many tools and tactics at their disposal from software to websites to help cope with their teens taste in video drama. Trying to limit the amount of time and the content of what your teen plays can be difficult, but is well worth the vigilance. Likewise, talking with your teen about the violent content is also helpful regardless of how many times he smirks and rolls his eyes.

As disturbing as the extremely violent content in today's video games is, it reflects only a small part of a much larger social problem. We are a culture that breeds violence in all forms of the entertainment media – a fact that unfortunately won't go away any time soon.

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