Do Violent Video Games Really Train Deadly Shooters

Enid Burns for

A new study suggests that playing violent video games that reward “head shots” makes gamers more likely to choose the head as a target with a real gun.

Faculty of the Ohio State University School of Communication and VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, conducted the study.

Boom, Headshot: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy” is the study published by Sage Journals. Lead authors include Jodi L. Whitaker of VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Brad J. Bushman of School of Communication, The Ohio State University.

The study illustrates that “viewers of television programs and films passively watch other characters behave aggressively, whereas players of videogames ‘become’ the aggressive characters.”

To conduct their research, study authors tested 151 college students in their behavior during and after playing videogames. Participants played different types of violent and non-violent videogames including games with human targets where players were rewarded for hitting targets’ heads. After playing the game for 20 minutes, researchers had the participants shoot 16 bullets from a realistic gun at a life-size, human-shaped mannequin. In the study, the researchers found that participants who played a violent shooting game using a pistol-shaped controller (often called a light-gun) hit the mannequin 33 percent more than other participants. The same group hit the mannequins’ head 99 percent more often.

The sample size of 151 participants is relatively small, claims analyst Billy Pidgeon from M2 Research. “Trying to ascertain some correlation to video games these days is difficult because of the number of people who play them,” Pidgeon told RedOrbit. “It’s like saying people who like ham sandwiches are more likely to do this type of behavior.”

Pidgeon also says such a low percentage of players use light-gun or “gun-shaped” controllers. “That’s pretty rare,” he says. “Typically people use a controller or a keyboard.”

Even with the use of a light-gun, the amount of training a player receives from a game is likely limited. “If my life depended on someone’s shooting ability, I’d prefer they train on the shooting range,” Pidgeon says.

Several groups have tried to state that videogames make players more likely to commit gun-related or other violent crimes. Those theories have largely been disproved, and the number of people who play such video games helps discount any concerns.

Just a few weeks after the tragic shootings in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, the video game industry held its annual trade show, E3. Doug Lowenstein, then head of the Electronic Software Association addressed the event in a keynote speech. To dispel any thoughts that the video games had a direct correlation to the actions or skills carried out by two teens, Lowenstein held up a game controller and stated that the device could no more make someone an expert marksman than it could help a player learn to drive at NASCAR.

It’s likely that participants took headshots with a real gun and target because they followed the behavior from gameplay. However the report doesn’t clearly suggest that these participants are any more likely to pick up a gun and commit a crime.