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Laboratory and correlational studies often find a link between violent video games and minor or benign forms of aggressive behaviors (e.g., exposing an opponent to an unpleasant noise). Based on these studies, the media, lawmakers, and researchers often imply a link between violent video games and violent criminal behavior. Using a similar methodology employed by researchers to examine predictors of severe violent behaviors (Anderson et al., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73: 1213–1223, 1997), 4 time-series analyses investigated the associations among violent crime (homicides and aggravated assaults), video game sales, Internet keyword searches for violent video game guides, and the release dates of popular violent video games (both annually and monthly). Contrary to the claims that violent video games are linked to aggressive assaults and homicides, no evidence was found to suggest that this medium was positively related to real-world violence in the United States. Unexpectedly, many of the results were suggestive of a decrease in violent crime in response to violent video games. Possible explanations for these unforeseen findings are discussed and researchers are cautioned about generalizing the results from laboratory and correlational studies to severe forms of violent behavior. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
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Psychology of Popular Media Culture
Violent Video Games and Real-World Violence: Rhetoric
Versus Data
Patrick M. Markey, Charlotte N. Markey, and Juliana E. French
Online First Publication, August 18, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000030
CITATION
Markey, P. M., Markey, C. N., & French, J. E. (2014, August 18). Violent Video Games and
Real-World Violence: Rhetoric Versus Data. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance
online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000030
Violent Video Games and Real-World Violence:
Rhetoric Versus Data
Patrick M. Markey
Villanova University Charlotte N. Markey
Rutgers University
Juliana E. French
Villanova University
Laboratory and correlational studies often find a link between violent video games
and minor or benign forms of aggressive behaviors (e.g., exposing an opponent to
an unpleasant noise). Based on these studies, the media, lawmakers, and researchers
often imply a link between violent video games and violent criminal behavior.
Using a similar methodology employed by researchers to examine predictors of
severe violent behaviors (Anderson et al., Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology 73: 1213–1223, 1997), 4 time-series analyses investigated the associ-
ations among violent crime (homicides and aggravated assaults), video game sales,
Internet keyword searches for violent video game guides, and the release dates of
popular violent video games (both annually and monthly). Contrary to the claims
that violent video games are linked to aggressive assaults and homicides, no
evidence was found to suggest that this medium was positively related to real-world
violence in the United States. Unexpectedly, many of the results were suggestive of
adecrease in violent crime in response to violent video games. Possible explana-
tions for these unforeseen findings are discussed and researchers are cautioned
about generalizing the results from laboratory and correlational studies to severe
forms of violent behavior.
Keywords: video games, time series, violence, homicide, ARIMA
Controlling the use of violent video games is one step
we can take to help protect our society from vio-
lence.—Brad Bushman (2013)
. . . high exposure to media violence is a major con-
tributing cause of the high rate of violence in modern
U.S. society.—Craig Anderson (2000), testimony be-
fore the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on the
impact of interactive violence on children.
There is considerable evidence relating vi-
olent video games to aggressive behaviors
and cognitions. In a comprehensive meta-
analysis, Anderson et al. (2010) identified 74
studies that used the “best practices” (i.e.,
those studies that used valid measurements
and sound methodologies), and concluded
that exposure to violent video games is a
causal risk factor for increased aggressive
cognitions, aggressive affect, and aggressive
behaviors. Although some researchers have
cautioned that the apparent negative effects of
violent video games are small and may be a
result of publication bias (Ferguson, 2007),
the popular media, lawmakers, and research-
ers have often linked violent video games to
severe acts of violence. The current article
examines whether the findings from these
studies, which have been conducted primarily
in laboratories with college students, general-
ize to severe forms of violent behavior occur-
ring in the “real world.”
In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High
School shootings, many media outlets discussed
violent video games as one of the potential
causes of this tragic event (cf., Simpson &
Patrick M. Markey, Department of Psychology,
Villanova University; Charlotte N. Markey, Department of
Psychology, Rutgers University; and Julianan E. French,
Department of Psychology, Villanova University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Patrick M. Markey, Department of Psychology,
Villanova University, 800 Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA
19085. E-mail: patrick.markey@villanova.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Psychology of Popular Media Culture © 2014 American Psychological Association
2014, Vol. 3, No. 2, 000 2160-4134/14/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/ppm0000030
1
Blevins, 1999). Following the shootings at Vir-
ginia Tech, local and national media noted that
the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, was a fan of the
violent video shooter game Counterstrike
1
(cf.
Benedetti, 2007). In a similar manner, media
sources reported that the Sandy Hook Elemen-
tary School gunman, Adam Lanza, played the
video game Call of Duty, a game that mimics
wartime violence (cf., Smeltz, 2012).
2
A search
of an online database of newspapers (ProQuest
NewsStand) found that nearly 5,000 articles
were released in the aftermath of these three
tragedies, which discussed video games in the
context of these three school shootings. The
implication in many of these articles was that
these violent acts were precipitated and perhaps
even caused by exposure to violent video
games. For example, on the popular ABC news
program 20/20, one TV commentator noted, “In
every school shooting, we find that kids who
pull the trigger are video gamers” (Thompson,
2000).
The growing concern about a link between
violent video games and severe forms of violent
behavior prompted President Barack Obama in
2013 to encourage scientists to research the
effects of violent video games (Molina, 2013).
In the 30 years preceding this request, federal
and local lawmakers conducted numerous hear-
ings, proposed various legislative acts, and
passed approximately a dozen laws in an effort
to regulate the sale of violent video games. One
of the most salient political events concerning
video games was the 1993 hearing on video
game violence led by Senator Joseph Lieber-
man, resulting in the creation of the Entertain-
ment Software Ratings Board (ESRB; Kent,
2010). The ESRB is a self-regulatory organiza-
tion whose purpose is to assign age and content
ratings to video games. In 2011, the United
States Supreme Court struck down a California
law prohibiting the sale of violent video games
to youth, thereby affording video games the
same first-amendment protection as films, mu-
sic, and other artistic works (Helle, 2011). This
decision by the Supreme Court has not curtailed
the concern of lawmakers. Following the trag-
edy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, several
local and federal bills were introduced, includ-
ing the federal bill “Video Games Enforcement
Act” (H.R. 287), which would regulate the sale
of violent video games. Various legislators con-
tinue to be concerned that violent video games
are a main contributor to youth violence, with
Senator Lamar Alexander arguing that “ . . .
video games is (sic) a bigger problem than guns,
because video games affect people” (Linkins,
2013).
In addition to lawmakers and the media, vi-
olent video game researchers have linked this
medium to serious and deadly assaults. This
connection has been explicit at times, such as
when researchers described violent video games
as “murder simulators” (Grossman, 1998), or
when arguing that video games can train chil-
dren to kill in a manner similar to how a flight
simulator teaches a person to pilot a plane
(Bushman, 2008; Gentile & Anderson, 2003).
Some researchers have even contended that the
negative effect of violent video games on public
health is similar to the causal relationship be-
tween smoking and lung cancer (cf., Bushman
& Anderson, 2001). Other times this link has
been more subtle, such as when researchers
reference real-world violence to substantiate the
rationale of their research. For example, in the
peer-reviewed “best practices” studies identi-
fied by Anderson et al. (2010), 28% of the
studies discussed severe forms of violence,
most often within the introduction or abstract of
the article.
3
Of these studies, 42% presented
their research in the context of the Columbine
High School shooting, with the remaining dis-
cussing other school shootings (e.g., the Heath
High School shooting, Westside Middle School
shooting, etc.), homicide rates, and terrorism,
including the September 11th attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Outside
of journal pages, researchers have also linked
laboratory findings with severe forms of vio-
lence during interviews with the popular media.
For example, in searching for possible motiva-
tions of the 2013 Washington Navy Yard shoot-
ings, one prominent researcher noted that “ . . .
video game use may have been a contributing
1
A governmental panel created after the Virginia Tech
shootings found no evidence that Seung-Hui Cho ever
played or owned the game Counterstrike or any other vio-
lent video game (Virginia Tech Review Panel, 2007).
2
A governmental report noted that although the shooter
owned Call of Duty, he spent most of his time playing
nonviolent games, including Dance-Dance Revolution and
Super Mario Brothers (Sedensky, 2013).
3
The first author of the current research article is also the
author of one of the “best practices” studies that discussed
violent video games in the context of school shootings.
2 MARKEY, MARKEY, AND FRENCH
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factor,” and argued the shooter was probably a
more accurate shot because he liked to play the
video game Call of Duty (Bushman, 2013).
The concern about violent video games ex-
pressed by the media, lawmakers, and research-
ers may be justifiable, given the prevalence of
this medium. Media researchers define a video
game as violent if a character in the game dis-
plays realistic or cartoonish aggressive behavior
toward another character. This classification is
not focused on how graphic the violence is in a
game; rather, it centers on whether the behavior
the game character exhibits is intentionally
harmful to another game character (cf., Gentile,
Saleem, & Anderson, 2007; Thompson &
Haninger, 2001). This definition is consistent
with claims that cartoonish violence in E-rated
games has the same negative effects on violent
behavior as realistic violence portrayed in M-
rated games (Gentile et al., 2007). Conse-
quently, regardless of a game’s ESRB rating,
games that contain cartoonish and realistic vio-
lence are both considered to be violent. For
example, the violent video games used in the
studies identified as using the “best practices”
(Anderson et al., 2010) included a cartoonish
platformer (Ty2; Rated E – content is suitable
for everyone), a violent first person shooter
(Call of Duty; Rated M – content is suitable for
17 years and up), an exaggerated version of
baseball (MLB Slugfest; Rated E – content is
suitable for everyone), and an adventure game
where the main character uses cartoonish at-
tacks such as “pepper breath” (Herc’s Adven-
ture: Rated E – content is suitable for every-
one). According to this definition, the majority
of video games contain violence (Gentile, 2009;
Thompson & Haninger, 2001; Thompson,
Tepichin, & Haninger, 2006). In fact, among the
most popular games sold in the past 5 years,
more than 90% portray some form of violent
behavior.
4
Realistic and cartoonish violent video games
have been linked to aggressive behavior and
cognitions in numerous correlational, experi-
mental, and longitudinal studies (for reviews
see Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Anderson et
al., 2010; Ferguson, 2007; Sherry, 2001). The
typical correlational study in this area uses
mainly questionnaires, asking participants to
first describe their video game playing habits
and then self-report feelings or behaviors re-
lated to aggression and violence. For example,
Anderson and Dill (2000) found that preference
for violent video games was related to self-
reported aggressive delinquency. The majority
of experimental studies involve having one
group of participants play a violent video game
(e.g., Grand Theft Auto,Call of Duty, etc.) and
another group play a nonviolent video game
(e.g., Tetris,Top Spin Tennis, etc.) for a very
short period (e.g., 15 minutes). Immediately
after playing the assigned video game, the ag-
gressive cognitions or behaviors of the partici-
pants are measured. Researchers using this
methodology have found that individuals who
play violent video games are more likely to
expose others to “noise blasts” (a loud sound
that punishes others with an unpleasant noise;
Anderson & Dill, 2000), report feeling more
hostile on a questionnaire (Markey & Scherer,
2009), and even give hot sauce to hypothetical
individuals who do not like spicy food (Barlett,
Branch, Rodenheffer, & Harris, 2009).
One limitation of previous research examin-
ing violent video games and aggressive behav-
ior is the manner in which “aggressive behav-
ior” is operationalized. The majority of research
studies in this area assess minor forms of ag-
gression (e.g., giving an unpleasant noise or too
much hot sauce to another person) or self-
reports of aggressive feelings or behaviors. As
pointed out by others (Anderson, Bushman, &
Groom, 1997), laboratory studies are somewhat
limited because how aggressive behavior is
measured in these contexts is different from
severe forms of aggression in the “real world,”
which can involve aggravated assaults and ho-
micides. In other words, is a person’s indication
that they would give another person hot sauce
analogous to shooting another person?
Given the ethical problems associated with
studying real violence in a laboratory setting,
researchers who study such severe forms of
violence have often examined changes in vio-
lent crime rates in relation to changes in a
variable of interest across time. Consistent with
this notion, Anderson and colleagues have
stressed the importance of examining changes
in criminal data to determine whether these data
4
Represents the percent of game units sold between 2007
and 2011, as reported by the sale tracking site vgchartz.com,
which has an ESRB content descriptor for any type violence
(e.g., intense violence, fantasy violence, cartoonish vio-
lence, etc.).
3REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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point to the same conclusion as results from
other methodologies (e.g., laboratory studies;
Anderson, 1987; Anderson et al., 1997). Be-
cause each type of methodology affords differ-
ent strengths and weaknesses, the confidence in
the validity of a finding is strengthened if di-
verse methods support the same hypothesis.
Conversely, if they do not support the same
hypothesis, then the validity of the hypothesis is
called into question.
To illustrate this notion, Anderson et al. (1997)
presented a series of studies that examined the
“heat hypothesis”—the idea that uncomfortably
hot temperatures increase aggressive behaviors.
These researchers found that between the years
1950 to 1995, the average annual temperatures
were positively related to aggravated assaults and
homicides, even after controlling for trends and
serial dependency in the time series. What is per-
haps most impressive about this study is, although
violent behavior has a multitude of causes, the
effect of heat was strong enough to express itself
in real forms of violent behavior. By linking tem-
perature to the changes in violent behavior across
time, the authors of this study concluded that the
“heat effect is real and significant when applied to
large populations.” (Anderson et al., 1997, p.
1222).
To determine whether violent video games
have a “real and significant” effect when ap-
plied to large populations, the current study also
examined changes in aggravated assaults and
homicides across time. Based on previous re-
search and the speculation from the popular
media, lawmakers, and researchers, it was pre-
dicted that years or months where many indi-
viduals were exposed to violent video games
would yield relatively high rates of serious and
deadly assaults. To examine this prediction,
four time-series analyses were conducted to in-
vestigate the relations between various assess-
ments of video game habits and violent crime
within the United States. Analysis One exam-
ined annual changes in video game sales and
changes in violent crime between 1978 and
2011. Analysis Two investigated monthly video
games and monthly reports of aggravated as-
saults and homicides between 2007 and 2011.
Analysis Three examined how changes in Inter-
net searches for video game walkthroughs and
guides of popular violent video games were
related to monthly changes in serious and
deadly assaults. Analysis Four investigated the
change in aggravated assault and homicide rates
following the release of three extremely popular
violent video games. In each analysis, both con-
current and delayed effects were examined. It is
hoped that this comprehensive and diverse set
of analyses will be able to detect any possible
links between violent video games and real-
world violent behavior.
Analysis One: Annual Changes in Video
Game Sales and Violent Crime:
1978 to 2011
Although the video game industry began in
1971, with the first commercially sold coin-
operated video game Computer Space, it did not
gain widespread attention until the release of the
Atari 2,600 game console in 1977 (Goldberg &
Vendel, 2012). Over the past 40 years, the video
game industry has grown to include hundreds of
companies, with worldwide sales expected to
grow to $82 billion by 2017 (Gaudiosi, 2012). It is
estimated that four of five homes in the United
States with a male child have a video game sys-
tem, with children playing video games an aver-
age of 9 hr a week (13 hr for boys and 5 hr for
girls; Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004;
Sherry, 2001). However, during this same period,
violent crime has decreased. In 1978, the homi-
cide rate in the United States was 9.0 homicides
per 100,000 people, but this rate dropped dramat-
ically to 4.7 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011
(United States Department of Justice, 2013).
Given the prevalence of violence in most popular
video games (Gentile, 2009; Thompson &
Haninger, 2001; Thompson et al., 2006), the first
analysis examined the link between overall video
game sales between 1978 and 2011 and changes
in aggravated assaults and homicides.
Method
Data and sources.
Annual video game sales. Annual game
sale data between 1978 and 2011 were provided
by researchers at SuperData. SuperData is an in-
dependent marketing company that collects data
from publishers and developers to examine vari-
ous trends within the video game market space
(Van Dreunen, 2011). A second set of annual
video game sales data were obtained from the
NPD Group for the years 1997 to 2011 (data were
not available from this group prior to 1997). The
4 MARKEY, MARKEY, AND FRENCH
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NPD Group is a market research company that
collects actual sales data from retailers and distrib-
uters in addition to tracking consumer-reporter
purchasing behavior (NPD Group, 2013). Based
on these data, the NPD Group releases monthly
and annual reports to subscribers concerning
video game sales. Both of these data sources pro-
vided almost identical sales information from
overlapping years (r.92) and sales data were
averaged for overlapping years. Annual sales fig-
ures were then adjusted for inflation, and annual
population counts from the United States were
used to derive the amount of money spent on
video game merchandise per 100,000 individuals
(Figure 1).
Violent crime rates. The Federal Bureau of
Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Reports
(UCRs) were used to compute annual aggravated
assault and homicide rates (United States Depart-
ment of Justice, 2013). The UCRs contain crime-
related statistics from most law enforcement agen-
cies located in the United States, and consist of
more than 17,000 city, county, state, and federal
law enforcement agencies who voluntarily submit
data concerning various crimes brought to their
attention. Aggravated assaults are defined as an
unlawful attack on a person with the intent of
inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury and
often involve the use of a weapon. Homicide
counts include the willful killing of another hu-
man being and exclude deaths caused by negli-
gence or accidents. For each violent crime, annual
crime rates per 100,000 were computed between
1978 and 2011 (Figure 1).
Analytic Strategy and Results
All analyses were conducted using SPSS 21.
Simple correlations revealed that annual video
game sales were negatively related to aggra-
vated assault (r(32) ⫽⫺.40, p.05) and
homicide (r(32) ⫽⫺.84, p.01) rates. How-
ever, these results need to be interpreted with
extreme caution, as time series often contain a
considerable amount of autocorrelation, indicat-
ing that an observation for a given period is
correlated with past periods (Sadler, Ethier,
Gunn, Duong, & Woody, 2009; Warner, 1998).
Autocorrelations and trends were removed from
each time series using the Box–Jenkins ap-
proach to fit time-series data to an autoregres-
sive integrated moving average (ARIMA) sta-
tistical model (Box, Jenkins, & Reinsel, 2008).
ARIMA models are a popular technique for
dealing with time-series data and have been
used in numerous research studies across vari-
ous disciplines. For each time series, an
ARIMA model is created by identifying auto-
correlations and trends in the data. This model
is then used to estimate the parameters for a
given time series. By applying resulting
ARIMA models to each time series, a set of
residuals for each series can be generated,
which are free of trends, cycles, and autocorre-
lations (a process called prewhitening; West &
Hepworth, 1991).
The removal of trends is especially impor-
tant; otherwise, a spurious relationship may be
found between two time series simply because
they share similar (or opposite) trends. For ex-
ample, video game sales have tended to become
more popular across these 36 years, whereas
crime (especially homicide) has tended to de-
crease during this period (Figure 1). Stronger
evidence of the link between video game sales
and violent crime would be provided if devia-
tions from these trends were related to each
other. To examine this possibility, the residuals
from each of the time series were related to each
other using the cross-correlation function
(CCF). The CCF allows comparisons at the
same time point in both series (concurrent ef-
fect) and up to a specific number of lagged
periods (see Warner, 1998 and West & Hep-
worth, 1991, for additional information).
Based on autocorrelation and partial correla-
tion functions, it was found that both annual
reports of video game sales and aggravated as-
sault were fit by an ARIMA (2,1,0) model, and
an ARIMA (1,1,0) model was adequate to fit
annual homicide rates (for additional informa-
tion about ARIMA models, see Box et al.,
2008). Ljung–Box Q tests for white-noise resid-
uals revealed that when this model was applied
to video game sales (Ljung–Box Q at lag 10
5.43, P.86), aggravated assault rates (Ljung–
Box Q at lag 10 7.86, P.64), and homicide
(Ljung–Box Q at lag 10 7.59, P.70) rates,
there were nonsignificant autocorrelations
among the residuals. The ARIMA residuals for
video game sales were then cross-correlated
with the residuals for the crime assessments
both concurrently and up to a 4-year lag. As
seen in Figure 2, violent annual video game
sales were unrelated to concurrent rates of ag-
5REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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Figure 1. Annual changes in video game sales and violent crime between 1978 and 2011.
6 MARKEY, MARKEY, AND FRENCH
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gravated assaults and homicides and remained
unrelated up to 4 years later.
Analysis Two: Monthly Changes in Video
Games and Violent Crime: 2007 to 2011
Results from the previous analysis revealed
no link between changes in annual video game
sales and changes in serious and deadly assaults
across 33 years. However, it is possible that
rather than affecting violent behavior years
later, the negative effects of violent video
games are only expressed months later. Such a
possibility is consistent with one large-scale
meta-analysis that found that, after controlling
for gender, violent video games have a small
but significant concurrent effect on aggressive
behavior assessed in the laboratory (average r
.14), but this effect becomes much smaller when
examined longitudinally (average r.07; An-
derson et al., 2010). To investigate the possibil-
ity that the negative effects of violent video
games express themselves quickly, the second
analysis examined monthly video game sales
and monthly reports of aggravated assault and
homicide between 2007 and 2011.
Method
Data and sources.
Monthly video game sales. Monthly video
game sales data were provided by the NPD
Group. For the current analyses, the NPD Group
provided monthly sales data between January
2007 and December 2011. Monthly sales were
adjusted for inflation, and yearly population
counts were then used to derive the monthly
amount of money spent on video game mer-
chandise per 100,000 individuals (Figure 3).
Monthly crime rates. The UCRs were used
to compute monthly aggravated assault and ho-
micide rates between January 2007 and Decem-
ber 2011 (Figure 3). Because the current anal-
ysis focused on monthly reports of violent crime
only, law enforcement agencies that consis-
tently provided monthly crime statistics for a
given year were included in the analyses.
Analytic Strategy and Results
Simple correlations revealed that monthly
video game sales were negatively related to
aggravated assault rates (r(58) ⫽⫺.45, p
.01) and were unrelated to homicide rates
Figure 2. Cross-correlations between annual video game sales and violent crime. Note. The
horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval under the null hypothesis.
7REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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(r(58) ⫽⫺.15, p.25). However, as before,
owing to the trends and dependency contained
within these time series, these findings need to
be interpreted with caution. Because monthly
reports of video game sales and violent crime
follow a seasonal pattern (Figure 3), the sea-
sonal ARIMA (SARIMA) extension was used
(Box et al., 2008). SARIMA models are able to
Figure 3. Monthly changes in video game sales and violent crime between 2007 and 2011.
8 MARKEY, MARKEY, AND FRENCH
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deal with a time series that possesses a seasonal
component that repeats every sobservations
(e.g., every 12 months). The removal of sea-
sonal trends is especially important if two time
series share similar (or opposite) cycles. For
example, video game sales peak during the win-
ter (around December), whereas violent crime
increase during the warm months (as predicted
by the heat hypothesis; Anderson et al., 1997).
Similar to the previous analysis, each time se-
ries was prewhitened to remove trends, cycles,
and autocorrelations. The residuals from these
time series were then related to each other using
the CCF both concurrently and up to 4 months
later.
Using the autocorrelation and partial correla-
tion functions, game sales could be fit with the
seasonal model SARIMA (0,1,0)(0,1,1)
12
.Ag
-
gravated assault required two additional autore-
gressive terms (SARIMA [2,1,0][0,1,1]
12
), and
homicide required four autoregressive terms
(SARIMA [4,1,0][0,1,1]
12
) to achieve adequate
fit and remove trends and cycles in the data (for
additional information about SARIMA models,
see Box et al., 2008). Ljung–Box Q tests for
white-noise residuals revealed that when this
seasonal model was applied to video game sales
(Ljung–Box Q at lag 12 4.19, p.98),
aggravated assault rates (Ljung–Box Q at lag
12 6.95, p.86), and homicide rates
(Ljung–Box Q at lag 12 9.52, p.66), there
were nonsignificant autocorrelations among the
residuals. The SARIMA residuals for video
game sales were then cross-correlated with the
residuals for the crime assessments both con-
currently and up to a 4-mo lag. As seen in
Figure 4, a negative relationship was found be-
tween video game sales and concurrent rates of
aggravated assault (r⫽⫺.39). There were no
significant lagged correlations, indicating that
monthly video game sales were unrelated to
monthly rates of assaults and homicide up to 4
months later.
Analysis Three: Keyword Searchers for
Violent Video Games and Violent Crime:
2004 to 2011
Although the majority of video games con-
tain some form of violence (Gentile, 2009;
Thompson & Haninger, 2001; Thompson et al.,
2006), Analysis Three examined the possibility
that only extremely violent and realistic video
games affect serious forms of violent behavior.
The current analysis focused solely on popular
M-rated video games, which contain graphic
Figure 4. Cross-correlations between monthly video game sales and violent crime. Note.
The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval under the null hypothesis.
9REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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and realistic forms of violence. Additionally,
instead of examining the sales of video games,
Analysis Three used a different assessment of
game play.
One way to assess when individuals are play-
ing a specific game is to examine behaviors that
are related to this activity. When playing video
games, players often use “walkthroughs” or
strategy guides to augment their play experi-
ence. Before the popularity of the Internet, retail
sales of the strategy guides for specific games
frequently sold more than 1 million copies
(Snider, 2004). However, since the Internet has
become popular and widely accessible, a simple
search using Google allows players to quickly
find these guides online. Such walkthroughs and
game guides are available on various Web sites,
one of the most popular being the CBS Interac-
tive-owned “GameFaqs.” (Alexa, 2013). To es-
timate when a large group of individuals are
playing violent video games, Analysis Three
examined the Internet searches for walk-
throughs and game guides for popular M-rated
violent video games between 2004 and 2011.
The current analysis investigated Internet
keyword searches via the popular search engine
Google. Using this service, a person might type
the words “walkthrough Grand Theft Auto” or
“gamefaqs Grand Theft Auto” into Google’s
search engine when attempting to find a walk-
through or game guide to assist him or her with
playing this video game. For example, Figure 5
displays the frequency of searches for the term
“walkthrough Grand Theft Auto” during the
first year Grand Theft Auto IV was released. As
would be expected, searches for this keyword
phrase peaked in May following the release of
the game on April 29, 2008. If playing the video
game Grand Theft Auto contributed to violent
crime, it seems likely a similar increase in crime
would have also occurred around May. Past
researchers have successfully used Internet key-
word searches to examine interest in a wide
variety of topics, including seasonal affect dis-
order (Yang, Huang, Peng, & Tsai, 2010), diet-
ing (Markey & Markey, 2013), suicide (McCar-
thy, 2010), pornography searches (Markey &
Markey, 2010a, 2011), and even to track H1N1
outbreaks (Ginsberg et al., 2009). In a similar
manner, Analysis Three examined whether
there was a link among keyword searches for
violent video game walkthroughs and game
guides and concurrent and future rates of aggra-
vated assault and homicide.
Method
Data and sources.
Keyword searches for violent video game
walkthroughs and guides. Google Trends
was used to determine how often individuals
searched for walkthroughs and game guides of
popular violent video games between January
2004 (the earliest time point data were avail-
able) and December 2011. Violent video game
searches included the keywords “walkthrough”
Figure 5. Internet keyword searches for Grand Theft Auto guides following the release of
the Grand Theft Auto IV on April 29, 2008.
10 MARKEY, MARKEY, AND FRENCH
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or “gamefaqs” along with the name of popular
M-rated violent video games sold within this
period (e.g., Call of Duty,Grand Theft Auto,
Gears of War,Halo, etc.). For example, a user
who searched for “walkthrough of Halo” would
be included in this analysis, but a user who only
searched for “Halo” or “walkthrough” would be
excluded. Google Trends examines Google Web
searches to determine how many searches for the
given set of keywords had been conducted in a
given week relative to the average number of
searches on Google for those keywords over the
entire observed period. Search data were stan-
dardized by dividing the search volume for each
period by the greatest search volume and mul-
tiplying by 100. In this range, a value of 100
would indicate the period with the greatest over-
all searches for a set of keywords. A period with
half of the keyword searches as the highest
period would receive a value of 50, and so forth
(Google, 2013). Weekly reports were then ag-
gregated to estimate the volume of Internet
searches for walkthroughs and game guides of
violent video games that occurred each month
between January 2004 and December 2011
(Figure 6).
Monthly crime rates. Violent crime statis-
tics from the UCRs were used to compute
monthly violent crime rates for aggravated as-
sault and homicide. In the current analyses,
monthly reports were collected between Janu-
ary 2003 and December 2011 (Figure 6).
Analytic Strategy and Results
Searches for violent video game walk-
throughs and guides were negatively related to
aggravated assault (r(94) ⫽⫺.31, p.01) and
were unrelated to homicide (r(94) ⫽⫺.12, p
.27). SARIMA models were used to prewhiten
each time series. Using autocorrelation and par-
tial correlation functions, it was found that key-
word searches for violent video game guides
and tips fit a SARIMA (1,0,0)(0,1,1)
12
model,
and both aggravated assault and homicide time
series were fit by the same seasonal models used
in the previous analysis. Ljung–Box Q tests for
white-noise residuals further revealed that when
these models were applied to keyword searches
(Ljung–Box Q at lag 12 9.49, p.66),
aggravated assault (Ljung–Box Q at lag 12
10.00, p.61), and homicide (Ljung–Box Q at
lag 12 8.15, p.83), it produced nonsignif-
icant autocorrelations among the residuals. The
residuals of these time series were then related
to each other using CCF concurrently and up to
4 months later. As seen in Figure 7, keyword
searches for violent video game walkthroughs
and guides were negatively related to both ag-
gravated assaults (r⫽⫺.22) and homicides
(r⫽⫺.22) 2 months later. None of the other
lags produced significant relations between key-
word searches for violent video walkthroughs
and guides, aggravated assaults, or homicides.
Analysis Four: Violent Crime Following the
Release of Three Popular Violent Video
Games
Video game releases are similar to movie re-
leases in that the majority of the public consumes
the product when it is first released. The violent
first person shooter, Call of Duty: Black Ops,
earned $360 million the first day it was released,
$650 million within the next 4 days, and more
than $1 billion in sales by 41 days (Associated
Press, 2010). These impressive sales are not lim-
ited to this single game. For example, between
2003 and 2011, three of the most popular M-rated
violent video games (Grand Theft Auto: San An-
dreas,Grand Theft Auto IV, and Call of Duty
Black Ops) combined earned more than $3.5 bil-
lion in sales. Given the violent content of these
games and their popularity, the media, lawmakers,
and researchers have linked Call of Duty and
Grand Theft Auto to serious acts of violence in the
real world. Some have implied that Call of Duty
was a causal factor in numerous mass shootings,
including the 2011 Norway attacks, the Sandy
Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the
Toulouse and Montauban shootings in 2012, and
the Washington Navy Yard shootings in 2013
(Bushman, 2013; Smeltz, 2012). Grand Theft
Auto has been associated with both general trends
in violence and specific violent crimes, including
the arrests of William and Josh Buckner in 2003
for homicide; Devin Moore in 2003 for first-
degree murder; Cody Posey in 2004 for homicide;
Ryan Chinnery in 2008 for rape and grievous
bodily harm; Stephen Attard, Samuel Philip, Dy-
lan Laired, and Jaspreet Singh in 2008 for various
robberies and assaults; and Zachary Burgess, only
4 days after the release of Grand Theft Auto IV,in
2013 for vehicle theft and kidnapping (cf., Crow-
ely, 2008; Newcomb, 2013).
11REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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If violent video games are causes of serious
violent crimes, it seems probable that serious
and deadly assaults would increase following
the release of these three popular violent video
games. To examine this hypothesis, the final
analysis used an interrupted time-series analy-
sis. Such a methodology has been used in the
past to examine numerous health and social
Figure 6. Monthly changes in searches for violent video game guides and violent crime
between 2003 and 2011.
12 MARKEY, MARKEY, AND FRENCH
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issues and is among the strongest, quasi-
experiment design available to evaluate longi-
tudinal effects of “real world” outcomes (Wag-
ner, Soumerai, Zhang, & Ross-Degnan, 2002).
It is predicted that following the release of these
extremely popular violent video games, there
will be an increase in aggravated assaults and
homicides. Because the duration of this effect is
unknown, increases in violent crime will be
examined for continuous periods of 1 to 12
months after the release of these violent video
games.
Method
Data and sources.
Release dates of popular violent video
games. The North American release dates of
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,Grand Theft
Auto IV, and Call of Duty: Black Ops were
obtained from each game’s publisher (Figure 6).
These three video games were selected because
they were among the top-selling M-rated video
games during the period examined and owing to
their frequently discussed links with violent
criminal behavior (cf., Bushman, 2013; Crow-
ely, 2008; Newcomb, 2013; Smeltz, 2012).
Monthly crime rates. UCR crime statistics
from the previous analysis were used to com-
pute monthly violent crime rates for aggravated
assault and homicide between January 2003 and
December 2011 (Figure 6).
Analytic Strategy and Results
Interrupted time-series analyses were com-
puted to compare violent crime before and after
the release of three popular violent video
games. In the current analysis, the violent crime
rates following the release of Grand Theft Auto:
San Andreas,Grand Theft Auto IV, and Call of
Duty: Black Ops were examined to determine
whether these games were related to changes in
aggravated assaults and homicides. Specifically,
monthly changes in violent crime were exam-
ined for continuous periods of 1 to 12 months
after the release of these violent video games.
This methodology provides insight into whether
the release of these violent video games pre-
dicted violent crime over and above the predic-
tion derived from understanding the trends and
cycles of violent crime, 1 to 12 months after
these games were released.
Figure 7. Cross-correlations between searches for violent video game guides and violent
crime. Note. The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval under the null
hypothesis.
13REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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The same SARIMA models used in Analysis
Three were again used to eliminate trends, cy-
cles, and autocorrelated errors in each time se-
ries. Binary dummy variables were then used to
model pulse effects on violent crime for contin-
uous periods of 1 to 12 months after the release
of these violent video games. Ljung–Box Q
statistics at a lag of 12 revealed nonsignificant
autocorrelations among the residuals for each of
the 24 analyses (12 for aggravated assault and
12 for homicide). The resulting ttests for the
pulse effects of each period were transformed to
r-values to provide assessments of effect sizes.
As can be seen in Figure 8, aggravated assault
rates tended to show a decrease following the
release of these three violent video games, but
this change failed to reach significance. Homi-
cides also decreased after these violent video
games were released and displayed significant
decreases 3 and 4 months following the release
of these games.
Discussion
Laboratory and correlational studies suggest
violent video games are a causal risk factor for
increased aggressive cognition, aggressive af-
fect, and aggressive behavior (Anderson &
Bushman, 2001; Anderson et al., 2010; Fergu-
son, 2007; Sherry, 2001). Based on the results
from these studies, the media, lawmakers, and
researchers have linked violent video games to
serious forms of violent behavior, including ag-
gravated assaults and homicides. The current
study sought to examine whether such studies,
which tend to examine mundane forms of ag-
gression (e.g., giving an unpleasant noise or too
much hot sauce to another person), generalize to
serious and deadly assaults reported in the real
world. Crime data provided by the FBI for the
past 30 years along with sales of video games,
Internet keyword searches for violent video
game guides, and release dates of popular vio-
lent video games were examined annually and
monthly using large-scale time-series data ana-
lytic techniques (e.g., ARIMA, SARIMA, inter-
rupted time designs, CCFs, etc.). Concurrent
effects of violent video games and lagged ef-
fects lasting months and years were considered.
Contrary to the claims that violent video
games are linked to aggressive assaults and
homicides, no evidence was found to suggest
that this medium was a major (or minor) con-
tributing cause of violence in the United States.
Figure 8. Changes in aggravated assault and homicide rates following the release of three
popular violent video games. Note. The horizontal lines represent the 95% confidence interval
under the null hypothesis.
14 MARKEY, MARKEY, AND FRENCH
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Annual trends in video game sales for the past
33 years were unrelated to violent crime both
concurrently and up to 4 years later. Unexpect-
edly, monthly sales of video games were related
to concurrent decreases in aggravated assaults
and were unrelated to homicides. Searches for
violent video game walkthroughs and guides
were also related to decreases in aggravated
assaults and homicides 2 months later. Finally,
homicides tended to decrease in the months
following the release of popular M-rated violent
video games.
The findings that violent crime was more
likely to show decreases instead of increases in
response to violent video games were contrary
to what was expected. One possible explanation
for this reduction in violence is that playing
violent video games leads to a catharsis. In
other words, when people play violent video
games, they are able to release their aggression
in the virtual world instead of in the real world.
Consistent with this notion, adolescent boys
tend to report feeling less angry after playing
violent video games, and even actively select to
use this medium to control their aggression (Ol-
son, Kutner, & Warner, 2008). However, other
researchers have found little evidence to suggest
that venting one’s anger on a safe target actually
reduces aggression (cf. Bushman, 2002).
A more parsimonious and less contentious
explanation than the catharsis effect focuses on
the qualities and desires of people who are
innately predisposed to violent behavior (cf.,
Ferguson et al., 2008; Pinker, 2002). Individu-
als who are prone to aggression and violence
tend to seek out violent media, like video
games, to provide them with models that ex-
press behaviors and desires consistent with their
own innate motivational system (Markey, in
press; Surette, 2012). When violent games, like
Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, are released,
these aggressive individuals likely spend time
playing these video games. Such a behavior
effectively removes these individuals from the
streets or other social venues where they might
have otherwise committed a violent act. In other
words, because violent individuals are playing
violent video games in their homes, there may
be a decrease in violent crime when popular
violent video games are released.
The results from this study should be consid-
ered within the context of the methodological
limitations of this study. Given both the number
of analyses conducted and the unexpected di-
rection of the results in the current study, re-
searchers should examine whether these results
generalize to future periods and other geo-
graphic regions. Additionally, although theories
of video game violence operate at the level of
the individual, data for the current study were
collected at the aggregate level. Owing to this
ecological fallacy, caution is warranted when
attempting to draw causal relations between
these variables, as trends sometimes become
altered when subpopulations are aggregated (i.
e., Simpson’s paradox; Wagner, 1982). How-
ever, even with this concern, prominent video
game researchers have argued that theories
framed at the individual level can translate into
concrete empirical predications at the aggregate
level (Anderson et al., 1997). Consistent with
this notion, it was predicted that years or
months when many individuals were exposed to
violent video games would yield relatively high
serious and deadly assault rates. Such an empir-
ical prediction is falsifiable, constituting “a le-
gitimate test of the theory despite its cross-level
nature” (Anderson et al., 1997, p. 1221).
This research is also limited because it only
examined a single risk factor for violent behav-
ior—violent video games. Researchers have of-
ten adopted a risk factor approach when dis-
cussing the negative effects of violent video
games. This approach acknowledges there are
many risk factors for violent crime. Each factor
may elevate the risk for violent behavior, and
with enough risk factors present, it becomes
likely a person will act violently (Anderson,
Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). No scientist has
suggested violent video games are the only
cause of violent behavior, just as no scientist
has suggested that heat is the only cause of
violent crime or smoking is the only cause of
lung cancer. Of course, risk factors like heat and
smoking are strong enough that when it be-
comes hotter, there is a significant increase in
violent crime (Anderson et al., 1997), and as
more people have stopped smoking, there has
been a dramatic decrease in lung cancer rates
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2013). Such a pattern does not exist for violent
video games. As more people have been ex-
posed to violent video games, serious and
deadly assaults have not increased. It appears
that any adverse effects violent video games
have on serious violent behavior are either non-
15REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
existent or they are dwarfed by the effects of
other factors that make the effects of violent
video games appear nonexistent.
The rhetoric used by some in generalizing the
findings of research conducted primarily in lab-
oratories and with questionnaires to serious and
deadly assaults appears to be unfounded. The
current study found no evidence that violent
video games are contributing to the high rate of
violence in the United States (Anderson, 2000)
or that controlling the use of violent video
games would protect our society from violent
crime (Bushman, 2013). The effect of violent
video games on public safety does not appear to
be equivalent to the effect of smoking on lung
cancer (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). Although
video games might “affect people,” it is un-
likely they are a bigger problem than guns
(Linkins, 2013). If video games are really the
equivalent of flight simulators training people to
kill (Bushman, 2008; Gentile & Anderson,
2003; Grossman, 1998), it is difficult to explain
why homicide rates would go down after mil-
lions of these “murder simulators” have been
sold. When the media, politicians, or research-
ers link the murderous rampages of male ado-
lescents with violent video games, they are con-
veying a classic illusory correlation (Ferguson,
2013). These individuals are ignoring that 90%
of young males play video games (Lenhart,
2008). Finding that a young man who commit-
ted a violent crime also played a popular video
game, such as Call of Duty,Halo,orGrand
Theft Auto, is as pointless as pointing out that
the criminal also wore socks. The rhetoric about
violent video games does not match the data.
It is important to note that in no way does this
conclusion imply previous research examining
violent video games is unimportant. There is
ample evidence that violent video games do
increase aggressive cognition, aggressive affect,
and some aggressive behaviors. It is possible
that although violent video games are not re-
lated to severe forms of violence, they may
affect other types of less aggressive behaviors,
such as bullying, spreading gossip, minor fights
at school, pushing and shoving, or hurling in-
sults. This study also does not provide insight
into whether certain subpopulations are ad-
versely affected by violent video games. Al-
though research has been mixed on this issue
(Ferguson & Olson, 2014), it is possible that
violent video games adversely affect only some
individuals, and those who are affected have
preexisting dispositions (e.g., high levels of
psychoticism, anger, etc.), which make them
susceptible to such violent media (Markey &
Markey, 2010b; Markey & Scherer, 2009) Fi-
nally, the current research does not address how
exposure to violent video games at a young age
might affect later adult behavior. As scientists,
we can reflect about such a relationship based
on available research, but we need to be upfront
that this is only supposition. We need to be clear
with our peers and the general audience about
the claims we make that are backed up by
research and those that are speculation. In short,
as scientists, we need to be careful that we do
not blur the line between our scientific results
and our scientific conjecture.
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19REAL-WORLD VIOLENCE
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