Video games, Violence, and Emotional Development

on Apr 19, 2007

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With the recent tragic events at Virginia Tech, the speculation of links between video games and violence have flared once again. In actuality, the research has varied widely and is largely inconclusive. Unfortunately, the part that seems most often left out of the research is the individual. Putting aside the beneficial aspects of gaming, for a moment, I want to comment on the suggested links between video games and violence.

The VT shooter has no apparent links to video games – at least, as of this writing. To some degree, I find this surprising. Not because I would expect a killer to play video games, but because I expect just about most people below the age of 30 to have at least tried them. It seems more noteworthy when someone does not play at least minimally. To say there is a link even if games had been found in the shooter’s residence is a flimsy conclusion at best.

Throughout a person’s early life – family, environment, and biology all interact to develop the buffers and abilities a person has to deal with reality. Emotion is something that is gradually regulated. An infant cries with what appears to be extreme pain. Mom, school, and the environment help to regulate the pains of life – be they from not getting demands met immediately, feeling threatened, etc. Slowly, the child develops these vital capacities in order to function in the world.

When an adolescent or adult is unable to regulate emotions in a rich and dynamic way, small and otherwise insignificant aspects of the world become major stressors. The world somehow takes on sharper edges. There are no comforting places or persons to which he can turn.

Further emotional growth becomes something he has to foster himself. Such a task is daunting as psychic resources are now spent on the responsibility of simply living – something once provided by the environment, but is now barely possible by virtue of the realities of adulthood.

Sadness, anger and hatred from lack of a developed capacity to deal with the world are more likely the culprits involved in desires for destruction of self and others. How this may have developed is as unique as the individual and likely cannot be blamed on any one thing.

Video games are a part of the world outside. If anything, they, like anything else, may merely lend shape to the destruction already brewing within the person. Violence seems to have been around for a few years now, at least.

For an individual, a certain game can have positive or negative influences. But the negative influences, more likely than not, often exist because of the prior deficiencies and conflicts residing in the individual.


  1. I agree – video games (violent or not) are usually played without parental involvement. So no parents are around to discuss what is happening and whether it is real or not. Children learn by imitation and exploration in the context of close, caring relationships. They don’t get this when they play violent (or other) video games by themselves or with friends. They need parents to mediate and support positive play.
    And I think we need to educate parents about the damage violent video games can cause to children. I really think many parents aren’t aware of this and just don’t realize the downside of such games. I’m not against video games at all – but I promote interactive and positive video games which are played together with parents.
    Warmly, Linda
    The Babies Can’t Wait Lady

  2. Kourosh

    December 27, 2008

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    Your comment of “exploration in the context of close, caring relationships” is spot on. Where and how they explore readily forms in the environment in which it is done. Parents being directly involved can encourage a healthy state of play.

    The content of the games – i.e. violence or otherwise – is something parents need to witness for themselves as things are rarely so simple as violent-or-not. Each game has subtleties much as books do. Being involved can allow a guidance toward or away from content that is in tune with that particular family’s values.

    Of course, this is easier said than done. Parents are beyond strapped for time needing to work unbelievably hard to make ends meet. It can be so tempting to give kids unrestricted time and space to roam in a game as it “gives kids something to do” while a parent can get much needed respite. Regardless, parents still needs to be there in that environment assessing that environment even if “virtual.” What seems as a way for immediate relaxation can one day come back to bite them.

  3. forex

    May 29, 2009

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    this is really a touchy subject because when a person commits an nefarious act, then they find out that he or she was an active player of violent video games their quick to allocate the blame on the game which i think ids farcical!

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