The Columbine High School massacre of twelve students and one teacher sparked great controversy among researchers and scientists about whether or not violent video games contribute to violent behavior in teens. Such a tragedy invokes anger, confusion, and outrage, and it is understandable for society to want to look for someone or something to blame for the unspeakable act. So were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold adversely affected by the video games they played? Were they so desensitized by violence that they could casually enter their school and murder their peers? Was it all externally motivated or is there a genetic or social component to the violent behavior they exhibited?

If violence is, in fact, caused by video games, then the solution to a less violent world would be to eliminate the games. Obviously, that's too simplistic a solution. Violence and aggression are caused by the interaction of a dozen different variables.


The Virginia Tech Review Panel — a state-appointed body responsible for reviewing the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16, 2007, in which Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed thirty-two people before committing suicide — concluded that Cho was not a player of video games. Cho reportedly was not involved in video-game playing in college and only played nonviolent games in high school.

Historically, society has always searched for a quick and easy answer for the world's ills. Novels have been banned, music has been maligned, and television and movies have sparked moral outrage. Every generation has found things to blame for teen rebellion, violent behavior, and moral degradation.
There is no doubt that many video games on the market today are violent. Parents mistakenly assume that just because video games are marketed to kids, they are appropriate for kids. This is not so. Video games have ratings similar to movie and television rating systems. Many of the games with questionable and excessive violent content are rated M (for mature) or A (for adult), and an impressionable tween or teen should not be allowed to view or play video games with an M or A rating.


Bully is the name of a video game that is set in a high school. Critics of the game say that while it does not include guns, blood, or gore, it is violent and should be rated M (for mature) instead of T (for teen). The main character shoots slingshots, takes over cliques, and uses firecrackers and stink bombs against bullies. Supporters of Bullyreport that the game mirrors the kinds of moral choices kids may have to make about bullying in real-life settings.

Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, cofounders and directors of the Massachusetts General Hospital's Center for Mental Health and the Media, wrote a book called Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Video Games and What Parents Can Do. The book covers research findings from Kutner and Olsen's $1.5 million study (funded by the U.S. Department of Justice) on youth violence and gaming that was coordinated at the Harvard Medical School between 2004 and 2006. This study involved surveys from more than 1,200 middle school students and over 500 parents, and interviews with dozens of teen and preteen boys and their parents.
The study found that the majority of young male subjects regularly played violent, M-rated video games. What they didn't find was a significant correlation between playing these games and a general increase in violent behavior. Furthermore, Kutner and Olsen found that the motivation for playing video games for most kids isn't a result of reclusive or antisocial tendencies. Kids usually play video games for excitement and escape from boredom and stress. They also note that kids in the study were capable of recognizing and separating real-world violence from fantasy in-game violence. However, the authors do caution that an obsessive or excessive interest in M-rated violent video games could point to other more troublesome or deep-seated psychological issues. And video game addiction is something parents should always look out for.
Despite the inconclusive studies and arguments among researchers about whether or not video games contribute or cause an increase in violent behavior, recommendations remain in place for parents.

  • Monitor your child's video-game playing.
  • Limit the amount of time spent playing video games.
  • Be aware of the ESRB rating system and follow the age-appropriate guidelines.
If you have a child who is prone to increased violent or aggressive tendencies, reconsider allowing him unsupervised access to the violent games. And if you do see a link between the games your child is playing and his behavior, don't hesitate to ban the games. You are the parent — it's your job to monitor and assess risk levels for your child.