Violent Video Gaming and Aggression in Children

Shainy B. Varghese, PhD, APRN, CPNP; Carolyn A. Phillips, PhD, RN


Pediatr Nurs. 2022;48(4):193-196. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


There is a great concern about the incidence of violent behavior in childhood and adolescence. Exposure to violence in the media is a risk factor for violent behavior in children. The American Psychological Association (APA) (2020) reported children who repeatedly play violent video games tend to demonstrate increased aggressiveness and decreased concern for others, and video gaming impacted academic performance. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness among parents, nurses, and other providers about the impact of playing violent video games excessively through theories explaining the possible impact of violent games on children's behavior, proposed measures to evaluate children's exposure to video games, and strategies to control or reduce this problem.


Playing video games is a popular entertainment for people of all ages. One hundred sixty-four million Ameri cans play video games, and 4 out of 5 U.S. households own a device used to play video games (Enter tainment Software Association, 2019). Over 34 million gamers are in America, and they play an average of 22 hours per week (Cooper, 2019). Although video games can promote learning, problem-solving, fine motor skills, and coordination, they can negatively impact children who repeatedly play violent video games.

Anderson and Carnagey (2014) suggested violent video games constitute an antecedent variable of aggressive behavior. The last comprehensive assessment on screen violence was done in 1998 and found a typical child will see 8,000 murders and 10,000 other violent acts before middle school (McCarthy, 2021). Children who watch violent cartoons display more aggressive thoughts and behaviors than those who watch nonviolent cartoons (Zhang et al., 2019). Violent video gamers are more actively involved in the game compared to other violent media exposure and more likely to identify with violent behaviors because they are directly rewarded with game points for violent acts, such as killing or shooting. Compulsive digital gaming can increase aggressive behavior in children, negatively affect academic performance and sleep, and lead to addictive behaviour (Singh, 2019). Research indicated violent video games tend to change players into a more aggressive mode, and some video games encourage children to internalize negative stereotypes about race and gender (Dewar, 2019). Moreover, playing violent games with friends who provide social support for aggressive reactions might increase aggressive behavior in children (Gentile, 2009).

Several studies support the positive correlation between playing violent video games and aggression. Violent video games stimulate the player and increase aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors (Hollingdale & Greitemeyer, 2014). Shao and Wang (2019) found a significant positive correlation between exposure to violent video games and adolescent aggression. Engelhardt and colleagues (2011) concluded playing a violent video game caused changes in the brain's response to violence, and as a result, these changes can increase aggressiveness. Willoughby and colleagues (2012) found adolescents who repeatedly played violent video games began to think more aggressively, and when provoked at home, school, or in other situations, adolescents reacted similarly to playing a violent video game – they used aggression to solve conflicts in real life. According to Bushman and Anderson (2009), violent media games promote aggressiveness in teenagers through repeated violent activities during the game.

In their updated resolution on violent video games, the American Psychological Association (APA) acknowledged scientific research has demonstrated an association between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, and aggressive cognitions and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement (APA, 2020). However, the resolution also issued the following caution.

Violence is a complex social problem that likely stems from many factors that warrant attention from researchers, policy makers, and the public. Attributing violence to violent video gaming is not scientifically sound and draws attention away from other factors. (APA, 2020, para. 1)