What problems do video games cause

The numbers pop in. A representative survey recently revealed that 97 percent of all teenagers in the United States regularly play video games. In the case of adults, it was still 50 percent who habitually seek distraction in front of the console or computer. The average weekly time spent in front of the screen adds up to around 13 hours. That's a lot of time to shed a gigantic amount of virtual blood, after all, the most commercially successful games all rely on violence. There is shooting, beatings, assassination, is anyone actually counting the dead? The question arises again and again what this carnage is doing in the minds of the players. A new meta-analysis now provides an answer. The short version reads: Aggressive games reinforce aggressive behavior; and games with prosocial content reinforce prosocial behavior.

While young people seem to collectively shoot the magazines of virtual assault rifles in front of the computer, the video game-abstinent public also cultivates their obsessions. Hardly a week seems to go by without critical publications lamenting the demise of youth or the loss of humanity through nasty killer games. And science is also enthusiastically devoting itself to the topic: since 2009 alone, at least 98 individual studies with a total of 36,965 test subjects have been published on the question of the effects of video games - this corresponds to about one publication per month.

"There is an effect"

Tobias Greitemeyer and Dirk Mügge from the University of Innsbruck have put all these studies together and evaluated them for a meta-analysis published in the specialist magazine Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin will appear. Accordingly, computer games have an effect on those who spend a lot of time with them - for better or for worse.

"There is one effect, anything else would be a surprise," says Greitemeyer, "but this effect is not particularly great." In an often hysterical debate, that sounds surprisingly cautious. So is the danger posed by computer games being exaggerated? One could definitely discuss whether the observed, rather weak connection between aggressive games and aggressive behavior is a legitimate cause for concern, write Greitemeyer and Mügge. But the two psychologists are committed: Because so many people shed blood in virtual battles, the phenomenon is actually a relevant problem. The effect may be small, but when it affects millions of people, it shows effects that are relevant to a society of Meaning are. After all, the effects are presumably serious, even if only a few excessive players are noticeable.

Shooting games are supposed to increase aggression

With their work, the two scientists confirm the findings of other research groups. For example, psychologists working with Craig Anderson from Iowa State University published in the journal in 2010 Psychological Bulletin the most extensive meta-analysis to date on the effects of computer games. The team evaluated studies with a total of more than 130,000 participants. They came to similar conclusions: shooting games reinforce aggressive thoughts, aggressive affects and corresponding behavior. At the same time, they reduce empathic feelings and the willingness to help. Here, too, the effects observed were clear, but overall moderate. But it is also clear that in individual cases it can never be said that computer games were the cause of an act of violence.

Is the case now finally closed and on file? Finally, Greitemeyer and Mügge evaluated all relevant studies that have appeared since Anderson's work. Definitely not. "The debate is still going on," says Greitemeyer. This is also due to the high frequency with which new studies on the topic are published. These individual findings usually have little informative value; a valid picture can only be drawn from a mass of findings - as is now the case in the current meta-analysis. On the one hand, the results are simply scattered: a single study can, despite all due care, result in a chance hit. On the other hand, the structure of almost every single study on the effects of computer games is worth discussing, says Greitemeyer. "All designs have weak points."