Just the billionth opinion you’ve read about violent video games and violent behaviour…

An almost infinite number of academic articles and essays have been published on the topic of media causality, however, Christopher J. Ferguson’s, Ph.D., The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic? (2008: 25-37) is one that is particularly effective in its investigation and evaluation of this highly debated and divisive issue. In this article, Ferguson critically examines and evaluates the increased interest and debate within the media, politics and social sciences on the potential causal role of violent video game exposure on youth behaviour since the seemingly concurrent growth of the video game industry and incidence of “serious acts of school violence” and school shootings in the United States during the 1990s (2008: 25). Some of the reasons for the article’s effectiveness include Ferguson’s expertise in the area, inclusion of a wide variety of supporting and critical sources, the depth of his investigation and use of a structured, objective writing form suited to his audience.

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 8.54.44 pm

A graph detailing the number of mass shootings in the US each decade from the 1900s to 2000s (Klein, 2012: 2)

As the associate professor and department chair of psychology at Stetson University and editor for the American Psychological Association’s journal on the relationship between video game exposure and mental health, Ferguson brings a highly qualified perspective on the field of media psychology to this ever-raging debate (Stetson University, 2015: 1-2). However, despite his position, Ferguson manages to maintain refreshingly objective throughout the article. Ferguson achieves this by employing sixty one diverse, credible sources, including the widely acclaimed Secret Service report (2002) and FBI report (1999), and examining the evidence on both sides of the debate, all of which facilitate his formulation of a more informed conclusion. This differs to most articles written on this topic, which normally only use conveniently supportive sources and fail to include any counter-evidence or critical studies.

Furthermore, Ferguson actually directly addresses the issue of politicians and social scientists cherry-picking data when debating video game causality by citing the case of ESA, VSDA and IRMA v. Blagojevich, Madigan and Devine (2005), in which the presiding Judge stated that a number of the most ‘acclaimed’ pro-media causality articles had failed “to cite any peer-reviewed studies that had shown a definitive causal link between violent video game play and aggression… (and had) ignored research that reached conflicting conclusions” (2005: 14-15).

Ferguson’s objectivity and formal writing style comes as a result of the intended audience for this article. Published in the Journal of Investigate Psychology and Offender Profiling, Ferguson’s audience is almost entirely made up of academics and experts within the field of media and criminal psychology, as well as policy-makers interested in creating, amending or abolishing legislation concerning the regulation of violent media.

After examining a wide variety of sources and studies related to the media causality theory, Ferguson comes to the conclusion that “no significant relationship between violent video game exposure and school shooting incidents has been demonstrated in the existing scientific literature, and that data from real world violence call such a link into question” (2008: 25). However, Ferguson still asserts that the purpose of this article is not to sway public view towards either side of this debate, but rather to simply stimulate further debate on media causality and violent video games by acting as a “platform for further discourse and research, as well as a potential source of information for public policy” (2008: 34).


Eric Harris, aged 18, and Dylan Klebold, aged 17, caught on the Columbine High School security cameras in the cafeteria. The two senior students killed 13 people and injured 24 before committing suicide (Gibbs & Roche, 1999: 1)

For some more info and opinions about the possible link between violent video games and violent behaviour check out any of these Youtube videos!
1. Video games won’t cause violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2Jq7vPxYGg
2. Video games can cause short-term violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm_l4jEb6us
3. Video games will cause violent behaviour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMWEg-DdUDg

Reference List:

ESA, VSDA and IRMA v. Blagojevich, Madigan and Devine 2005, case no. 05 C 4265.

Federal Bureau of Investigation 1999, The school shooter: A threat assessment perspective.

Ferguson, C.J. 2008, ‘The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic?’, Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 5th edition, Behavioural, Applied Sciences and Criminal Justice Department of Texas A&M International University, Laredo, pp 25-37.

Gibbs, N & Roche, T 1999, The Columbine Tapes, Time Magazine, New York City, pp 1.

Klein, E 2012, Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., pp 2.

Stetson University 2015, Christopher Ferguson, Stetson University, DeLand, pp 1-2.

United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education 2002, The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States.

About Tom Fogarty

I'm 20 years old. I live on the South Coast. I'm currently studying a double degree in Media and Communications at UOW. I'm in a hardcore band called Pariah. Thats about it, as far as I know anyway. View all posts by Tom Fogarty

One response to “Just the billionth opinion you’ve read about violent video games and violent behaviour…

  • Giverny Witheridge

    Hi Tom,

    This is an exceptionally well-written post. Your analysis of Professor Ferguson’s research is comprehensive, critical and insightful. Rather than engaging in a broad analysis of the text, you have provided a focused, detailed critique of the specific features of the article that contribute to its overall effectiveness. This makes for a well-structured, informative piece of critical writing that situates Ferguson’s research within the wider context of media causality studies.

    Upon reading your post, I found the findings of Ferguson’s research to be quite thought provoking. Not only is there no significant relationship between playing violent video games and violent crime, but also, as violent video game numbers have increased in recent years, youth violence has in fact declined dramatically (see details here: http://knightlyherald.com/dont-believe-the-hype-violence-not-tied-to-video-games/).

    This raises a pertinent question – why are similar studies reaching different conclusions? For example, a study by Iowa State University in 2013 found that there is a strong connection between video games and youth violence and delinquency (see here: http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2013/03/26/violentvideogames), thereby contradicting the findings that Ferguson’s research presents. This makes it difficult for educators, parents and policymakers to pursue any course of action regarding children’s levels of exposure to violent games. It may be interesting, therefore, to investigate how such studies differ methodologically.

    It may also be interesting to investigate how, despite evidence disproving a causal relationship between video games and violence, such as in the case of Ferguson’s research, the media continues to recycle the same myths time after time. For example, as reports emerged earlier in the month that Vincent Stanford, the accused murder of Leeton teacher Stephanie School, had an obsession with violent videos and computer games, the media leveraged this an opportunity to resurface age-old “monkey-see-monkey-do” claims (check this article out: http://m.theage.com.au/news/do-violent-video-games-make-you-aggressive-20150414-1mkij3.html). This only serves to perpetuate a moral panic in the general public rather than stimulate valuable, informative public debate.

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