The Impact of Violent Video Games on the Player’s Social Network


Video games have become a vital part of many people’s life. Representative survey data suggest that more than 90 percent of U.S. American teenagers play video games (Lenhart, Kahne, Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, & Vitak, 2008). Although there are abundant different video game genres, arguably the impact of violent video games (e.g., shooter games) has received the most attention from the public and psychologists alike. Indeed, hundreds of studies have examined the association between playing violent video games and aggression. Overall, these studies have shown that violent video games lead to increased aggression in the player (for meta-analyses, Anderson et al., 2010; Greitemeyer & Mügge, 2014). 

What has been unclear so far is whether violent video games also impact the player’s social network. Given the well-known finding that aggression and violence spread among connected individuals (e.g., Dishion & Tipsord, 2011), my reasoning was that violent video games increase aggression in the player and that this increased aggression then has an impact on people with whom the player is connected. For example, a player of violent video games may lash out in anger at their friends if they feel provoked. As a consequence, these friends embrace this behavior and also behave more aggressively in their daily life. Importantly, this reasoning suggests that even individuals who do not play violent video games themselves may become more aggressive if they are connected to someone who does play violent video games.

To test these ideas, I employed an egocentric social networking analysis (in egocentric social networking analyses, individuals report on how they perceive their social contacts). Participants provided self-reports on how often they play violent video games and how aggressively they behaved in the past six months (e.g., how often did they hit another person). They also indicated how often their five closest friends play violent video games and how aggressively these friends behaved.

Results revealed that playing violent video games was associated with increased aggression in the player. Furthermore, there was a positive association between the level of participants’ reported aggression and how often their friends play violent video games. In particular, individuals who do not play violent video games reported to be more aggressive if their friends play violent video games (compared with individuals with friends who do not play violent video games). Finally, the players’ higher levels of aggression accounted for the relationship between the players’ violent video game play and the participants’ reported aggression. Overall, it appears that violent video game play makes the player more aggressive, which then spreads through their social networks.

A limitation of this work is the reliance on participants’ self-report. Moreover, because of the correlational design, no causal conclusions could be drawn. Having these limitations in mind, this work suggests that violent video game play is associated with increased societal aggression. In fact, given that not only players of violent video games but also their social network respond with increased aggression, concern about the harmful effects of playing violent video games is even more warranted.

Details about this work can be found in the following publication:

Greitemeyer, T. (2018). The spreading impact of playing violent video games on aggression. Computers in Human Behavior, 80, 216-219.

Tobias Greitemeyer, Ph.D., is a professor of social psychology at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Anderson, C.A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E.L., Bushman, B.J., Sakamoto, A. et al. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 151-173.

Dishion, T.J., & Tipsord, J.M. (2011). Peer contagion in child and adolescent social and emotional development. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 189e214.

Greitemeyer, T., & Mügge, D.O. (2014). Video games do affect social outcomes: A meta-analytic review of the effects of violent and prosocial video game play. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 578-589.

Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A.R., Evans, C., & Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games, and civics (Report No. 202-415-4500). Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project.