How Violent Video Games Fit in With Violent Behavior

Psychologists and sociologists agree it's a complicated question.

ByABC News
September 18, 2013, 2:36 AM

Sept. 18, 2013— -- Among the emerging details about Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis was the fact that the former Navy reservist was obsessed with military-style video games, according to one of his friends, Michael Ritrovato.

"It got so bad -- was in his room all the time. ... He'd be late for work," Ritrovato told ABC News. "The reason was because he was staying up all night playing video games."

It's still unclear whether Alexis's obsession with violent video games may have played a role in Monday's shooting.

But with the release of Grand Theft Auto V, one of the video game industry's most anticipated (and most mature-themed) titles, falling so close to yet another shooting rampage, it is sure to fuel the debate about video game violence and its real-world counterpart.

So, what bearing could Alexis's video game playing have on his actions?

Katherine Newman, author of the book "Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings," said that the question of how video games, as well as other kinds of violent media, influence violent behavior is a complex one. "There is an association, but it's not a very robust one," she told ABC News. "After all, millions of kids use video games as entertainment and almost none of them do these kinds of acts."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who sponsored the Violent Contact Research Act of 2013, said it's too soon to jump to conclusions. "We've heard some news accounts that the shooter spent time playing violent video games but it is simply too early to know whether this motivated yesterday's senseless act of violence," he said.

A spokesperson for the Entertainment Software Association, which represents video game and computer game companies, said there's no medical or scientific research showing that video games cause people to be violent in real life. The ESA declined to comment on Alexis.

A report released by the Media Violence Commission, a branch of the International Society for Research on Aggression, looked at what more than 800 independent studies had to say about the link between violent media and aggressive behavior.

"Millions of kids use video games as entertainment and almost none of them do these kinds of acts."

"Some commentators have argued that violent media, especially violent video games, are the primary cause of school shootings," the report said in its concluding comments. "Other commentators have argued there is no good evidence of any harmful effects of violent media, usually based on the results of one or two studies. Neither extreme is supported by the vast body of research in this domain."

Newman has a similar stance on how violent media and violent video games affect both teenagers and adults. "I'm sure that they are relevant, but I wouldn't rest my case there," she said. "Overemphasizing this connection is problematic, but it's neither irrelevant nor dispositive."