The debate about whether violent video games make people aggressive has raged since the dawn of gaming itself.
But with first-person shooters becoming more realistic, it’s an issue that has never been more relevant.
Now, a new study suggests that long-term playing of violent games doesn’t make people more aggressive, or blunt their ability to empathise.
If that comes as a surprise, you’re in good company. Even the researchers behind the study said the results were contrary to their original hypothesis.
That may be partly because previous research has shown that people who play violent games are emotionally desensitised and more aggressive.
The study’s lead author Dr Gregor Syzik also revealed he’d seen an increasing number of patients with “problematic” gaming addictions.
Earlier studies largely investigated the short-term effects of violent games, with tests conducted during or just after the gaming session.
But the latest experiments required participants to abstain from gaming for at least three hours before taking part. Most did so for much longer.
The researchers said they only chose male participants because playing violent games and aggressive behaviour is more common among men.
The gamers, all of whom played first-person shooters such as Call of Duty for at least two hours a day for four years, were asked to take two tests.
Researchers started by assessing their levels of aggression and empathy using questionnaires.
They then tasked the participants with looking at images designed to provoke an emotional response while they were scanned in an MRI machine.
When the images popped up, they were asked with imagining how they would feel in the situations.
The questionnaires showed no difference in terms of aggression and empathy between gamers and non-gamers.
The MRI scans didn’t reveal a distinction between the neural response of gamers and non-gamers either.
Dr Szycik, who works at Hannover Medical School, said the study relied on emotionally-provocative images.
“The next step for us will be to analyze data collected under more valid stimulation, such as using videos to provoke an emotional response,” he added.