Sandy Hook

Media blames violent video games for Lanza’s Sandy Hook killing spree: is there a link between video games and aggression?


By Ishbel Macleod, PR and social media consultant

December 19, 2012 | 4 min read

Yesterday, The Sun’s front page was emblazoned with the headline ‘Killer’s Call of Duty Obsession’, with the blame for Adam Lanza’s shooting spree in Newtown squarely placed at the door of video games.

Similarly, the Daily Express said that Lanza liked to play Dynasty Warriors: ‘which is thought to have given him inspiration to act on his darkest thoughts.’

But do video games lead to aggression?

In 2003, Gentile and Anderson suggested that violent video games may have a stronger effect on children’s aggression than TV because games are more engaging and interactive; because games reward violent behaviour; and because children repeat these behaviours as they play.

Research from Comstock and Paik (1991) showed similar results, suggesting that there was more chance of violence having an effect if certain factors were present.

The four factors, as put forward by this study, were: efficacy (where violent behaviour means getting what you want); normativeness (where violent behaviour is seen as being allowed and not punished); pertinence (where violence behaviour is seen as realistic) and susceptibility (where the viewer is emotionally excited when watching the violence).

The National Television Violence Study of 1996 determined that 73 per cent of violent video games reward violence as an effective way to handle conflict.

It has therefore been suggested that some games, such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, could fit into these factors.

A study by Brock University in Canada, released in October this year, said that it found ‘a clear link between a sustained period of playing violent games and subsequent increases in hostile behaviour’, suggesting that teens who played violent games were more likely to become violent.

The longitudal study of 1,492 showed that teenagers who played violent video games over a number of years saw steeper rises in their aggression scores during the study.

Others who regularly played non-violent games did not show any evidence of increased aggression.

However, is it as cut and dry as that? Or is it that people who are, in general, more violent like to play violent games?

The Sun’s article pointed out that Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in bombings and shootings last year, played Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, while ‘al-Qaeda fanatic Mohammed Merah’ was also a fan of the game. But is the correlation between violent video games and acts of violence – or that those who have violent feelings are more likely to commit violent acts?

Last year, the Swedish Media Council looked at more than 100 studies of children, violent video games, and aggression published between 2000 and 2011, and came up with the conclusion that most studies ‘don’t provide sufficient evidence to establish a causal relationship’ between video games and violence.

The Council suggested: “There is no evidence that violent computer games cause aggressive behaviour … If research can’t provide any simple answers about how games make children aggressive, perhaps we adults should stop judging the games children play based on whether they are violent or not.”

Overall, it seems that no official conclusion has been decided by the psychologist community, and this is an area where debate will continue to rage.

What do you think? Do you feel that playing violent video games is more likely to make you commit a violent act?

Sandy Hook

More from Sandy Hook

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +