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You’ve heard it many times before: the claim that violent video games pose a major hazard to our world, as they spark aggressive behavior in players and lead to their committing violent acts. But have you ever stopped to consider the validity of this statement? To look at the facts? Heather Ness, a psychology professor and blogger who specializes in the psychology and impact of pop culture on mental health, says you should. Because things aren’t exactly as they seem.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil?

“Often news media have promoted the idea that violent video games cause aggression in players or desensitize them to violence. However, the most recent research actually contradicts this idea,” Ness explains. For example, a recent study from the University of York found that violent video games don’t influence players to behave in one way or another—which contradicts a popular philosophy called cultivation theory.

According to Ness, there are two main theories about how violent video games impact players, one being this cultivation theory, “which basically means that what we see in our media, we do,” she says. “We see violence in media, then we accept that as normal and act violently. For example, this theory would assume that if during our childhood we see our parent be violent, we will grow up to also be violent.” However, it doesn’t account for other potential effects of this exposure to violence, she says: “This theory assumes that people do not have thoughts, emotions, or reactions to the things we see. We may observe and learn violent behaviors from that aggressive parent, but we may think to ourselves, ‘I don’t like that behavior. I don’t want to do that.’ Perhaps instead of robotically soaking up violence from video games, we have negative reactions to that violence that keeps us from reenacting them in the real world.”

Ness goes on to explain another popular theory: that the violence is innate and video games merely support its expression. “Another theory is that people are already fairly aggressive and violent video games provide a socially acceptable outlet. Research is also showing that while people may observe certain behaviors and then reenact them, they do not do so for all behaviors seen in all situations. Most violent video games are shown in a very fantastical setting, not easily transferable to real life.”

Stay in Charge: Be a Healthy Gamer

In sum, the traditional belief that violent video games cause aggressive behavior is not supported by today’s research. In fact, it isn’t scientifically proven to steer our behavior in any one direction. But, of course, gaming—whether the game you’re playing is violent or not—can still have negative effects on your health and wellbeing, especially too much gaming. So vow to practice healthy video gaming, by following our tips below:

    1) Set boundaries.
    Too much of anything is never good. So set some restrictions: no video gaming after 10 p.m., only an hour and a half of gaming a day, the game is over when things get too heated… and so on. These boundaries will help you stay in control and prevent you from suffering from excessive or otherwise unhealthy video gaming.

    2) Get up and move.
    It’s important you keep the blood flowing during your video game playtime. So try to get up every 15 or 20 minutes and stretch it out. Maybe even run through a few exercises while you’re waiting for a new game to load or the next match to start. Or, take it to a whole new level and swap gaming for exergaming! This involves playing games that use your body and incorporate cardiovascular exercise.

    3) Play games that make you happy.
    If there’s a game that always makes you angry, stressed, or otherwise unhappy, stop playing it! It’s that simple. Steer towards the games that bring you joy, such as those that you can enjoy with your friends or those that allow you to tap into your creative juices.

    4) Keep your priorities in check.
    Hopefully the first tip will help you do this, but if it doesn’t, you might need to take some additional steps to ensure you keep your priorities in check. What I mean is your video gaming shouldn’t interfere with important areas of your life such as work or time with friends and family.

    5) Remember that it’s just a game.
    And finally, keep in mind that it’s only a game. Whatever’s happening on the screen on front of you isn’t real—its sole purpose is to provide you with mere entertainment. So bring it back down to earth! And keep it there.

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