Last week, we learned of a violent game study that managed to locate a link between desensitization and aggression.

Recently, I had a chance to speak with Dr. Bruce Bartholow, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri. He led the study in question and I wanted to A. discuss the implications of the results, B. gain more insight into how the study was conducted, and C. talk about a few other topics that are directly related to the subject at hand. And considering how highly we value our readers, I made sure to read through the comments to the article linked above (and Dr. Bartholow read them, too), and formulate a few questions based on that feedback.

Firstly, we tackled the subject of correlation versus causation. Dr. Bartholow admits that this is always an important question, but he clarifies that his study is indeed an experiment and that's a crucial distinction. Said Dr. Bartholow:

"The issue of correlation versus causation is hugely important in any scientific study. But this study wasn't correlational in nature; this was an experiment. We randomly assigned a violent or non-violent game, so the differences we see can only be attributed to the game itself and nothing else.

Other factors, like parental involvement, can contribute to aggression but in our experiment, none of that is relevant. The basic idea behind an experimental study is that you randomly assign people to conditions; there's a chance that someone in an abusive household might be in a non-violent or violent game condition."

Dr. Bartholow goes on to say that he certainly doesn't discount other factors that can lead to aggression, and furthermore, he clarifies the results of the study for those who jump to certain conclusions. While the link between desensitization and aggression seems to have been established, this doesn't mean the researchers have concluded that everyone who plays a violent video game will turn into a serial killer. And as for all of you who always go, "oh, I play violent games all the time and I'm fine," Dr. Bartholow responds:

"People sometimes have a hard time understanding- we don't always understand why we do the things we do. We don't have a lot of insight into what we think or how we act. One of the things I often say in the face of the 'I play violent games and I'm fine' argument is that we're not suggesting that every person who plays a violent game will become a violent person.

What we're suggesting is that immediately after playing a violent video game, that person is more likely to be more aggressive for a little while. And it might be small; they might cut someone off in traffic or give someone a dirty look. It's just an increased likelihood that they'll do or say something insulting or harmful to another person."

Feel free to discuss. For the record, we can easily condemn a great many "studies" that really don't seem to be done in the interest of science. However, this experiment is intriguing on a number of different levels, and it would be a mistake to peg Dr. Bartholow as an anti-gaming activist hell-bent on getting those aforementioned headlines. As he says, he doesn't seek to become a "policy maker" and at the end of the day, moderation for all ages is key.

I happen to agree with that. More from the Dr. Bartholow discussion soon.

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WorldEndsWithMe
WorldEndsWithMe
9 years ago

I agree with those findings, however, there are other factors to take into consideration as well. Immediately after playing a violent game people can also feel empowered, perhaps doing well in an interview. Same with hard core music.

There are so many things that influence us and we are constantly bombarded with them all day. Ultimately, video games can be the boogie man all they want, the industry makes way too much money for it to ever be squelched by the puritanical streak in this country.

SvenMD
SvenMD
9 years ago

I think your first point is highlighted in Jane McGonigal's book "Reality is Broken". I've been meaning to read it but haven't picked it up yet, but it seems like that is one of the themes of her work.

JonnyR
JonnyR
9 years ago

you're certainly right about the numerous stimuli our brains experience on a daily basis, even the doctor in question admitted other factors can contribute to agressive behaviour. but if he admits that, how can he stand by the test results and claim they prove anything at all.

If you have a select batch of test subjects and some possibly the majority are already predisposed to agressive tendencies whilst the others are more passive, how can you expect any accuracy in your test results?

(i know that people are not either on the agressive or none agressive side, theres definatly alot of grey area inbetween)

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

Well, although we don't have the actual report here, I'm sure they did the study properly. Which means they would have been measured in a preliminary. The results would be measured against each person's preliminary results. It would not have been as subjective as you are suggesting, JonnyR.

JDC80
JDC80
9 years ago

I don't really believe playing a lot of violent video games makes one violent I think those who act the stuff they experience in a "Grand Theft Auto" or any other M rated game probably had mental issues in the first place.

Between ages of 4 to 19 I played my fair share of violent video games and I didn't have the need to react what I did in game A in real life nor did the games encourage me to lash out in violent manner.

I think blaming video games for people nutting up and killing a whole bunch of people is a quick and easy excuse to blame someone then actually looking into what the hell is going on in society.

If parents know their kid have issues with reality giving then they shouldn't be giving those kids video games like GTA.


Last edited by JDC80 on 6/1/2011 10:01:38 PM

WorldEndsWithMe
WorldEndsWithMe
9 years ago

Actually I DO get the urge to act out what Cole McGrath can do, but yeah that'll never happen.

SvenMD
SvenMD
9 years ago

So again, the point of the paper isn't to say that playing violent video games makes someone violent – the point is to say that A) playing violent video games desensitizes a person to real world violence and B) raises that persons "aggression" to real world situations where "violence" towards another person can take place… i.e.- a blast of loud noise.

GuernicaReborn
GuernicaReborn
9 years ago

I wonder how a person who hasn't played any games at all for 25 minutes would do in this study. Would they have been as aggressive with the noise as the violent game-players? would the non-violent game players have been less aggressive than someone who didn't play a game at all?

coverton341
coverton341
9 years ago

That would have been a great, and I mean GREAT way to begin this study. Have all participants take the "aggression" test first, record their behaviours, then have them play the games, take the test again, record.

That would have been much more valuable information in my eyes.

He says that the environment in which these participants come from is of no value to the study, but did not even do a preliminary aggression test to rule that out. I am not thoroughly convinced.

Aranha
Aranha
9 years ago

I mean, I get what he's saying, but I think aggressive behavior can also be attributed to adrenaline and so forth, and that's without playing violent games.

While playing a racing game where it's a close race, or in that sports game after hitting that home run, getting that touchdown, etc, I feel that we all behave a little more aggresively.

I remember playing Grand Tour Racing '98 (yes, back IN '98) and I was practically sweating bullets, and my pulse was pounding, simply because of the intensity of the game. After the race, I'd be going ape over my victory, beating on my chest, you guys know what I mean.

But because violence is so blatant, I guess they can't help but target it, and rightly so, but on other levels. I mean, some of the stuff you get to do in games gets pretty creative, so weak-minded individuals become entranced with this fantasy style that they'd love to re-enact/mimick. GTA and MK offer them new ways at doing the wrong thing.

So it all comes down to good parenting, discretion, and maturity (along with emotional and mental health).

Fane1024
Fane1024
9 years ago

The study found a marked difference between the effect of violent games and non-violent games, apparently due to desensitization *which they actually measured* (in brain waves, I think).

Your "adrenaline" theory doesn't fit the evidence.


Last edited by Fane1024 on 6/2/2011 5:30:29 PM

BikerSaint
BikerSaint
9 years ago

After many marathon sessions totaling over 130+ hours in GTA4, I actually checked the traffic out around me to see who I could give the most ram-ability damage.

But then I remembered, no wait……I'm still making payments on my truck.

Clamedeus
Clamedeus
9 years ago

LOL

Claire C
Claire C
9 years ago

Hee-hee

Did you go looking for an 'Ammu-Nation' store that doesn't exist for the handgun you don't actually have? =)

BikerSaint
BikerSaint
9 years ago

Well,
Due to self-incrimination, I can't really put in print the actual weaponry I might or might not own.

So I plead the 5th, and I'll leave it at that LOL

BikerSaint
BikerSaint
9 years ago

Oh BTW Ben,

Thanks for getting us another interview.

coverton341
coverton341
9 years ago

Thank you for posting this Ben and I look forward to seeing more of this conversation between you and Bartholow.

I draw issue with the line "But this study wasn't correlational in nature; this was an experiment. We randomly assigned a violent or non-violent game, so the differences we see can only be attributed to the game itself and nothing else." Is he saying that he can pin CAUSATION of violent behaviour on violent video games with this study? I may be misinterpreting his words.

I have been taught that in any experimental design or otherwise you can't ever say that one thing truly causes another unless you have extremely solid evidence to support it, whereas when you find something statistically significant, you can say there is a correlation, weak to strong.

I don't think I am willing to accept that a sample size of 70 participants of which I don't know the gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic background of, can be a valid representation of the populous at large.

Maybe I am picking nits, and yes a larger study with a wider selection would most likely be time and cost prohibitive, but I think trying to draw a causation line between two things with that small of an audience is a dangerous thing to do.

Now, I am probably just being a little too defensive over this because it deals with something that I like to do, but I really really really would like to know to what significance level this experiment states the tie between violent video games and violent actions is, and if it's something like "all participants that played video games exhibited violent behaviour" then I have just lost all respect for the study, because A. there would seem to be no level of aggressive behaviour measured, and B. that would seem to be just a little too convenient. Nothing ever always happens in the world of psychology or scientific research.

Anyway, I am probably being too anal.

I can't wait for more of this "series" of conversation. Thanks again Ben.

SvenMD
SvenMD
9 years ago

Yes it's a small sample size, but if you read the paper (I googled it and found it at the Mizzu website) you'll see that they gave a questionaire to over 2000 students that had them rate the video games they played and how much of each they played. Then they took a random sample of those that played >75% violent games and <25% violent games, and then they randomly assigned those individuals into their two groups.

So it's done well enough to satisfy me to believe that you have people who play violent games vs non-violent games into each treatment group.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

Coverton: Another thing to remember is that this isn't necessarily about a direct link between violent video games and aggressive behavior; it's about a link between desensitization and aggression.

Note the part of the study that shows decreased neural response (more desensitized) to violent images after playing a violent video game.

coverton341
coverton341
9 years ago

Okay, found the study, and I thought that there were 70 participants, but in the results section of the study it says that 5 participant's data sets were thrown out for varies reasons and that all analyses were based on data from 34 participants. Am I missing something here or what?

Simcoe
Simcoe
9 years ago

@coverton

46% of the 70 were female.

Of the 70, 6 were disqualified. Three had a high proportion of "EEG artifacts" and the other three knew that the "sound pain" wasn't actually being inflicted on another human being.

coverton341
coverton341
9 years ago

Missed the female part. Thanks. Why then did they not use the female data in the analyses?

Also, where are you reading the study from? I was on the university website and it stated that 5 were disqualified, 2 because of EEG artefacts and 3 for suspecting they were not participating against another human. Conflicting reports make me suspicious.


Last edited by coverton341 on 6/2/2011 12:51:56 PM

Simcoe
Simcoe
9 years ago

Coverton,

I had downloaded the pdf from Dr. Bartholow's lab web page last Saturday. They've posted the article as it appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. I've posted the pdf link to the article in another post below.

On page 2, under Results, they state what I described above (the 6 disqualified).

Unless I'm missing something, I don't know why you wouldn't believe that they didn't use the data from females. 46% of the 70 participants were female. They also go on to say that "Although men were more aggressive than women, violent video game content had a similar effect on men and women. Thus, the data from men and women were combined." Unless you were wondering why they didn't separate the data into male and female groupings, then that might be a question for Dr. Bartholow. I know that sometimes you can collect far too much data and perform far too much analyses to fit it all in one journal article. Perhaps more specific female vs. male data might come out in a later article.

coverton341
coverton341
9 years ago

I'm just coming from the copy that is on the university website and the copy that they say was published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In that results section it states that only the results of 34 participants was used in the analyses. I don't doubt that what you are reading says something different, and that is where I am getting a bad taste. Why are there two reports, both publish, but both stating different things? If you look at them, they each have unique wording which is quite strange to me.

http://web.missouri.edu/~bartholowb/pdfs/BartBushSestJESP2006.pdf


Last edited by coverton341 on 6/2/2011 2:17:32 PM

coverton341
coverton341
9 years ago

Schnebly! Nevermind. I have just realised that the study I was reading was from 2006 which seems to be almost exactly, and I mean exactly the same study, but only using males and 5 were disqualified for the same exact reasons and they were subjected to the same screening of 2000 and the same testing after the video game sessions and the same results.

Hrm, I begin to wonder why it was said that this type of study was never performed on violent video games until now.

Simcoe
Simcoe
9 years ago

Coverton,

Ah yes, I found the (2006) article you were reading!

I believe this (2011) article is the first to show that for a person who normally doesn't play violent video games, they became (temporarily) desensitized after playing a violent video game. And this result predicted an increase in aggression.

I haven't fully read the 2006 study but I don't think they had the participants play video games, only grouped them on their previous exposure to non-violent and violent video games and had them look at violent images.

Claire C
Claire C
9 years ago

These violent video game studies remind me of a Ferris wheel. Around and around she goes. =^.^=

WorldEndsWithMe
WorldEndsWithMe
9 years ago

You know, when we were young my friends and I would play MKII and then when we ran out of quarters we would just play-fight. So yeah.

Claire C
Claire C
9 years ago

You perform any Fatalities or just Friendships?
😉

Clamedeus
Clamedeus
9 years ago

He did some babalities. :p

WorldEndsWithMe
WorldEndsWithMe
9 years ago

lol, I live in Minnesota so I can guarantee you that we did plenty of Johnny Cage decapitation punch fatalities on Snowmen 🙂

Underdog15
Underdog15
9 years ago

Lol world, I distinctly remember running outside to play power rangers when the original power rangers was king. I remember lots of friends would take turns running home crying after being smacked with a sword-stick.

SvenMD
SvenMD
9 years ago

So obviously I'm not up on the psych literature out there, but my question is does this hold true for other forms of "media violence"?

It seems like this paper was looking at "acute" desensitization after experiencing media violence, because from the paper it seems that its already been proven that "chronic and even short-term exposure can lead to desensitization" – but my question is (because I didn't look it up) does this hold true only for video games – where the user actually carries out the violent acts themselves, or does this also work with watching a news broadcast of violent acts??

And what's the actual link between desensitization, aggression, and actual violence??

I will agree that I become desensitized daily, and that if you showed me a picture of someones head shot off it might affect me (thereby increasing activity in the P3 electrode from the paper), but by the 4th picture I'm not going to care as much…..so by that rationale, if you had me play a violent video game and seeing peoples heads get blown off for 25 minutes, I'm probably not going to care as much when I see the picture in real life. (Similar results to the study)

The interesting part is why does aggressive behavior increase like it does in the paper? and would the results be the same if it was actually PHYSICAL harm?? And then how does an increase in aggression lead to an increase in violence, or does it at all?

The thing I hate is that people (general public or media) will see this and say, "Violent games make people violent" – which I think even Dr. Bartholow might agree isn't the exact truth.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

No, I don't think he would agree with that interpretation but then again, headlines and short news stories like to simplify. And so do people seeking attention.

In the second part of the discussion, we talked about desensitization and the results of that. He sent me another study that had participants play a violent video game, and then there was a staged incident by actors. It was a fight or someone clearly in pain or trouble, and the test was to see how long it took the participants to help.

Initially, I thought the desensitized would be better able to respond, as they don't suffer the fear and anxiety others would suffer (i.e., members of the military, police officers, firefighters, doctors, etc.). But I forgot that desensitization typically involves an apathy towards mankind. And as it turned out, those who were "desensitized" due to the game time were way late in helping during that fake emergency situation. They were also more likely to grade the incident on a lower "seriousness scale."

As for the aggression angle, if the aforementioned fear and anxiety aren't as prevalent, wouldn't we be more willing to be aggressive?


Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 6/1/2011 11:44:38 PM

Razmoudah
Razmoudah
9 years ago

I agree that any study of this nature needs to take into account the degree of effect from other media sources than just video games. As Google and I don't get along I do have one question for those of you who have seen the study report, what genre's of violent games did they use? Even in a good-or-evil path RPG like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords you have to show a certain degree of restraint irregardless of you're chosen path (or at least until you get to a high enough level…), and there is a difference in being exposed to high levels of violence and gore without restrictions in usage and being exposed to it with restrictions in usage. If they were exclusively using First Person Shooters and Fighting games for the study then they can't reliably state the results in correlation to any other genres do to the altered nature of the circumstances within the game.

In addition to all of that you still have one other problem that comes into effect, the Nature Vs. Nurture equation. Before any of you say that the equation isn't relevant, do remember that there are people who group up in extremely violent surroundings and then choose to become just as extremely non-violent, and the opposite also applies. As such, any study showing an environmental effect (the Nurture aspect) on behavior is only relevant in so far as the people you are applying the study to have a similar innate (the Nature aspect) psyche. At best the only thing they can do is show a [i]possible[/i] correlation or causation, but that it isn't constant in occurrence or degree of effect. Unless the occurrence or degree of effect for desensitization from violent video games is significantly greater than other forms of violent media there won't be any point in making a greater fuss in relation to a video game's content.

@Ben: As for a lack of fear and anxiety causing a person to be more aggressive I have to say it's dependent on the person. Several members of my family strongly believe that I became more 'aggressive' (and that's a strongly misleading term, but it fits the purposes of the discussion so I'll let it be) since I started playing video games more frequently. I disagree as 1) at the time I wasn't living with family so they're observations are skewed and 2) I started behaving is a more 'aggressive' manner [i]before[/i] I started playing video games more. I tend to use a few select titles as a means of working off violently oriented frustration with the world so that I [i]don't[/i] hurt somebody. And as for the desensitization to violence………I got that very thoroughly pounded into me when I was in first grade by the high schoolers on the bus (my mother probably still has the pictures of my being a walking bruise under the clothes) and since I turn 28 this year that's [i]before[/i] the video game desensitization leads to 'aggressive' behavior issue even mattered (the NES was the best system around at the time). If that hadn't happened to me when I was younger (along with one year where 5 or 6 relatives died, it's close to the same time period as well) I would probably have difficulty reacting quickly in extreme situations, including when someone gets injured. Being desensitized to violence isn't an issue, until you stop caring what happens to your fellow man and have to force yourself to act.

Note: The words that have [i] before them with [/i] after them are meant to be italicized, they only needed to be emphasized and not YELLED at everyone. You do what you can to get your point across, even if it means doing something that needs to be explained to people so that they can understand it.


Last edited by Razmoudah on 6/3/2011 6:21:55 AM

Russell Burrows
Russell Burrows
9 years ago

So what REAL and LASTING effects did this create??

NONE.

Pointless study in that its the same result as showing an action or violent movie to a control group and then surprise!, surprise! the control group emerges from the theater a bit more agressive than when they went in…..duh! (for about five to ten minutes).

I.e. many after watching a Terminator/Predator/aliens/etc. type film exit the theater still thinking about what they saw and how cool to PRETEND to be like that.
But its a short term effect lasting three to five minutes before ho hum common life intrudes.

But trying to prove that just by watching a violent film turns everyone into a homicidal maniac????

Hell no!!!

The same goes for video games.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

Please try to read this carefully. The knee-jerk defensiveness isn't productive.

"But trying to prove that just by watching a violent film turns everyone into a homicidal maniac????"

This study never tried to prove anything like that in relation to video games. I think that's very clear.

Fane1024
Fane1024
9 years ago

Not agreeing with RB, just adding a relevant anecdote:

When I stepped out of the theater after watching Natural Born Killers, someone clipped me with their car while I was crossing the street (in the cross walk, with the light BTW).

A. I felt a strong urge to go medieval on them.
B. I didn't.

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
9 years ago

And if you were just slightly less stable and adjusted…?

Fane1024
Fane1024
9 years ago

Cross-country killing spree with my girl Mallory.

A2K78
A2K78
9 years ago

anybody who say that expsoure to violent content(movies, musics, games) can't have any psychological effects is obviously kidding themselves.

Anyhow as somebody who have been playing video games for over 20+ years I think video game industry need to start drawing lines because alot of the stuff being put into games these just isn't good for public consumption; I don't care how strong willed/mature you are, its not giving the industry a good name or seem right for consumption.

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
9 years ago

I think this bit is key. "What we're suggesting is that immediately after playing a violent video game, that person is more likely to be more aggressive for a little while. And it might be small; they might cut someone off in traffic or give someone a dirty look. It's just an increased likelihood that they'll do or say something insulting or harmful to another person."

It's like the butterfly effect. Fltter the wings on a buttrefly in China and you cause a Hurricane in the Gulf… So a small increase in the likelihood that you would act aggressively might cause an overreaction by you, that in turn causes an over-reaction by someone else, and then on through a chain reaction into an uncontrolled confrontation that results in something violent. But that chain started with someone cutting someone off in traffic, or yelling "Jerk!" out their window.

Subtle changes are what make things happen in our world. A word here, a look there. If there is a correlation between playing violent games and aggression – even short lived. Then do we not have to recognize that there is the *potential* for a negative event to occur because of that increased aggression?

Look, there was a news story recently about the military using a specific game as a training aid. The military need people trained in the controlled use of aggression and lethal force. If there is a game that can be used as a training aid by them, what does that suggest about the game?

It's not about banning games or censoring them, it's about common sense and not putting stuff in games, or other forms of entertainment that is actually disturbing. I mean, there are plenty of things that simply do not need to be in or belong in entertainment. They're there for pure shock value, or as some kind of perverse dare by the developer to see if they can get it into the game. I'd rather that developers focus on making a fantastic game than have them focus on the realism of the internal organs splayed out while the enemy is being eviscerated. Do we care if the fictional organs of a fictional beast are realistic as they spill on the ground? It's not necessary, and it adds to the graphic violence of the scene. Of course the basic action is the same, but by including the visual spectacle of the enemies insides falling out, the scene is elevated in terms of the graphic violence depicted.

I do think it's time that we looks more closely at our hobby and admit where we go too far, and take a step back from the brink – so to speak.

Gordo
Gordo
9 years ago

Well said.

Moderation is probably the key to most activities in life.

Also "do no harm" is a good motto to live life by!

Simcoe
Simcoe
9 years ago

Also works in the opposite way too with a "random act of kindness".

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
9 years ago

Indeed it does Simcoe, indeed it does. That expression "Smile and the whole world smiles with you" isn't as far from the mark (in my experience) as most would cynically suggest. If you smile at people (a real smile) they will generally smile back.

Razmoudah
Razmoudah
9 years ago

@TheHighlander: Then either my town is full of ***holes or else my friends and I are just hated by an excessive portion of the town, it hasn't worked for either of us since we were too young for school.

TheHighlander
TheHighlander
9 years ago

LOL! Well, your town may have local conditions that make it an exception….

Its a generalization of course, and people's experience will vary. My own anecdotal evidence confirms that in general it is the case that if you maintain a positive outlook and greet people positively, it has a positive effect on any interactions, and the opposite is true also – in general. Obviously, not every situation works that way, but in general….

Lawless SXE
Lawless SXE
9 years ago

An interesting read. I do agree with him on several points, based on common sense. The human mind is, despite what most will say, irrational. We are easily influenced by external factors, and not always in the ways that one might expect. This is something that I have learnt through needling and prodding at my friends… Yeah, I can be extremely cruel at times, even if they don't realise that I am actively trying to provoke them.

As for video games causing desensitisation, I do think that there is a very viable idea in there. However, I feel that it has actually had the opposite effect on me. It used to be that I would prefer to hang back on the fringe of conflict (before I started playing games of any nature) to avoid it, but now I actively try to defuse situations. Of course, I could link that to a certain training module that I went through a few years back, or it could be linked to an increase in aggression, or an intent for dominance. Not sure.

In spite of all of this, I think that Aranha might be onto a very good point with his assertion that it may have more to do with the biological response to adrenaline. I know that I feel particularly elated after overcoming a tense situation in a video game, yet I don't think that I feel any form of desensitisation or increased aggressive response. It's purely a reactive feeling that makes me feel more capable, and a similar feeling to what I have had in the past in times of heightened emotions.

However one looks at it, this discussion certainly is food for thought, and I look forward to reading the subsequent parts. Articles like this is the reason that I admire PSXE so much.
Peace.

Razmoudah
Razmoudah
9 years ago

I understand what you're getting at, but I don't completely agree, even if my circumstances are similar. I still mostly stay on the fringes of things (I can't stand crowds), but when things go bad (whether it's a conflict or not) now I tend to get involved. However, that change occurred before I got so heavily involved in gaming, so I can't attribute it to gaming but simply a personality change in my teens.

Gordo
Gordo
9 years ago

I think its definately a debate that will keep coming up especially as gaming becomes more mainstream.

I personally think that violent games don't necessarily turn someone violent but if that is all your focus is on for hours and days at a time it will definately have an influence (at the very least make you groggy and agitated).

I like to use the word "pre-disposition". Someone who has a slight pre-disposition to violence through nature or nurture or whatever probably does get off on the violence in games. This may rub off on them when they are in the "real world".

Same as alcohol, drugs or porn. If you have a pre-disposition to a certain addictive behavior and you have an outlet for it such as the Internet, drug dealing friends or gaming console, then you can become addicted to it and may become accustomed to its pleasures.

Anyway, interesting topic. Not preaching to anyone as I've got one of those addictive personalities myself and have been through many phases of life addicted to one thing or another!