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Doom creator John Carmack: violent video games reduce real-world aggression

John Carmack, one of the software developers behind the classic computer game Doom, says that violent games reduce aggression.

His comments fly in the face of widespread media scares linking violent computer games with real-life violence. But the scientific evidence for such a link is inconclusive, say researchers.

Mr Carmack, speaking to computer game trade magazine IndustryGamers, said: "I never took seriously the violence in video games debate. It was basically talking points for people to get on CNN.

"I really think, if anything, there is more evidence to show that the violent games reduce aggression and violence. There have actually been some studies about that, that it’s cathartic. If you go to QuakeCon and you walk by and you see the people there [and compare that to] a random cross section of a college campus, you’re probably going to find a more peaceful crowd of people at the gaming convention. I think it’s at worst neutral and potentially positive."

In recent weeks, the link between violent computer games and violence has been brought to the fore after one was cited by Anders Behring Breivik, the man behind the recent Norway killings, as "training". Breivik said in his 1,500 page "manifesto": “I just bought [Call of Duty] Modern Warfare 2, the game. It is probably the best military simulator out there and it’s one of the hottest. I see MW2 more as part of my training-simulation than anything else.”

The evidence linking violent computer games to real-world aggression is controversial. One 2006 meta-analysis - collating information from earlier studies - found that they "provided no support for the hypothesis that violent video game playing is associated with higher aggression." A later one, published last year in Psychological Bulletin, found the opposite, suggesting that the evidence "strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect". However, that study was itself criticised for including studies that "do not relate well to serious aggression", as well as a "biased" sample of unpublished studies.

Psychology researchers at Huddersfield University have suggested that the emphasis on violent computer games is missing the point. Dr Simon Goodson, who with his colleague Dr Sarah Pearson compared brain activity in people playing different genres of games, said: “There was an assumption among reports that because a game didn’t include any violence that it wouldn’t make people aggressive. But just look at people who play Tetris and how angry they get.

“We looked at a violent game and a driving game. We found that driving made people far more emotionally aroused than the violent one, so we thought we should check it out. We did this on a bigger scale and indeed found that driving makes you more emotionally aroused than shooting something.”

They found similar responses with football games: “Once again, a sporting game made people far more emotionally aroused and aggressive than other genres. In fact we’ve had people swearing at us, swearing at the game, swearing at the referee. If you watch a clip of England fans when they lost to Germany in the World Cup, their reactions are similar to the behaviour of the game player.”

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that a California law barring the sale of violent video games - defined as those depicting the “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” - was unconstitutional, breaching the right to free speech.

Explaining the judgment, Justice Antonin Scalia said: “Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just desserts for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers 'til she fell dead on the floor.

“Before video games came cheap novels depicting crime, motion pictures, comic books, television and music lyrics - all of which were blamed by some for juvenile delinquency.”

© Telegraph.co.uk