Force Science News:

Playing video games that involve violent shooting can heighten firing accuracy and influence players to aim for the head, researchers have confirmed in a unique new study. On the positive side, this might suggest a potential increased role for gaming in police firearms training, but on the other hand, given the rampant popularity of video games among civilians, the findings may reveal an intensified threat to officers in gun confrontations . . .

At Ohio State University, Drs. Jodi Whitaker and Brad Bushman tested 151 student volunteers, predominately Caucasians and about half of them males. They were randomly assigned to play either a violent shooting game with realistic “humanoid” targets, a nonviolent shooting game with bull’s-eye targets, or a nonviolent, nonshooting game for 20 minutes.

Some of those playing the shooting games used a standard, button-pushing controller; others, a pistol-shaped controller that required pulling a trigger to fire. During shooting that was nonstop throughout, participants in these groups each fired about 300 “rounds.”

After playing the assigned video game, all volunteers then fired 16 rounds apiece from an Airsoft training pistol at a mannequin 20 feet down a narrow hallway. The gun had the same weight, texture, and recoil as a real 9mm semiauto.

Results:

• “Overall,” the researchers note, “participants who played the realistic violent game with humanoid targets with a pistol-shaped controller were the most accurate shooters and hit the mannequin’s head most often.” Indeed, these subjects had “99% more headshots than did other participants.”

• Those volunteers also scored 33% more hits to other body parts than did the other subjects.

• The participants who played the nonviolent, nonshooting game had the fewest head hits and fewest successful shots elsewhere as well.

Previous experience with firearms “did not affect the results,” the researchers point out. “[P]laying the realistic shooting game with a pistol-shaped controller for only 20 minutes still increased firing aim and accuracy with the training pistol.”

The violent video game rewarded headshots with an instant “kill,” the researchers explained, so players were “more likely to repeat this behavior outside of the video game context.” In shooting at the mannequin, they “practiced behaviors that had previously been reinforced, namely “aiming accurately at the target and aiming for the head.” They adapted readily to the realistic training gun from the pistol-shaped controller via a “mechanistic transfer.”

The researchers emphasize that the study does not mean “that a person who plays violent shooting games is more likely to fire a real gun at a person.” But, they write, the results do indicate that “if such a person were to fire a gun, he or she would fire more accurately and be more likely to aim for the head.”

The study appears in the journal Communication Research under the title ” ‘Boom, Headshot!’: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy.” CLICK HERE to access the full report for a fee.

Our thanks to Canadian trainer Chris Lawrence, a faculty member for FSI’s certification course in Force Science Analysis, for alerting us to this study.

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70 Responses to Violent Video Games Leading to Criminal Headshots? [Video NSFW]

  1. “gaming in police firearms training, but on the other hand, given the rampant popularity of video games among civilians”

    POLICE ARE CIVILIANS.

  2. I’f I were a LEO, I’d already assume everyone I’d contact would be a Gunsite 250 graduate with an appropriate 1911 on their person, until proven otherwise.

  3. So, practice makes you better at the things you do? What a concept. Glad these guys spent all that time and money to bring this state-of-the-art idea to light.

    • In other news, people who play Farming Simulator are more apt to handle farmyard machinery with no training. What a waste of time and money.

    • A point I have made before. As LTC Grossman states, violent video games will have an effect on a person whether you want to admit it or not. I used to play them a lot, however i dont have as much free time as i once did… So i choose to spend it differently now… However, any thing you do repetitively in this case violent gaming will desensitize and reinforce behaviors. This is nothing new and has been repeatedly used by militaries worldwide to help train soldiers. Why do you think bullseye targets were dropped in favor of realistic popups targets, realistic, reactive targets, and yes, even virtual training. The US Army uses COD style video games to train Soldiers in small unit tactics. While i cannot go so far as to say gaming mints murderers, it does provide training of sorts, and desenitizes the mind to it.

      • ‘However, any thing you do repetitively in this case violent gaming will desensitize and reinforce behaviors.”

        Sorry, but you are wrong about this. Human consciousness is far too complex to allow a single source of information like a video game to overcome volition. There is no empirical evidence that a video game or any other media source (football games come to mind) can cause an otherwise normal person to do something that goes against a lifetime of learning experiences. People do things because they want to do them.

        • I guess i should clarify. I never said it causes evil like you seem to think. It does have the ability to train and help condition. But evil people are responsible for the evil they do. I blame that part on godlessness and the destruction of the family in our society, but that is another topic for discussion later… I firmly believe evil begets evil. However, i would challenge you to read ‘on killing’ by Grossman. He has some good points. Give it some thought.

      • For the record, quite a few of studies Lt. Col. Grossman uses to back up his claims that video games desensitize people to killing cite Grossman himself as a primary source. He’s an authority on the subject because he arranged it that way, and bases his research on his conclusions, rather than vice-versa.

        According to the U.S. Military, they use video game-style software solely to develop hand/eye coordination and cooperation skills. That’s it.

        • Why is it that everyone always assumes that if you don’t believe in god then you are somehow morally bankrupt and evil? Every atheist I have ever met has been a decent human being with morals. I know there are those few that like to stir up trouble with religious groups but for the other 99.5% of us we respect people’s beliefs and mainly keep to ourselves. I just get tired of being grouped in with the riff raff solely based on the fact that I don’t believe in God and not my character. “End rant”

        • No argument from me, pal. In fact, I have no idea who the hell you’re even trying to argue with, because neither I nor anyone else said a damn thing about atheism.

        • Bingo. His conclusions on the subject are deeply unsupported and rooted in the same sort of assumptions that had “experts” blaming music, movies and comic books for violence before. None of which makes sense considering that violent crime has gone DOWN since video games became popular.

  4. Shooting accurately requires hand-eye coordination. Any activity that improves hand-eye coordination (e.g. video games) is going to improve shooting accuracy. Why someone felt a need to conduct a “study” to verify that is beyond me. I could have told you that when I was 14 years old.

    The only parts of the study that I find interesting/relevant are how much playing the video game improved accuracy … and that people playing violent video games appeared to be more likely to choose head shots.

    • There is yet another facet to the learned-preference for head-shots. If you can hit the head you have to land a penetrating shot. There are two approaches:
      – hit a vulnerable spot not protected by the skull; or,
      – use a powerful enough cartridge and barrel length.

      Police OC and so, can be equipped with .40+ calibre guns with long-enough barrels to effectively use the powder charge. Criminals need to CC and need to avoid printing. Generally, this calls for smaller calibre guns and shorter barrels. Statistically, head shots by criminals are going to be less deadly.

      • Statistically, most cops use Glock’s, Sigs, or M&P’s, with most agencies switching to 9mm. Nearly all factory ammo is loaded to about the same level (~350-400ftlbs) regardless of caliber. 1 shot stops have almost identical %’s for the big 3 (9, 40, 45.) There’s also the fact that cops have much worse hit %’s than concealed carriers. I doubt there is any study that would support your claim.

        • I wasn’t thinking about cops at all; sorry, I should have been explicit about that. I will grant you that the guns cops carry have a high probability of breaching the skull.

          Instead, I was thinking about the guns civilians CC. When CCing, I imagine that most civilians wouldn’t carry anything over a 9mm (apart from a 357). Now, if CCing, the barrel is apt to be shorter than a cop’s full-sized 9mm gun. Bit of a loss in power there.

          .380s are pretty popular for CC. Now, we have a shorter barrel and a smaller powder charge as well. I’d prefer to go for a center-of-mass shot over a head shot with a .380.

    • What I find weird is that they study didn’t include mouse&keyboard as a use group. Considering large portion of the FPS games out there are played with that interface. It would have also been interesting to see whether the tendency and/or the accuracy would have translated over the over to the Airsoft test.

  5. There’s been researchers and groups with a political agenda trying to push this link between gaming and violent crime for years. It always boils down to just being all politically motivated BS.

  6. Hey look, a study about video games from people who don’t play video games with an exceptionally limited sample size. Cool.

  7. And??
    So people warm up wit a video game, and??
    They are really stretching it here to connect any sort of dots here.

  8. Gee whiz, these dam games hab come a long way since I was doin’ Doom II and Castle Wolfenstein. Shazzammm!

    And I esp. dig that crazy hip-hop beat; can’t get enough of it! If only it was blasting constantly from all corners of the earth 7×24 I’d be in 7th Heaven!

    • I lasted about 20 seconds, I stopped before I got the runner-up IGOTD award for shooting my computer. Or would that be DGU of the day??

    • Likely everything but the recoil. Many of the higher end airsoft gas replicas are highly faithful to the original, down to having an identical takedown procedure and weight, and accept real – steel grips and sights.

      • Yep, my airsoft KWA Sig P226R is identical to my real Sig including weight and take down lever. It can even use real sites and rail accessories like lights . While it is blow back, it is not the same as a real 9mm in terms of recoil although it will hold open when empty.

    • Exactly what I was going to say. That line of BS (the recoil, specifically) pretty much invalidates the methodology.

  9. If it’s true that criminals who draw their shooting skills from video games aim for the head, then that’s a good thing for most people. The typical criminal shooter is incompetent and untrained and their attempts to shoot the head, a small target at the extreme of the body, make them less effective with their weapon. With such poor tactics they’d pose less of a threat to civilians. Perhaps a greater threat to police officers wearing a bullet-resistant vest but no helmet who might prefer to be shot in their armored area.

  10. wow. I’ve never played video games. Looks like I’ll have to start. Results point to a great training aid.

  11. Aim bot much? OK No playing video game does not cause more head shots. If it did, all the gang bangers out there would be getting head shots in their drive by’s. Plus the police would not miss 9 out of 10 shots fired. Just my 2 cents worth.

  12. They played the games for 20 minutes. The results are horribly flawed. I will guarantee that if the participants who used the handgun-style controller had only used a water gun and no video game for 20 minutes they would have done better than the other participants in the study. “Previous experience with firearms “did not affect the results,” the researchers point out” – that has to be a complete fabrication. Just more bullshit science.

  13. “participants who played the realistic violent game with humanoid targets with a PISTOL-SHAPED CONTROLLER were the most accurate shooters…”

    Also known a dry-fire practice. This is way beyond obvious.

    • But better. Feedback is instantaneous and success is rewarded.

      2 implications that I see

      1. Could be used to limit some of the common training scars from regular dry fire practice.

      2. Could result in horrific training scars if the sights of the light gun are off.

  14. People aim for the head in video games because it takes 1-2 shots to down a guy vs 4 shots to the body in standard FPS’. In BF a guy can take a .308 from a DMR at range to the head and shrug it off. Even with games getting more in depth about firearms, they still don’t reflect the reality of shooting and using real guns. They don’t make you a better shooter.

  15. This is the kind of “research” that gets done when there are too many psychologists competing for too few tenured faculty positions. It isn’t enough that the authors of this “study” (no doubt junior faculty desperate for that all important promotion) have the unmitigated gall to claim that this kind of twaddle is empirical research, oh no, they then go on to politicize their “findings” by trying to hook them into “officer safety” concerns.

    OF COURSE firing practice, whether with a video game, dry firing, or the real thing, can increase one’s accuracy! And these guys think you have to do “empirical research” to find this out? Belaboring the obvious in an effort to make one’s point more scientific is a hallmark of junk science. This is so embarrassingly piss-poor shameful that it make me reluctant to admit that I’m a social scientist. End of rant.

  16. No, but if you DO get to take her for “coffee”, your chances of “scoring” will be higher…

  17. I lie with statistics for a living and numbers cited in the write up make me suspicious. 99%, 33%, etc. That tells me that the “N” of headshots was very small and likely statistically insignifigant. Either way I agree with the poster above who said this was an example of too many people trying to get tenure.

  18. Is there anything useful in that video? I shut it off after about 10 seconds.

    So playing a game with a light gun which requires you to line up the sights and pull a trigger improves your ability to line up the sights and pull the trigger? Who’d have thunk it! I notice the summary didn’t mention any improvement (if any) for people using a standard game controller to aim a reticle.

    Also, I’m calling BS on the airsoft which “had the same weight, texture, and recoil as a real 9mm semiauto.”. Weight and texture, sure; recoil, I have my doubts. It’s a matter of physics – there’s just no way an airsoft gun is going to have anywhere near the same recoil as an actual gun. Even the blanks used in Hollywood don’t generate the same recoil, because without a projectile in bore to trap the gases in the chamber, there just isn’t enough force being generated to even cycle the action.

  19. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve played through Dead Space. Does that mean that my first instinct will be to try to use bullets to cut a dudes arms off?

  20. This report seems innocent, but it will be used against us PplOfTehGunz. Its all true. Its helps manual of arms, and everyone knows already that a bullet to the head is more lethal than one anywhere else.

    But trust me, you get an in game kill count over years of gaming with a M14, AR-type, AK-type, etc., that streches into the 100,000+ range, not counting misses, reloading, sidearm transitioning, and you have a pretty good feel for it.

    I finally purchased a SOCOM 16 after years of avoiding the price tag, and it just feels natural. Call of Duty et al. hyped me for the gun since I was a kid.

  21. Gee, didn’t Glen Beck with his book Control come to the conclusion that if we banned violent video games that butterflies, rainbows, and unicorns would abound? It is not always the liberals that are all in for Scientific Soviet Socialism.

  22. Does anyone know if Hickok45 ever played violent video games? Watching that guy hit a gong at 70 yards with an LCP is a little unnerving.

  23. All this study proved was what previous studies have already proved: video games lead to increased hand-eye coordination and strategic thinking.

  24. According to my resident game expert, the only FPS games with a pistol shaped controller (versus a joystick controller) were on the original Nintendo WII.

    The “researchers” had to go to some trouble to get a gun-like controller to work with a FPS that rewards head shots like described above.

  25. More reason why the state thuggery enablers central Force Institute should be relegated to the same dustbin of footnotes as Yuri Gellar: gee… let’s set up a test based on a predetermined hypothesis with limited sample and conclude that can be factually extrapolated to “prove” life and death scenarios.

    All they actually confirmed is that humans are susceptible to social engineering and that the verified, proven technique of sense deprivation coupled with suggestive prolonged theta & delta brainstate yielded a predictable outcome: they mimicked an activity immediately after a simulated one.

    That does NOT “prove” you are automatically likely to target headshots in realife, especially once you’re reminded that adversaries often fire back with real lead and you have no do over button: that kknda changes your bad defensive technique approach, pretty quick.

    Thanks for “proving” that those who play videogames may also play out their videogame ‘self-hero’ fantasy in real life with airsofts.

    And they say hoplophobes come to delusional conclusions while twisting stats and ‘studies.’

    Frakking eh, why not simply hire Bloompansyberg’s MAIG/MDA and/or the Brady Psycho bunch to do the same “study”??

  26. Except there have been over 3,500+ studies on the alleged “link” between violence in the media and violence in the real world. There is not, and has never been, a direct casual relationship between the two. A strong correlation, perhaps, but correlation does not equal causation.

    That being said, this so-called “study” lacks the element of fear, shock, surprise, and stress of real gun fights. As we all know, adrenaline does terrible things to your senses and fine motor skills.

  27. I played XBOX with my son, when he was little. Then he started kicking my …. so bad he got bored.
    Haven’t missed it, and have had no urges to shoot up playgrounds, since.

    • Ha. I reluctantly sat down to play vid games with my five-year-old nephew and he basically just beat me like a red-headed stepson and laughed.

      I guess I’ll stick to Solitaire and Checkers. Games my grandfathers taught me to play eons ago.

  28. In my time in the military we used many different video game methods to refine our use of force rules, shoot/no shoot decision making process, weapon mamipulation, and eye hand coordination. These ran the gamut from large building size interactive systems where guns are hooked up to air compressors and functioned like real weapons and all hits and misses against a video screen were scored, to small video game systems like an Xbox or Playstation (incidentally I have never seen a commander confiscate an Xbox or Playstation for any reason).

    As a kid brought up playing Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Doom and later ran the entire Call of Duty list and a few examples of Medal of Honor I can say there is no direct correlation with video game violence. Playing those game never made me want to kill a guy for cutting me off in traffic. Then again I had a complete family largely without drama who made sure I knew the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, and I knew that those morals came from God, and why they existed.

    For 99 percent of use some form of that is the case and keeps us from mistaking the video game violence for real violence.

    For some, violent video games may indeed blur the line between fiction and reality. Was this the case with those like Lanza, Loughner, and their ilk. It seems likely to me.

  29. I just acquired that most excellent light gun game, Ghost Squad, also known as the only game that 1. gives you an AR and 2. enemies actually die in a reasonable number of hits.

    I am surprised though that there isn’t some kind of “tactical training” light gun game out already. Imagine it taking you through a procedurally generated (that is, new hallways and enemies spawn randomly) map, with the occasional civilian that you’re not supposed to shoot or maybe allies running through the field of fire. I feel as though this would be pretty useful for 1. creating mindset so you don’t freeze up or draw your weapon on a bad guy and realize you actually don’t have the will to kill them if they think you’re bluffing and 2. train shoot/don’t shoot reflex.

    • No randomly-generated maps so far, but if you believe having innocents and/or comrades pop up into your line of fire would be an innovative addition to light gun games then you haven’t played very many of them, because that’s been a staple of the genre since about 1984.

      • I meant as a randomized thing. I’m well aware of the civvies/allies playing the “purposefully jump into the screen” game, but in the games I’ve played at least (Ghost Squad, House of the Dead, Area 51), they are scripted, which means eventually you get to the point where you’re not reacting to “this is a civilian, don’t shoot”, but “I know a civilian pops around this corner first, shoot the second guy).

  30. If I put the amount of time into firearm training that I did into video games I would probably be IDPA Master level shooter.

  31. The study tends to forget that the modern gamer is a highly skilled, sensitive and complex machine.

    Behaviours change with the shooters I play.
    Red Orchstra 2 pretty realistic – central mass
    CSS – HS all the way! And the change happens instantly…

    In BF4 it even changes with HC on or off.

    AMAZInG…. I suggest a study.

    I still havent figured out though if Reallife is running HC or not. I am kind of reluctant to shoot myself in the foot and see how many HP I lose.

    My urge to shoot central mass in training however might indicate the presence of a HC mod of some kind.

    Further studies needed.

  32. If a video game can improve my ability to hit my target.
    Id like to know what game to buy.
    I don’t see how any game can add to ones ability to hit ones target when there is no adrenalin or recoil to take into account.
    Its only a game not real…..I can see using shoot no shoot simulations, but these war games???

  33. Police playing more video games may not be a good thing. Seeing that stupid dog laugh at them ever time they miss a duck may encourage them to shoot every canine they encounter.

  34. I’ve been playing FPSs for 2 decades…I love ’em, and am pretty good at them. What has always held my potential effectiveness from reaching full potential, is my inability to overcome my instinct/training to shoot center of mass.

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