Does virtual violence provoke real rage? Yes and no.

An APA study claims to prove a definitive link between violent video games and aggressive behavior, but its limited implications mean the debate is far from settled.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
A copy of the book 'Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games' sits at one attendee's place at the table as US Vice President Joe Biden convenes a meeting with representatives from the video game industry, in a dialogue about gun violence, in his office in Washington, January 11, 2013. A new study has found that violent video games to contribute to aggressive behavior, but cannot be named as a direct cause.

New APA research bolsters what "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto" opponents have been saying for years: There is a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior.

However, it also supports gaming advocates’ counter-argument that it may be one of many potential factors that are linked with aggression, but is not an outright cause of violent behavior.

“No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently,” the report states. “Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor.”

The dubious conclusions of the study, which caps off decades of research probing at the same question, are further undermined by an open letter denouncing the American Psychological Association task force signed by more than 200 academics in 2013, the BBC reported.

The critics pointed out flaws in the study’s methodology, including the fact that it was not subject to peer review. One of the letter’s signers, Mark Coulson, an associate professor of psychology at Middlesex University in London, told the BBC the study lacked compelling evidence that violent gaming did more than get a person a little bit fired up.

"I fully acknowledge that exposure to repeated violence may have short-term effects – you would be a fool to deny that – but the long-term consequences of crime and actual violent behaviour, there is just no evidence linking violent video games with that," he said. "If you play three hours of Call of Duty you might feel a little bit pumped, but you are not going to go out and mug someone."

The critics also pointed out that “the video game epoch” has seen youth violence drop to 40-year lows. On the other hand, video game violence has been brought into the analysis of several high-profile tragedies, like the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.

The APA task force called on the video game industry to minimize potential violent influences by increasing parental control capabilities and urging the Entertainment Software Rating Board to review its game rating system and pay more attention to violence in games.

But since the study acknowledges that gaming is only one potential source of aggressive influence, task force chair Mark Applebaum says attention must be turned to how coinciding factors interact.

“What researchers need to do now is conduct studies that look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors,” he said in a statement. “For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?”

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