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Digital Worlds: Understanding Violence in Video Games

siblings playing computer games on the sofa

Ready to tackle one of the most hotly debated topics in the gaming world? This month in the final of our Digital Worlds series on gaming, we’re diving into the realm of video game violence, exploring its potential impact on children, especially those who have experienced developmental trauma and abuse. Our goal is to provide you with the information and tools needed to support healthy gaming habits while addressing any concerns about violent content.

If you’ve not yet read parts one and two, you can find them here:
Digital Worlds: A Quick Guide for Foster Carers
Digital Worlds: Supporting our Children

“There is insufficient evidence to support a causal link between violent video games and violent behaviour.”

American Psychological Association

The Debate: Do Violent Video Games Lead to Violent Behaviour?

The question of whether violent video games cause violent behaviour in children has been the subject of extensive research and debate over the last few years. While these findings suggest that violent video games do not create violent individuals, it is essential to recognise that children with developmental trauma and abuse histories may have different responses to such content.

“There is no evidence of a substantial link between aggression and playing violent video games.”

Oxford University

Understanding the Risks for Children with Trauma

Children who have experienced developmental trauma and abuse often have heightened sensitivity to stress and difficulty regulating emotions. Exposure to violent or intense gaming content can pose specific risks for these children, such as:

• Triggering Traumatic Memories: Violent scenes may act as triggers, bringing back traumatic memories and exacerbating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

• Increased Aggressive Behaviour: While not all children will exhibit aggression, those already struggling with anger or impulse control issues might be more prone to mimic violent behaviours seen in games.

• Desensitisation to Violence: Repeated exposure to in-game violence may desensitise children to real-life violence, reducing empathy and making them less sensitive to the consequences of violent actions.

Physiological Effects of Gaming on the Body and Mind

Understanding why games might make some children angry when they play or lose, while others do not have these responses, involves looking at the physiological and psychological effects of gaming:

• Gaming, especially competitive or intense games, can trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response, releasing adrenaline. This hormone increases heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels, which can make some children feel more aggressive or on edge. This adrenaline rush was beneficial in our evolutionary past when it helped us run from predators or fight for survival, but it’s not as helpful when we’re sitting in a chair playing video games in bedrooms!

• Playing video games, particularly those with reward systems, can cause the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This can create a feeling of euphoria but can also lead to frustration and anger when a child loses or faces challenges in the game.

• Children who struggle with emotional regulation, particularly those with a history of trauma, may have a harder time managing the highs and lows of gaming. Losses or in-game failures can feel more personal and intense, leading to outbursts of anger or frustration.

• Not all children respond to gaming in the same way. Some have better coping mechanisms or are less affected by the physiological changes that gaming induces. Personality traits, stress levels, and prior experiences all play a role in how a child reacts to gaming.

Strategies for Foster Carers

As a foster carer, you can take proactive steps to address and mitigate any concerns about violent video game content:

1. Monitor Game Content:
Be vigilant about the games children are playing. Use rating systems (like ESRB or PEGI) to ensure games are age-appropriate and avoid those with excessive violent content.

2. Engage in Open Discussions:
Talk to children about the games they play. Discuss the difference between in-game actions and real-life behaviour, reinforcing that violence is not an acceptable way to solve problems.

3. Co-Play and Supervision:
Spend time playing games with the children or supervising their gaming sessions to better understand the content and context of what they are experiencing.

4. Promote Alternative Activities:
Encourage a variety of activities beyond gaming, such as sports, arts, and outdoor play, to ensure a well-rounded lifestyle and reduce dependency on screen time.

5. Teach Emotional Regulation:
Help children develop healthy ways to manage stress and emotions, such as mindfulness practices, physical exercise, and creative outlets.

Games That Seem Violent But Aren’t Necessarily Harmful

There are many games that might appear violent but are generally considered less harmful due to their stylised, non-realistic violence or their underlying positive themes. You can check out the Family Gaming Database if you are unsure if something is appropriate –
Here are a few examples:


A highly popular battle royale game with cartoonish graphics and a focus on building and strategy. While it involves shooting, the violence is not graphic, and the emphasis is on fun and creativity.

Splatoon 2

A colourful, team-based shooter where players use ink guns to cover territory rather than harm opponents. It’s highly stylised and more about strategy and teamwork.

Plants vs. Zombies

A tower defence game where players use plants to fend off cartoonish zombies. The game is light-hearted and focuses on strategy.

Super Smash Bros

A fighting game featuring various Nintendo characters. The violence is cartoonish, with no blood or gore, and the game is more about skill and strategy.


While it can involve combat with blocky creatures, the focus is on creativity, building, and exploration, making it a positive and educational experience for many children.

Conclusion: Finding the Balance

While the debate over violent video games continues, the bottom line remains clear: video games with violent content do not create violent children or individuals. However, for children with a history of trauma, it is crucial to monitor their gaming habits and provide additional support to ensure their overall well-being.
By setting boundaries, promoting healthy habits, and maintaining open communication, foster carers can help children enjoy the benefits of gaming while mitigating potential risks. Remember, it’s about finding the right balance and supporting children as they navigate both virtual and real worlds.

Thanks for taking the time to get this far! – May your gaming adventures be epic, and your screen time be balanced!

You can read the first two parts of our Digital Worlds series here:
Digital Worlds: A Quick Guide for Foster Carers
Digital Worlds: Supporting our Children