Skip to main content

Can clans protect adolescent players of massively multiplayer online games from violent behaviors?



To examine whether clan membership mediates observed associations between violent game content and externalizing behaviors among youth who play massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs).


Responses from 486 11- to 18-year-olds who: live in the United States, read English, have been online at least once in the past 6 months, and have played MMOGs in the past year were examined. Generalized estimating equations were used to estimate the population-averaged incident rate ratio of aggressive, delinquent, and seriously violent behaviors among MMOG players given one’s self-reported exposure to in-game content depicting violence.


Twenty-nine percent of all youth respondents played MMOGs in the past year. Rates of aggressive, IRR: 1.59, 95 % CI [1.11, 2.26], and delinquent, IRR: 1.44, 95 % CI [0.99, 2.08], behaviors were significantly higher for MMOG players who were in clans versus not in clans. For females, clan membership attenuated but did not eliminate the observed relation between exposure to in-game violent content and both aggressive and seriously violent behavior (16 % and 10 % reductions in IRR, respectively); whereas for males, clan membership was largely uninfluential (i.e., less than 2 % change).


Clan membership is neither associated with lower rates of externalizing behaviors for youth, nor does it affect the likelihood of reporting externalizing behaviors among male players. There is some suggestion that clan membership may attenuate the concurrent association between in-game violent content and some externalizing behaviors for females.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  • American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Anderson CA, Bushman BJ (2001) Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: a meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychol Sci 12:353–359. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00366

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Anderson CA, Carnagey NL, Flanagan M, Benjamin JAJ, Eubanks J, Valentine JC (2004) Violent video games: specific effects of violent content on aggressive thoughts and behavior. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 36:199–249. doi:10.1016/S0065-2601(04)36004-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anderson CA et al (2010) Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: a meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull 136:151–173. doi:10.1037/a0018251

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Anderson C, DeLisi M, Groves C (2013) Subtracting from scientific knowledge about media effects. PsycCRITIQUES 58. doi:10.1037/a0034788

  • Bachman JG, Johnston LD, O’Malley PM (2001) Monitoring the future: questionnaire responses from the nation’s high school seniors, 2000. Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor, MI

    Google Scholar 

  • Browne KD, Hamilton-Giachritsis C (1983) The influence of violent media on children’s attitudes about media violence. Lancet 52:232–240

    Google Scholar 

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of the Census (2006) Current population survey. Accessed 5 July 2006

  • Dahlberg LL, Toal SB, Swahn M, Behrens CB (2005) Measuring violence-related attitudes, behaviors, and influences among youths: a compendium of assessment tools, 2nd edn. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Atlanta, GA

    Google Scholar 

  • Espelage DL, Holt MK, Henkel RR (2003) Examination of peer-group contextual effects on aggression during early adolescence. Child Dev 74:205–220. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00531

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ferguson CJ (2013) Adolescents, crime, and the media: a critical analysis. Springer Science/Business Media, New York, NY

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ferguson CJ, Kilburn J (2010) Much ado about nothing: The misestimation and overinterpretation of violent video game effects in eastern and western nations: comment on Anderson et al (2010). Psychol Bull 136:174–178. doi:10.1037/a0018566 (discussion 182–7)

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Finkelhor D, Mitchell KJ, Wolak J (2000) Online victimization: a report on the nation’s youth. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Alexandria, VA, pp 1–50

    Google Scholar 

  • Jamieson S (2004) Likert scales: how to (ab)use them. Med Educ 38:1217–1218. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2929.2004.02012.x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Janssen I, Boyce WF, Pickett W (2012) Screen time and physical violence in 10 to 16-year-old Canadian youth. Int J Public Health 57:325–331. doi:10.1007/s00038-010-0221-9

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kaplowitz MD, Hadlock TD, Levine R (2004) A comparison of web and mail survey response rates. Public Opin Q 68:94–101. doi:10.1093/poq/nfh006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuntsche E et al (2009) Electronic media communication with friends from 2002 to 2006 and links to face-to-face contacts in adolescence: an HBSC study in 31 European and North American countries and regions. Int J Public Health 54:S243–S250. doi:10.1007/s00038-009-5416-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lenhart A, Jones S, Macgill AR (2008a) Adults and video games. In: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Accessed 17 Nov 2014

  • Lenhart A, Kahne J, Middaugh E, Rankin Macgill A, Evans C, Vitak J (2008b) Teens, video games, and civics. In: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Accessed 17 Nov 2014

  • Madden M, Lenhart A, Duggan M, Cortesi S, Gasser U (2013) Teens and technology 2013. In: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Accessed 17 Nov 2014

  • Morrow V (1999) Conceptualising social capital in relation to the well-being of children and young people: a critical review. Sociol Rev 47:744–765. doi:10.1111/1467-954X.00194

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nuutinen T et al (2014) Computer use, sleep duration and health symptoms: a cross-sectional study of 15-year olds in three countries. Int J Public Health 59:619–628. doi:10.1007/s00038-014-0561-y

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Office of the Surgeon General (2002) Youth violence: a report of the surgeon general. In: US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 17 Nov 2014

  • Polman H, de Castro BO, van Aken MA (2007) Experimental study of the differential effects of playing versus watching violent video games on children’s aggressive behavior. Aggress Behav 34:256–264. doi:10.1002/ab.20245

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Portes A (1998) Social capital: it’s origins and applications in modern sociology. Annu Rev Sociol 24:1–24. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saleem M, Anderson CA, Gentile DA (2012) Effects of prosocial, neutral, and violent video games on college students’ affect. Aggress Behav 38:263–271. doi:10.1002/ab.21427

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Schonlau M et al (2004) A comparison between response from a propensity-weighted Web survey and an identical RDD survey. Soc Sci Comput Rev 22:128–138. doi:10.1177/0894439303256551

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Snodgrass JG, Lacy MG, Francois Dengah HJ, Fagan J, Most DE (2011) Magical flight and monstrous stress: technologies of absorption and mental wellness in Azeroth. Cult Med Psychiatry 35:26–62. doi:10.1007/s11013-010-9197-4

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • StataCorp (2009) Stata Statistical Software. Release 11. StataCorp LP, College Station, TX

    Google Scholar 

  • Steinkuehler C, Williams D (2006) Where everybody knows your (screen) name: online games as “third places”. J Comput Mediat Commun 11:885–909. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.00300.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Udry JR (1996) The national longitudinal study of adolescent health (AddHealth) [Wave I and Wave II]. In: Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Accessed 1 Jan 2015

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (2012) Crime in the United States, 2011. United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams D, Ducheneaut N, Yiong L, Zhang Y, Yee N, Nickell E (2006) From tree house to barracks: the social life of guilds in World of Warcraft. Games Cult 1:338–361. doi:10.1177/1555412006292616

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Windle M et al (2004) Healthy passages: a multilevel, multimethod longitudinal study of adolescent health. Am J Prev Med 27:164–172. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.04.007

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wolak J, Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D (2006) Online victimization of youth: 5 years later. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Alexandria, VA, pp 1–96

    Google Scholar 

  • Wood J, Alleyne E (2010) Street gang theory and research: where are we now and where do we go from here? Aggress Violent Behav 15:100–111. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2009.08.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ybarra M, Diener-West M (2008) How protective against child and adolescent aggressive behavior is a violence-free media diet?. American Public Health Association, San Diego, CA

    Google Scholar 

  • Ybarra ML, Mitchell KJ (2008) How risky are social networking sites? A comparison of places online where youth sexual solicitation and harassment occurs. Pediatrics 121:e350–e357. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-0693

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Ybarra ML, Espelage D, Langhinrichsen-Rohling J, Korchmaros J, boyd d (under review) When love hurts: National rates of adolescent dating abuse. J Adolesc Health

Download references


We would like to thank Ms. Michelle Carras for her contributions to previous drafts and Ms. Emilie Chen for her help finalizing revised drafts. We also would like to thank the entire Growing up with Media study team from Center for Innovative Public Health Research (formerly Internet Solutions for Kids), Harris Interactive, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who contributed to the planning and implementation of the study. We thank the families for their time and willingness to participate in this study. This work was supported by the CDC [U49/CE000206]. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the CDC.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michele L. Ybarra.

Additional information

This article is part of the special issue “Communication Technology, Media Use and the Health of Our Kids”.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ybarra, M.L., boyd, d. Can clans protect adolescent players of massively multiplayer online games from violent behaviors?. Int J Public Health 60, 267–276 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Adolescents
  • Violent video games
  • Clans
  • MMOGs
  • Violent behavior