Video games are a source of entertainment for many around the world. These games have evolved and adapted with time, introducing current problems, situations, options, and accepted societal boundaries. The popularity of violent video games during the last few decades has risen significantly. Many parents, teachers, and adults in general believe that the fictional violence portrayed in these games are the reasons for school shootings, bullying, aggressive behavior, sexist violence, and youth violence in general. These critiques and opinions made by the parental community have continued so long that these violent videogames have been accepted by many as an absolute reality. This however, is not the truth for there aren't any scholarly consensuses regarding whether violent video games actually contribute to these reasons.
Background and Significance
The video game industry has evolved in the entertainment industry and is considered the one of the top sources of entertainment today. Video games play a huge role in the lives of adults, adolescents, and children, at least 45 million households in the United States have at least one video game console (Markey, Patrick M). About 60% of Americans play interactive games on a regular basis (Williams, Dmitri).
Growth of Video Games with Mature and/or Violent Content
The public concern about youth violence, specifically school shootings, has increased since the 1999 Columbine shooting. In the table below is a timeline that shows the evolution of video games with increasing violent content.
Many of the violent video games became popular before the Columbine shooting. This table includes the game that the two Columbine shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, were big fans of. The game Doom is a big gun, brutality, and gore game. The media speculated about a connection between these two playing the violent game and the massacre. After the Columbine shooting, President Bill Clinton ordered the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a study on the video game industry. The study found that many of the companies were marketing games with parental warnings or age restrictions to children, and some companies were planning to include children ages 12 – 17 in their “Mature (M)” products (Walsh, David). The study results implemented recommendations to monitor and restrict sales to children which significantly reduced their availability. Children by 2000 were able to buy “M” games 85% of the time and then was reduced to 20% in 2010 (Engle, Mary K.). Only 5% of games released in 2010 were given the “M” rating, but those “M” games accounted for 26% of video games sales. The popularity of these “M” games is a bit disturbing, for it is likely that children are playing these games without adult consent or supervision.
Impact of Violent Video Games on Young Players
Video games have become a pastime of many children and young adults. They provide an escape from school work and social activities with family and friends. These games may offer opportunities to increase cognitive skills and promote self-confidence but may also have negative consequences for youth with aggressive or violent tendencies who find these games enjoyable when they allow the player to play active killer roles. With the increase of computer processing speeds and better gaming systems, the graphics appear more real (Kooijmans, Thomas A.).
Policy statements by a number of medical and advocacy organizations have expressed a high level of concern about the negative effects of violent video games on young people. The policy statement by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states that video game content may not lead to potentially dangerous behavior but minimizes healthy social interactions with friends and family as well as takes away from hobbies, sports, and activities in and out of school (nccev.org).
“As many as 97% of U.S kids age 12-17 play video games. More than half of the 50 top selling video games contains violence (Procon.org)”. With many of the top selling games including violence, one would question if there has been an increase in violent juvenile crime rates. In 2014, a comparison was done looking at the U.S sales of video games and the juvenile crime rate. This study showed that there was a 204% increase of video games sales from 1994 to 2014. However, in this same amount of time, the violent crimes decreased by 37% and murders by juveniles fell by 76% (Procon.org). This decrease shows that video games may not be much of a trigger for violence but possibly an outlet for it. Patrick Kierkegaard, a PhD student at Nottingham University, looked over the researches and investigations on this matter and shows concrete data and statistics, such as, the reduction of violent crime in the United States, since the 90's among the youth while video game popularity has risen. He states, “with millions of violent video games sold, the world should be experiencing a breakout of violence, instead, violence has decreased” (Kierkegaard).
Results and Research
Studies have been conducted by many scientists and organizations to prove or reject the theories of violent video games links to behavioral problems. However, a report was released by the American Psychological Association (APA) which stated that there is insufficient research to support the link of violence in video games and violence in reality. It found that there is evidence showing that these games do increase aggression but not enough to demonstrate that playing the games lead to criminal or delinquent behavior. In the review of more than 150 research papers, the task force found that there is a consistent relationship between the games and an increase in “aggressive behavior” as well as a decreased in “empathy, prosocial behavior, and sensitivity to aggression”. The task force also concluded that video games are not the only cause to this aggression. They concluded that the risk factors such as antisocial behavior, depression, trouble at home, or academic problems, also play a role. These findings will not put to rest the theories of violent video games, but it is a step forward.
Two researches, Dr. Holly J. Bowen and Julia Spaniol, researched the effects violent video games have on the brain, specifically with emotional memory and desensitization. (Bowen, Spaniol 906). The experiments were conducted by showing the test subjects 300 random positive, negative and neutral images and measured their reaction time to those images. After the first test they were shown violent video games and then did the recognition task shortly after. These results were then compared, most people would expect that playing the violent video games would desensitize them to seeing actual violence; Dr. Bowen and Spaniol discovered that “In contrast, they found no association between violent video game exposure and self-reported arousal, recognition memory, or response bias for emotional stimuli”. For most people it is common knowledge that exposure to pretend violence in the games would have an impact on their reaction to real world violence but according to the research, there is no impact at all. Playing violent video games do not desensitize players to it.
A meta-analysis of research articles by Anderson based on 130 reports including more than 130,000 subjects of both genders, all ages, and various races and ethnicities supported the GAM model. The GAM model is called the General Aggression Model. This model proposes that violent video games teach the youth to be violent by learning violent thoughts through repetition. The analysis of Andersons research concluded that the exposure to violent video games is associated with more aggression and less compassion in children despite their gender, age or ethnicity. A causal risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts and behaviors was from violent video games. He proposed that exposure to violent video games could be controlled by the parents involvement. However, many studies contradict Andersons findings. These other investigators report no link between playing violent video games and increased aggression levels. Some other studies suggested that violent video games only cause increases in aggression in subjects who scored in the top quartile of trait aggression on psychological tests (Markey, Patrick M.).
It is possible that playing violent video games may cause slight aggression heightening. It is also possible that there is no correlation at all to violence and violent video games. However, until there are distinctive and set in stone evidence that there is a link there will not be a change in the national priority of this subject. I believe that the public should be informed of the possible negative effects of these games and shown that the research is not conclusive. This will allow the public to stop theories of the correlation to violence and video games but also give enough knowledge to prevent the possible effects. Also, regardless of if violent video games are a cause or not of youth and school violence, it should be a national priority to use the knowledge available to prevent these violent acts from happening. These acts should not be blamed on things but should be taken responsibility of by the person who commits these acts.
Anderson, Craig A., and Brad J. Bushman. "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." Psychological Science 12.5 (2001): 353-59.
Engle, Mary K. The Violence Debate II: The First Amendment, the FTC Report, and Legal Strategies. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2001. Print.
H.J. Bowen and J. Spaniol, “Chronic Exposure to Violent Video Games is Not Associated with Alterations of Emotional Memory,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25 (2011): 906–916.
Kierkegaard, Patrick. “Video games and aggression.” Learning Sciences Research Institute, University of Nottingham, UK; [now at Department of Computing and Electronic Systems, University of Essex, UK] Journal: International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry 2008 – Vol. 1, No.4 pp. 411 – 417.
Kooijmans, Thomas A. Effects of Video Games on Aggressive Thoughts and Behaviors During Development. Rochester Institute of Technology, 2004.
Markey, Patrick M., and Charlotte N. Markey. "Vulnerability to Violent Video Games: A Review and Integration of Personality Research." Review of General Psychology 14.2 (2010): 82- 91.
National Center for Children Exposed to Violence. "School Violence." The National Center For Children Exposed to Violence - Home Page. 20 Mar. 2006. Web. 27 Sept. 2010. <http://www.nccev.org/violence/school.html>.
Walsh, David. Video Game Violence and Public Policy. National Institute on Media and the Family, University of Chicago, 2001. Print.
Williams, Dmitri, and Marko Skoric. "Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game." Communication Monographs 72.2 (2005): 217-33.
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