Opposing Viewpoints: Video Game’s Violent Impact On Society

Although the controversy isn’t quite as heated as it was in the early 2000’s, the effect of violence in video games on individuals, particularly children, is still debated by some today. Although there are varying degrees of intensity as to the effect of video game violence on individuals, there are essentially two different opinions to examine. The first being that violent video games do cause increased violence and aggression to those who play them. The second is that these violent games have absolutely no effect on those who play them. This blog post will attempt to look at both sides in a non biased fashion, with my personal opinion in the conclusion.

Let’s first take a look at the video game violence causes violence side. According to Craig A. Anderson, distinguished professor and director of the Center for the Study of Violence, “High levels of violent video game exposure have been linked to delinquency, fighting at school and during free play periods, and violent criminal behavior.” One argument against this claim is that while violent video games may affect children, probably because they are more impressionable, they do not have an affect on adults or adolescents. Anderson says that, while this is a theoretically logical idea, it has not be substantiated by any research literature. There is no evidence that younger children are any more affected by violent video games than adolescents or adults. The same can be said regarding males and females, which is another common argument.

He does admit that there is some evidence, albeit not necessarily consistent, that aggressive individuals do react stronger to violent video games than those who are not aggressive, but even non-aggressive individuals are consistently affected by even brief exposures. According to Anderson, even unrealistic violent video games increase aggression in adolescents and young adults. Experimental studies have found increased levels of aggression in college students when they played clearly unrealistic fantasy games, there was even a study that found significant increases in aggression when they played rated E games.

Various studies which have been compiled and summarized by David Walsh have shown that physiological arousal is increased playing a violent video game compared to playing a nonviolent video game. Heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure all where observed at elevated levels in comparison to those playing nonviolent video games. The more hostile children showed an a much greater increase in these physiological responses as well as increases adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and testosterone than lest hostile children when playing violent video games. Some other studies have shown that playing violent video games, in comparison  to playing nonviolent video games, showed an increase in aggressive thoughts. These results have not been limited to an individual group or type of people. They also showed an increase in hostile attribution bias which is the way that children perceive actions of their peers. An increase in hostile attribution bias means that children took these actions and social cues as hostile and therefore are more aggressive.

Violent video games also increase violent emotions. “When asked to name the “bad things” about computer games, many students reported that they make people more moody and aggressive”. Also, those who are addicted to video games are more likely to be in a bad mood before, after, and during playing video games than those who are not addicted. The probability of aggressive actions is also increased when playing violent video games compared to playing nonviolent video games. In a study of 8th and 9th graders, students who played more violent video games were more likely to see the world as a hostile place, argue with teachers, and get involved in physical fights.

Let’s now look at the equally compelling argument from the other point of view, that video games have absolutely no effect on increased aggression, violence, or hostility in individuals. According to Henry Jenkins, the director of comparative studies at MIT, violent video games can not possible cause younger individuals to be more violent because according to the federal crime statistics, the rate for juvenile violent crime in the United States is at its lowest point in the last 30 years. Research has been done on those currently in jail for violent crimes and they have found that prior to committing the crime, they consumed less media than an average person of the general population. In response the studies conducted by the opposing view, he states that many of these are inconclusive and have been criticized on methodological grounds. Many of these studies expose test subjects to violent content and media images out of context. The test subjects work with material they would not normally be exposed to and are confused and don’t understand. Also, most of these studies find a correlation, and not a casual relationship. This essentially means that they have found that aggressive and violent individuals are more likely to enjoy aggressive entertainment.

It is true that those responsible for school shootings in America have been players of video games. However, since 90% of boys and 40% of girls play games, it would be out of place if these shooters didn’t play video games. However, according to the surgeon general, the primary causes of school shootings are mental stability and the quality of the shooter’s home life. Media is not mentioned at all. According to an article by David Grossman, a former military psychologist, because some of these violent video games are used to train soldiers to fight and kill, that kids that are playing these games are being conditioned to be aggressive in their everyday social situations. However, according to Jenkins, this only works if training and education is removed from a meaningful cultural context, we assume that the learners have no conscious goal and have absolutely no resistance to what they are being taught, and we assume that they apply what they have learned unwittingly in a fantasy world to the real world.

The Entertainment Software Association has a page dedicated to video game and violence and have some strong statistics backing up their opinion that violent video games have no effect on the individuals who play them. For example the violent video games that are available in the United States are most of the time available in many countries around the world. The level of violent crime in these countries are significantly lower than the United States. This suggests that the background of the individual plays more of a role than is commonly believed. According to them numerous authorities including U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Surgeon General, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have examined the scientific record and haven’t been able to establish a causal link between violent programming and violent behavior.

The ESA believes that blaming video games is wasted effort and just a vain attempt of finding a scapegoat when a particular heinous act of violence occurs. They say that if individuals still believe this, it doesn’t change anything. They claim that the responsibility doesn’t lie on them, but on the parents. They have provided a variety of tools like ESRB ratings and filter tools on game systems that give parents all the power to limit what their children play. With these tools they are able to tell ahead of time what exactly is in the games that their children want as well as limit how much time they spend playing them. Perhaps the most powerful piece of evidence for their viewpoint is a quote from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in Brown vs. EMA/ESA, “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.”

On a personal level I tend to side with the latter view point. I have been playing violent video games since grade school and I think you would have a hard time finding anyone who would call me violent and aggressive. I graduated in the top 10% of my graduating class in high school with a 4.0 grade point average. I have never been in serious fight and the only detention I have ever received in high school was for sleeping in class. I have numerous friends who are comparable, except perhaps the grades. I feel that pushing the blame of a belief in rise in violence is just people’s way of pushing what is the result of bad parenting, or lack there of, onto something that already gets a bad reputation. Game on.


2 Responses to “Opposing Viewpoints: Video Game’s Violent Impact On Society”

  1. people in our society are always eager to blame outside sources for our problems…problems that come from within. Family upbringing, and the individual.

    • Couldn’t put it better myself. I’m not so worried about whether or not my little cousins are old enough to play a violent or “mature” video game as I am worried if they can understand the difference between the in-game portray and real life

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