Have violence (“Violent Video Games and Young People”),

Have video games gone too far with being violent? Do they cause people to be more violent in real-life, emulating what they saw in those games? These are questions that have been asked ad nauseum over the past two to three decades, and have been met with many studies on both sides of the spectrum. Given that even in 2008 97% of teenagers played video games with almost two-thirds of them playing video games containing some level of violence (“Violent Video Games and Young People”), answering these questions has become a very important matter. Video games incorporating violence has led to many debates, lawsuits, and upset/worried parents, but do they actually negatively affect those who play them? Early studies tend to conclude that video games do in fact cause violence, however, more recent studies generally disagree and question the methodology used in older studies. These more modern studies, being more likely to be peer reviewed than older studies and use more reliable methods of testing, are more credible. The truth, despite a somewhat popular consensus, is that video games do not make people more violent. People have been complaining about violence in video games for almost as long as video games have existed. Just five years after the first arcade video game is released, in 1976 the game “Death Race” is taken off store shelves, which had been unprecedented. This was due to people’s gripes with the objective of the game being about running over gremlins and with the gravestones that appeared when a gremlin was hit. A few other minor games were received poorly over the following years, but it wasn’t until 1993 when major controversies began. In 1993, the games “Mortal Kombat” and “Doom” were released. These games were the first to feature blood and more realistic fighting, which many took issue with. In response to the public outcry, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was created in an attempt to prevent governments from taking action. The ESRB to this day provides ratings to video games, upon request, that alert consumers if there is mature content that would be considered inappropriate for certain audiences. By the year 1997, the first lawsuit relating to video game violence had been filed. Three teenagers had been shot to death by another teenager, which was an event that became known as the Heath High School shooting. After investigation, attorney Jack Thompson noted that the teenager who had committed the crime was an avid player of video games that incorporated violence. He made the claims that the games should not have been available to a minor and that they caused him to be more prone to violence. These claims, however, did not hold up in court, and Thompson was expelled for inappropriate conduct. Perhaps the most important and referenced situation is the Columbine Massacre that occurred in 1999. Two teenagers, both avid gamers, killed thirteen people (and themselves) at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Many different claims were made as to what inspired the teens to commit the crime, and unsurprisingly, video games was one of them. To this day, whenever there is a shooting or some other violent act caused by someone who played video games, people are quick to blame the video games and not look for other causes. Of course, more important than subjective opinions of parents, attorneys, and video gamers alike are research studies. As previously stated, there are numerous studies showing both sides of the argument, with the older studies generally stating that there is a link between violent video games and violent acts. Article writer James Vincent, on behalf of psychologist Christopher Ferguson, states that there are glaring issues with how these studies were conducted. These studies would have participants play video games for a brief time, and then measure aggression with tests that require far less aggressiveness than what would be needed to be considered violent. Temporary minor increases in aggression just do not translate to the major issue of people causing mass shootings, no matter how one tries to interpret it. Another issue with these studies is that they treated the problem as if it existed in a vacuum—that is, “the resultant aggressive behaviors are also outside a real-world context in which the aggression appears to be sanctioned by the researchers themselves” (Vincent). Ferguson also conducted a study of his own in order to help determine the validity of these studies. He took data from the ESRB involving how much violence appeared in popular video games between 1996 and 2011. He then compared this data to data involving violence in children and teenagers. The result of this study was that youth violence had gone down, despite violence in video games remaining popular during the entire period in question. Clearly the narrative that older studies had pushed was flawed. Another flaw that these studies fail to realize is the fact that millions of people play violent video games, and yet only a small fraction of them actually commit crimes. If video games caused people to be violent, why do the majority of players not show signs of being violent? It is no surprise that newer studies do not find valid links between video games and real-world violence. Jesse Marczyk makes an interesting, but compelling argument for why video games do not cause real-life violence. In a nutshell, he states that exposure to violence does not make one more likely to commit violent acts themselves because people make the decision to commit such an act partially based on their likelihood to succeed. Looking at violent things does not improve the chance that one could successfully commit an act of violence, just like how watching sports doesn’t improve one’s athletic ability. This theory, when expanded to include all other forms of media, would imply that people who commit violent acts were already violent by nature. If this is the case, then studies should show that humans have in some way evolved to be violent, meaning that humans do not need an outside source to “teach” them to be violent. Unsurprisingly, they do. Doing a simple web search pulls up many results that are all in agreement that in humans have indeed in some way evolved to be violent. According to Nicola Davis, it is not clear if genetics are the direct cause or if other factors are at play, but it is clear that humans are and have been six times more violent than other mammals for centuries. He also states that the way that humans have formed society holds an important role in how likely people are to be violent. Since the research shows that people are naturally violent, it would be more accurate to portray media such as video games as descriptive methods of determining how aggressive one may be, as opposed to being prescriptive. That is, video games do not make people violent, but violent people do often play video games with violence in them. This means that the knowledge that a questionable individual plays violent games can be factored into determining whether or not that individual may be violent, although it should be treated as only one factor, and not the defining factor. While video games may not make their players more violent, they do make them more desensitized to violence in real-life—in other words, they become less shocked to the violence that occurs around them. Nicholas Carnagey carried out a study in which he had 257 college students play either a violent or nonviolent video game, and then watch a ten minute video of real life violence. In this study, he took measurements of the participants’ heart rate and galvanic skin response before playing the game, after playing the game for twenty minutes, and after the ten minute video. Note that a galvanic skin response (GSR) test reveals how “aroused” the individual is to what they are being subjected to—higher numbers mean that the individual is having more of a reaction. Similarly, a lower heart rate generally corresponds to lower levels of arousal when other factors such as physical activity are accounted for. Looking at Figure 1, those who played violent video games had a lower heart rate than those who played nonviolent video games when watching the video containing real violence, despite starting out with a higher heart rate before and after playing the video game. Figure 2 shows consistent results, showing that the group who played violent video games were less reactionary to the video than the group who played nonviolent video games, despite having higher GSR results.Figure 1. Heart rate at baseline (before playing the video game), after playing the video game, and while watching a ten minute video of real-life violence. (Carnagey)Figure 2. Galvanic Skin Response at baseline (before playing the video game), after playing the video game, and while watching a ten minute video of real-life violence. (Carnagey) Given that violent video games cause desensitized responses to real-life violence, people should be wary of overexposure, and try not to play too many violent video games. While the effect may not be too harmful, it can cause issues with how empathetic an individual is, and that in turn could negatively affect how others view the individual. This, however, is not an issue worthy of censoring video games. Being less reactive to violence is not a major problem, and could actually instead be beneficial in cases where one may have to cope with a violent act that occurred to them. Have video games gone too far with being violent? Do they cause people to be more violent in real-life, emulating what they saw in those games? The answer to both of these questions is no. Little research worth any credence shows any link to virtual violence and real-life violence, and the research that does tends to be riddled with flaws in how their tests were conducted. Research has shown that it is more likely that humans are just innately violent, and that these issues predate all forms of modern media. Given that video games do not cause issues with real life interactions at a societal level, they are well within their rights of artistic expression and have not gone “too far” with being violent. Sure, video games may make people slightly more desensitized to violence happening in real life, but is that really an issue? Mainstream media, including newspapers, web articles, and television news shows all present violent things going on in the world in a way where society has already become dull to violence, even without video games.Why does it even matter if bogus claims that video games cause violence are made? It matters because it sets the tone for how the gaming community is perceived. Video gamers are generally seen by the rest of society in a negative light as they are seen as aggressive from playing violent video games. People need to realize that the evidence just isn’t there, and that the studies instead show a correlation in the reduction of violence and new releases of popular video games. Instead of blaming video games and similar media, try to look for other possible causes of violence, such as childhood abuse or individuals just being psychopathic. Don’t buy into the false, outdated narratives of those biased against video games.


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