Video games and violence


Bit of a disclaimer. This was written a few years ago (by me of course) so I had to remove some of the links for the reference because they no longer existed. Eventually given time some of the other links may go dead too, that's just the way things go.

Video Games and Violence

When video games that portrayed more and more violence in them began to come about in the Video Game Industry, parents began to question if it was safe to allow their children to play these games and expose them to the amount of violence portrayed in games like ‘Counter Strike' and ‘Mortal Combat'. This created a big issue in the gaming industry and in society because video games were and are becoming an increasingly popular form of entertainment and if they truly did spread violence as the media and parents feared, the situation could cause a major problem. According to a NewsNet writer from Brigham Young University, events like the Columbine High School shooting and the Washington D.C. sniper shootings have been blamed on video games and, as a result of the increased concern from parents, government agencies have conducted studies to see if any kind of relationship could be established between violent video games and violence in people. Each time these studies have been conducted by a government agency, they have not been able to determine a connection between the violent acts and the violence in video games (David Gale Because of the violent depictions is most video games, they are often blamed for creating violence in teenagers, however video games do not make people violent from simply being played and even have some positive aspects on the user.

That's got to hurt.
That's got to hurt.

Playing a game requires a certain amount of hand-eye coordination and mastery of not only the controls but the skills required to play the game. So playing almost all video games becomes a process of trail and error where the user usually spends at least a little time trying to master the control and develop skills needed to effectively play the game to the best of their abilities. A person playing the game in this manor does not wish to express violent feelings, but rather wishes to achieve mastery over the game itself and reach a high enough skill level so that they can reach it's end or the goal that the game has. James Paul Gee, a professor of psychology at University Wisconsin-Madison mentions that video games players are "learning to learn" and that the video games that are constantly under attack from parents and media are the instruments teaching the players how to properly play a game meant for fun, not for violence. ( Video games are designed to be able to effectively teach the player a certain set of needed skills to be able to move about in the game world. If a game company could not provide this in their games, the company would go out of business because none of the gamers would want to buy the game.

While playing games, weather they are online against other people, or against a computer generated opponent, there is usually some kind of goal for the players such as capture the flag where one team can engage the other in combat while trying to take the flag out of their ‘base' and bring it back to the other one. Many different kids of games require the player to learn a specific set of skills in certain situations. Learning and interacting with a person's environment in this way is very much like the process a person goes through when they have a paying job. In a job, a worker is expected to learn a certain set of skills weather it be taking and memorizing orders, cooking meals, dealing with customers, or making up medicine prescriptions. In each of these different situations the person in the job needs to learn a different set of skills. It is the same with video games. With each new game, the player must learn a new set of skills in a specific environment.

A common argument that people in society have put forward about games is that in the younger generations, it seems that children have gotten the notion that they can emulate the actions in the games and be able to ‘reset' if anything goes wrong. True, this is a problem, but this is not a problem that lies solely with video games. And if such is the case, perhaps it is not the games that are causing the problem but rather something a bit broader. First off, younger children often to not have the reasoning capacity to separate their fantasies or games as something that could be potentially wrong and this is where they get the idea that they can do things such as emulate a game and rest anything bad they have done. This can also be seen in many popular children shows such as power rangers, where children have been openly seen trying to ‘copy' their favorite character and often get into make believe fights where other children get hurt. This inability for children to separate fantasy from reality must be counteracted by proper child rearing on the part of the guardian of the child. The responsibility of making sure a child knows there is a difference between TV and real life, and also video and real life is crucial to preventing these kinds of incidents.

Yet another problem with the way parents perceive the gaming industry is that a majority of the parents that buy games for their children either do not bother to check what the content of the game is, do not care, or do not know what the different markings of the rating system means. There have been stories reported to various game magazines about children of 12 years old playing mature rated games. Another similar story relates a child that convinced their parent that the M marking on the game stood for mild when it is clearly marked on any game packaging that the M symbol stand for Mature. There is nothing the gaming industry can do if a parent chooses to ignore the rating system, it is up to the parents to educate themselves as to what the ratings mean so they can make proper judgments as to what their children should be playing like a proper parent would. The gaming industry can do no more to help them other than shoving an information pamphlet in their face which is close to how things currently are. In most any store that sells video games there are numerous pamphlets that spell out word for word what each rating stands for and what audiences the game is best suited for.

Reading is good for you. So is education!
Reading is good for you. So is education!

There are some web sites where there are studies showing that people who extensively play video games often show increased levels of violent behaviors, two of which were some of the participants in the Columbine shooting. What these studies neglect to do is look into any of the subjects' background for a possible source for this violent behavior. They also do not state ever in their published material that these people were not violent before they began playing video games. In a college introductory sociology class students are taught that the way people act, dress, and speak are often products of how a person is raised as well as events that happen in their life. These studies relate the Columbine shooting to violence without even addressing the possibility that other factors such as domestic violence in the family or a traumatic childhood that would have contributed to violent behaviors in the given individuals.

Another study says that one of the factors of the increased aggression was the fact that the video games sometimes made the subject irritable because of failure to reach a specific goal. How can this be seen as supporting evidence when people are irritated by many things in life besides video games such as not being able to reach a real goal instead of an imaginary one? How do normal people deal with irritation? We gripe or complain about not being able to do something, then we get up after we are proverbially knocked down, and try again!

Jennifer Taylor, a doctorate in psychology at Humboldt State university comment on this in saying "correlation does not equal causation." This is a common fallacy of thinking that researches make and it is made often enough the Jennifer has the students in her critical thinking class repeat this fact at least three times. An example of this fallacy would be as follows. Lets say there is someone snapping their fingers roughly once every few seconds and somewhere in the world, a person sneezes at the exact same time. What would someone assume when observing this? Well if they were to use the typical critical thinking fallacy, snapping your fingers makes people sneeze. However if one would take the time to think on this subject, there are many people in the world and the chances of one of the six billion people sneezing every few seconds is extremely high.

There are avid gamers that use video games as a theme for a social gathering or LAN party as they are called. Sometimes these players play games that are very similar to the layout of Doom where they are in an area type setting trying to shoot the players on the opposing team. When they play games such as this in this kind of setting, the players are often all sitting next to each other and taunting each other, making jokes at their accomplishments and failures in the course of the game and other such things. At the end though, all they do is recount their victories and defeats and laugh with each other while everyone packs up their equipment and prepares for the ride home or walk back to their room. Video games have very often been used as an instrument for socialization in a manner like this and the most violent act that any of the participants enact in (in person, not in the game) is maybe throwing a pillow across the room at a fellow player to distract them. Many times this results in the assaulted person having their character slain or perhaps crashing their in game car.

Many people in the media are quick to point the finger at video games when violence is involved in an occurrence. Karen Sternheimer, a professor of sociology at University of Southern California states "We ought to take a step back and ask why simulated killing is frequently a young male pastime." Karen has written a book stating that all of the negative aspects of society that are attributed to movies and video games are really problems that are being created by something else and that research trying to tie the media and these negative aspects together often contains "methodological leaps and questionable claims," Again, like the Columbine incident and the possibility of domestic violence, when the connection is made between young males and violent video games the studies pitted against them do nothing to speak of the way our society views masculinity. Many males partake in violent acts because in our society there is a view that a strong and capable male figure is what encompasses the definition of masculinity. (Michael Messner; Boyhood, Organized Sports, and the Construction of Masculinities)

For people that are looking for a scapegoat to blame for violence, video games are a prime target. The Columbine High School shooting was blamed on the sole fact that the teens that committed the act were avid players of a first person shooter by the name of Doom. No one even bothered to mention that these teens had a hobby of making shot guns in their garage. No one even bothered to look into other variables such as the possibility of a violent past, abusive parents', perhaps these teens were picked on at school and wanted a way to retaliate, or maybe they didn't get enogh personal time with their parents. There is not enough supportable evidence to make the claim that video games are the cause of violence in these individuals when the studies that make the correlations do not even bother to address the other variables involved in the development of the individuals personality.


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