The Effects of Video Game Violence
Throughout the years, video games have become an increasingly controversial topic. In general, video games often receive a negative connotation from news media and are frowned upon as having harmful effects on young people. Despite news media portraying video games in a dark light, they have proven to have many beneficial effects, and we should embrace these benefits to become more efficient, not just as individuals, but also as a society.
Recently, there has been major concern revolving around the threat of video game addiction. From seemingly harmless Facebook Applications such as Farmville , to role-playing games such as World of Warcraft , all video games apparently pose the potential threat of addiction- according to the news media. Like many of the misconceptions regarding video games, the games themselves are often not the heart of the problem. Video game addiction is not listed as an official condition in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, better known as the DSM-IV (Hartney). This manual acts as an encyclopedia of all mental health disorders and is written by the American Psychiatric Association. Although it has been proposed that video game addiction be added to the next version of the DSM-IV in 2012, there has not been any outstanding evidence to establish video game addiction as a serious disorder.
Even though many adolescents may play video games for hours on end, parents should not immediately think their child is struggling with an addiction. Adolescents and children naturally have trouble transitioning from one activity to the next, especially when the first activity is something enjoyable, such as a video game. This simply reflects a normal child’s behavior, and is not necessarily an immediate cause for concern. The main problem with considering video game addiction a serious disorder is that it may lead parents to overlook more serious underlying problems, such as depression. Ben, a 15-year old boy hospitalized for depression and self-mutilation, revealed in psychotherapy that his attachment to video games developed because it distracted him from his problems and actually made him feel better (“Video Game Addiction”). While his parents may have been worried about his “addiction” to video games, he was simply latching onto them as an outlet because of deeper rooted problems. Of course an actual addiction to video games can hinder a person’s lifestyle, but video game addiction should be the last worry of parents who are suspicious that their child may be suffering from a mental disorder.
Some people also suggest that an addiction to video games may lead to other addictive behaviors such as smoking. In a study conducted by the Yale University School of Medicine, it is proven that this may in fact be true, but such a strong addiction to video games was rare among the subjects of their studies. Only about five percent of the teens in the study showed any signs of dependency on video games, and this five percent of “problem gamers” showed a link to other problems such as smoking, drug use, and depression. Ranai Dasai, the lead author of the study made it clear that playing video games is relatively harmless and any links found in these “problem gamers” probably has more to do with the personalities of the individuals playing the games than it does with the activity itself (Cuda).
Yet another concern about video games being available to adolescents, specifically violent video games, is that they may cause an increase in aggression and violent behavior. Violent video games are scrutinized as being “murder simulators” that desensitize adolescents to atrocious acts and train them to be killers. Furthermore, even violent school attacks such as the Columbine Shooting of 1999 have been associated with violent video games. Although multiple studies have been conducted to link violent video games to aggressive behavior, none present any solid evidence to support this causal link. Interestingly enough, the popularity and sales of violent video games have steadily increased since the 1990s; while contrastingly, crime rates have decreased by nearly fifty percent (“Violence...”).
Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson wrote a book entitled Grand Theft Childhood in which they follow a 1.5 million dollar federally-funded study on the effects of video games. They began conducting these studies themselves after Congress asked them to find a causal link between violent video games and aggressive behavior. During an HBO interview, Cheryl K. Olson points out that many studies against video games are often agenda driven and she states,"One of difficulties in linking school shootings to violent video games is that playing violent video games is a normal activity nowadays. People will research some awful violent crime and they’ll say ‘Oh! We found an Xbox in the house!’ or ‘Oh! We found Grand Theft Auto IV’ , but you probably also found Crest toothpaste and Twinkies. There are a lot of things you found, because they are common things." Lawrence Kutner shortly follows up by summarizing their studies with, “For the general population of teenagers, there clearly is not an association between playing violent video games and engaging in serious violent behavior” (“Video Games”).
Activists against violence in video games often attack the industry on a political level, rather than simply appealing to parental concerns. One of the most well known activists among the gaming community, Jack Thompson, said in a 2005 interview that “Any M-rated game has violence levels unacceptable and definitely harmful to anyone under the age of 17” (Vitka). Thompson recognizes that many adolescents that play these games are under the age of 17, and they find ways to get a hold of them regardless. According to Thompson, the sale of these video games to minors should be punishable by law. More often than not however, adolescents do not buy these games themselves, but rather their parents are buying these games for them. With this in mind, the regulation of video game sales based on their rating is still not addressing the problem that Thompson proposes.
In the same interview Thompson also accused the video game industry of propagating the fundamental lie that the “majority of games are not violent or M-rated” (Vitka). Thompson seems convinced in his arguments that these video games are popular to everyone, therefore they pose a threat to a large community. He argued that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was the number one selling game in the world at the time, and that the number of units sold was what really mattered. While Jack Thompson was not mistaken when he said that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was, at the time, the number one selling game in the world, he did not consider video game sales as a whole. Based on statistics from an issue of GameInformer magazine released in November of 2010, the average sales of mature rated video games over the past five years account for only nine percent of total video game sales (Reeves 23). Even if playing violent video games was eventually proven to have a causal link to increased aggression and violent behavior, it’s very apparent the majority of consumers are not purchasing those types of games either way.
Society should begin to recognize that violence and aggressive behavior among youth is not something new, and people have always attempted to associate violent acts with a form of popular media. Shortly after a growth in popularity of comic books during the 1940s and 1950s, there was a public outcry that comics were having harmful effects on the youth. In the 1980s the popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons received a lot of negativity, and concerned parents often accused the game of promoting Satanism, witchcraft, suicide, violence, and murder. Media that is popular among adolescents will always face scrutiny, so it’s important that people recognize that video games are just the next item in this viscous cycle of “whipping-boy" topics. With common misconceptions out of the way, it would be easier for people to accept that video games do more good than bad.
For example, video games are popular among teenagers as a social tool. Contrary to the popular belief that video games are an isolating activity that draws people away from society, they are actually the complete opposite. Being a fan of video games myself, I can honestly say that I have already met a few people in my first year of college that I have become good friends with thanks to a common interest in video games. On top of simply making friends, most modern video games have online features that allow people to play together as a team. Even in violent first-person shooter games such as Call of Duty, this type of team environment promotes social skills such as communication and strategizing to work efficiently with others. Online multiplayer adventure games on the other hand often incorporate puzzles, which promote healthy problem solving and decision making skills.
Additionally, according to an article from the PR Newswire Association, the University of Rochester has conducted a study that leads them to believe that people that play video games develop heightened cognitive awareness (“Video Games Lead…”). Outside of the world of video games, this heightened awareness could improve multiple aspects of life including driving, multitasking, and overall navigation. During the study, a group of subjects was divided in half. Half of the group played fifty hours of action based video games, while the other half played strategy games. After their video game time, the subjects were given an array of questions. Although all of the subjects demonstrated a similar accuracy in answering these questions, the subjects who played the action based video games were able to respond up to twenty-five percent faster. This study showed that action video game players have brains that are more efficient at collecting visual and auditory information, thus are able to make decisions faster without sacrificing accuracy.
As I mentioned earlier, it is crucial that we embrace these benefits to become more efficient as individuals and as a society. Along with the casual benefits of playing video games, specially designed video game simulations have been incorporated into the medical field and the military, and are becoming more and more common in job training programs. Before people revert to thinking that a common video game bought off a store shelf can train a child to be a murderer, you have to keep in mind that the “games” created for job training are specially designed simulators and are generally exclusive to people in a specific field of work.
Dave Zielinski of Human Resource Magazine wrote an article entitled “Training Games” in which he supports the use of simulation video games in the workplace, and argues that “simulations teach employees under real-life conditions without real-world consequences”. He then goes on to provide examples such as a doctor who practices surgeries in a virtual simulation program. If the doctor were to make a mistake, there are no real-world consequences, and he could train and practice until he perfects his methods. Zielinski also points out that virtual simulations can save vast amounts of money that would formerly be used to recreate real-world situations.
Along with creating games to help employees such as doctors, there is also a developing field of video games to be used in the medical field to help patients deal with various syndromes and disorders. Debra Lieberman, a professor at the University of Southern California and the director of Health Games Research, has already developed such a game called “Packy & Marton”. This game was developed in order to help diabetic children cope with living a lifestyle which differentiates them from their peers (“Games With…”).
As you can see, video games and the people that play them have been faced with an onslaught of controversy. Although video games are beginning to be incorporated into society as more than just household toys, we still have a long way to go. Once society digs past the news media’s misconceptions and stereotypes, we will finally be able to embrace casual gaming in order to help us develop better cognitive health, as well as use video game technology to advance our efficiency as a society. As Will Wright, the creator of The Sims, once said, “…The gamers’ mindset—the fact that they are learning in a totally new way—means they’ll treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption. This is the true impact video games will have on our culture” (Wright).
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