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Do Video Games Really Cause Real Life Violence?

Updated on January 2, 2015
do video games heighten anger and aggression in people?
do video games heighten anger and aggression in people?

We have all heard on the news about the horrible shootings that have occurred, from Columbine to Sandy Hook. In most of these recent cases, video games are attributed to causing the aggression in the shooters. As a result, there are many people who believe that banning these video games is the solution to this problem. However, do they really create violent tendencies in people?

Reasons Behind the Theory

Why are video games often targeted before television, or movies? Well, games behave a bit differently than movies or television shows. There is no "vegging out" in a video game. Rather, you are the one who moves the story along. Without your contribution, whatever story the game has to tell, or entertainment value it has to offer, won't be told to you. Unlike television, where you are the passive audience, you have to make decisions in video games, and sometimes the "correct" decision in a video game is an extremely violent or illegal one in real life. There are, in fact, a few games that the military actually uses on soldiers to desensitize them from killing others when that time comes, that make their way to the general market. Surely these games will have similar effects on civilians, causing them to become more apathetic and reckless with human lives.

Many of the cases seen show mimicry of what they see in games. In particular, the Columbine shooters used the game Doom, one of the most violent games of its time, as inspiration for their plan. In most of these cases, there is a definite blur between fantasy and reality, and the aggressors seem to be unable to identify the differences. Now, with games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, violence is often glorified and is given "bonus points" to the players, teaching them that violence is the way to win the game. Those who are unable to discern the difference between a harmless video game and real life could potentially cause a lot of harm to their community.

There have been several studies trying to find a link between violence and violent video games. Many of these studies use tests like blaring a buzzer at the losers of a game (and having it blared back if the person in question loses), or punching a doll. Other studies show that stores don't always check for ID, causing younger children to be influenced by the violence in games.

Arguments Against the Theory

Most of the arguments listed above come with the assumption that all children or young adults cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. On the contrary, most, barring the shooters and aggressors, know the difference between fantasy and reality, preventing them from trying to imitate what they see or virtually experience. Video game defenders instead state that there are a select few that have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality, and there is no reason to ban these types of video games from the general public because of a few people.

Also, although mass shootings have seemed to increase in frequency, actual records show that violent crimes have gone down as games have become more violent. Many researchers also have issues with the tests in the research studies. For instance, is blasting a loud noise at your opponent or punching a doll really on the same level as buying an assault rifle and murdering a number of innocent lives? Some skeptics believe that these tests are not enough to gauge whether or not a person will attempt to endanger another person's life.

They also claim that, even within these parameters of checking violent tendencies, the percentage of change is often so small they regard it negligible. In a particularly interesting study, they found that those who already showed aggressive tendencies experienced dramatic increases in aggression after playing a violent game, while others who were more calm and "laid-back" experienced little to no increase in their levels of aggression.

Which brings an interesting question to the table: Is the factor we are looking for not the level of violence in the game, but instead the disposition of those playing the game?

Which View is Correct?

As of right now there is no right or wrong side - both have equally valid points. Video games are still a relatively new medium, so there are no concrete studies as of yet. The last study mentioned here seems to create a sort of compromise between the sides: Most people are not affected by video games, but video games can exacerbate the violent tendencies in aggressive people.

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