There are many hot-button topics that are relevant to millions of people, have two starkly divided views, and each side is represented by a notable portion of the crowd. One of these issues is video game violence and, more specifically, its potential link to child behavior.
But why is this even a consideration? Yes, we know plenty of people under 18 years of age play video games and, yes, we realize that many of the available titles are violent in their storyline and gameplay. Why this matters, though, relates to three primary theoretical effects: Making violence seem appealing, decreasing the stigma attached to violent acts, and making acts of violence easily attainable.
Every video game in existence has some form of competitive engine, where certain results are rewarded and other are penalized. For some options, it may be a scoring system where a high score is indicative of success; for others, it may be a series of levels or achievements that must be achieved in a linear order, often with increasing difficulty.
The problem that many people see with video game violence is that, for what seems like the majority of titles, it is rewarded in the game world. There is, in fact, an entire genre called the first-person shooter that focuses on the ability to most efficiently and effectively kill other players from a first-person, weapon-holding view. These titles are, overall, wildly popular and reward the act of murder, often in gruesome or gun-related fashion. This can confuse a child, or even an impressionable young adult, into the subtle belief that violence is good and worthy of reward. Although they are often told otherwise by other people and the media, the fact is, what happens when video games become a more pervasive and trusted stimulant in their life than more positive sources?
Many statistics have been tossed into the fray by various groups in an effort to build a case against violence portrayed in media. Often, claims are made about the specific amount of violent acts viewed by children as they grow up, and the number of violent acts directly participated in through video games.
While the exact figures can be endlessly debated, common sense tells us that it does stand to reason that repeated exposure to an element reduces its ability to shock us, and thus determine a differing course of reactionary behavior. In other words, if a person grew up without ever seeing violence in video games, then suddenly watched a realistic on-screen murder for the first time in their teens, they would probably be horrified and turn away, not wishing to witness the brutality. But this is the exception nowadays, rather than the rule. In which case, does it not also stand to reason that a lack of repulsion to violent acts would increase the likelihood of real-life participation? If violence sickens an individual, they will be dissuaded from pursuing it. If, however, they are no longer sensitive to its negative effects, what incentive to they have to avoid what they view as a behavior that is rewarded?
Even within the issue are smaller, nested issues, such as the modern-day prevalence of teenage violence in certain areas, or the arguably overly widespread availability of handguns in America, or even the gradual erosion of morality in modern society. How these smaller issues tie into video game violence can be tricky or intractable at best, but these are the fronts on which the ethics war is fought: The elements of culture that allow a young video game player to go from merely viewing violent acts to enabling the possibility of living them out in the real world.
Regardless of any personal belief in the extent to which video games define child behavior, the gaming scene should be treated as any other, from a parental and development point of view: It should be examined case by case, child by child. Some children can enjoy an amount of violence in their mix of video games without any ill effects; with others, it is possible that they are more sensitive and susceptible to their actions being defined by their gaming experience. As the debate rages on, one concept should be agreed upon: Parents, and other figures in a child’s life, should be serving to provide children with positive aspects of their life, and wisely educate and influence them to becoming self-sufficient, independent, mature adults of their own.