According to Cynthia Wagner’s article, “Aggression and Violent Media,” 80% of American homes with children have video game systems. Children and teenagers are also playing more games than they are watching television. With school shootings like those that occurred at Columbine (whose shooters were quite accomplished players of the violent shooting game Doom), many people have proposed a link between playing violent video games and violent behavior like school shootings and carjacking. However, at this point in time, video game violence cannot be blamed for increasing violent behavior in players. The studies regarding violent video games are inconclusive, violence in people cannot be attributed to one certain event like playing video games, and violent video games have become the latest in a long line of new media blamed for violence.
Since video games are still a pretty recent invention, studies about video game violence are just beginning to surface. Because of this, most studies conducted are inconclusive or contradictory to others. For every study that states a link between violent video games and violent behavior, there is another study that states the opposite. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has found no clear connection between video violence and violent behavior (Kaminer). Another psychologist who has examined the many studies conducted about video
game violence found that of those who claimed to show a link, only 28% of the studies could even support a possible connection (“A Calm View of Video Violence”). Also, the studies usually do not prove that the violent video games caused the violent behavior. They just prove that the two co-exist. The studies do not take into account other factors for violence like civil unrest, poverty or personal traumas like abuse (Sternheimer).
Even though the studies behind video game violence are not always accurate, some people still believe that the games promote aggressive behavior. Just over half of the students at Clarion-Goldfield High School who were surveyed believe that violent games negatively affect players, see figure 1. Studies regarding violent television have shown that children who watched violent television were more likely to engage in aggressive play like that of hitting and kicking (ProQuest Staff, Wagner). Another increase of aggressive behavior is the belief of games creating an environment to promote ruthless competition. The claims are that video games create a habitat of “do what ever it takes to win, even at the expense of everyone else” (Devereux).
Some people also believe playing video games changes how our brains work and how we behave. According to Hellen Philips’ article, “Mind-Altering Media,” adults exposed to violent video games showed less cranial response to shocking images than those who didn’t play violent video games. They also found that the area of the brain that controls emotional control is more aroused when the players play video games (Phillips).
It is often said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. This is exactly what some are afraid of. They are afraid those who play violent video games will want to copy what they see and do in the games. “Children learn by demonstration and then imitation,” stated Philips. According to a 1960s experiment, children were shown a video of someone punching a clown doll. The children were then let into a room with toys, including the same clown they had just seen. Those children who had seen the violent video went straight to the clown and punched it (Philips).
There is no doubt that violence exists in this world, and that those who play violent video games are not immune to violent actions. However, violence is not caused by a single event like playing violent video games. Instead, violence is brought on by multiple factors. In fact, the 2001 Surgeon General stated: “…violent behavior seldom results from a single cause; rather, multiple factors converging over time contribute to such behavior,” (“A Calm View of Video Violence”). News programs, however, rarely mention other factors that contribute to violence. Take Columbine for instance. Yes, the school shooters were players of the violent game Doom. However, they were both emotionally unstable teenagers and were outcasts at their school, two facts that were often left out of reports. Other factors that affect violent behavior in individuals are personal trauma, like sexual and physical abuse, mental disorders, poverty and civil unrest (Sternheimer).
With so many different causes of violence, why is the media and government focused on violent video games as the main cause of said violence, especially when the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, has found that there is no clear connection between violent media and violent behavior (Kaminer)? Well, over the last eight decades almost every new technology has been blamed for causing violence in society. Some of these no one would ever think about today as causing violence. People are afraid of what they do not know, and this causes people to speculate about the ill effects of new items. Almost 25 years ago, the “new” role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons was blamed for teenagers committing suicide (Costikyan). Looking further into the past, a vast array of “new” technologies has been blamed for violence. These have included everything from rock music, the internet, motion pictures and theatre productions to comic books, radios, cars and pinball machines (ProQuest, Sternhiemer, Toothaker). In fact, in the 1950s, 70% of people believed comic books were a major cause of violence in teenagers (ProQuest).
The USA is Not Alone
A little more recent than the 1950s, Venezuela took a step in censorship by trying to pass a law that would ban all violent video games in 2010. However, the citizens opposed the bill, stating, “Video games are not the problem, criminals are the problem.” Many citizens considered this a cover-up for a more pressing issue; the programs already installed to decrease violence were not working (Toothaker). The problems in Venezuela are not unlike those we face at home. However, were their violence has been steadily increasing, our violent behavior is actually lower than it was 25 years ago, but with more media coverage of the violence, it has made it seem like more of a problem than it actually is (Sternheimer).
And the Verdict is…?
With more coverage of violence than ever before, it is no wonder so many parents and adults are worried about what their children are playing. However, at this moment in time, there has been no direct link between video game violence and violent behavior. The studies surrounding video violence are inconclusive and do not take into consideration that violence is caused by multiple factors. Violent video games have just become another new technology to be blamed for the actions of their players. Instead of focusing all attention on violent media, Americans need to begin to examine further sources of violence. And if there are those who still do not approve of violent video games, there is an easy step one can take to avoid it all completely. Pull the plug.