Blaming Video Games is Too Easy

Articles

It seems to me in the wake of another horrific set of mass shootings many people are turning to what they seem to find is an easy out or scapegoat for the behavior; video games. There has not been one act of mass violence in the past few years where some politician, talk show host, or talking head has not brought up video games as the cause. The fact is that that’s just not true.

Why is it so easy?

For the past 40 years, video games have gone from being toys for kids, or hobby for the enthusiasts, to a multibillion-dollar a year form of social entertainment. Almost every home in America has at least one video game console or platform used to play games. Like many forms of media before it, video games are being blamed for causing higher levels of violence in children and teens. We need to ask ourselves if there is a correlation between violent video games and violence in children and teens? Are all the reports on the news and medical research that we hear correct about video games or are video games too easy of a target to blame? There are many key factors that are missing and being overlooked, for violence in teens. Many people for the last 20 years have been arguing over whether video games make children and teens violent. Both sides of this argument have commentary professionals and experts from various fields like doctors, psychologists, media personnel, and even authors.

Learn The Facts

Video games are not all violent and like other forms of media, they come in a wide variety of styles to choose from like: drama, educational, action, comedy, romance, science fiction, and many more. One of the common mistakes many people make is that they assume all video games focus on negativity and violence when this is far from the truth. Some of the world’s most memorable games do not focus on violence at all. Games like Tetris, Madden, Rock-Band, and Farmville are all non-violent and appropriate for all ages. The fact is violent video games make up a small portion of the video game industry. To be fair, many of the most popular and highest-grossing games currently are violent in nature. ProCon.org is a site that lists unbiased information and provides many links to reports and articles for both sides of the argument on violence and its correlation to video games. A report published on the site found that “[i]n 2008, 10 of the top 20 best-selling video games in the US contained violence”.

There are Regulations

How video games and the content contained in them are regulated, is not the government’s problem to deal with. There have been several states that have attempted to pass laws that would ban the sale and rental of violent games to children. California is one of the more recent states to attempt to pass this law. “California’s measure would have regulated games more like pornography than movies, prohibiting the sale or rental of games that give players the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” to anyone under the age of 18”. In theory, this seems like a good idea and to many, it makes a lot of sense since video game companies, or more appropriately the Entertainment Software Rating Board or ESRB assigns rating information for computer and video games indicating the appropriate age group and content in the games already and voluntarily. Here is where the problem in that plan comes in: “[t]he federal court said the law violated minors’ constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments and the state lacked enough evidence to prove violent games cause physical and psychological harm to minors”.

For years now the video game industry has been self-policing the content in-game voluntarily using a universal rating system that is similar to the movie industry. In a report done by the Federal Trade Commission in 2009, it was found that only 20 percent of minors were able to buy an M-rated game, which is down from 42 percent three years earlier. Compare this to the music and film industries in which 72 percent of minors were able to buy music CDs with explicit content warnings, 50 percent were sold R-rated and unrated DVDs and 28 percent purchased tickets to R-rated movies. Taking this information into consideration along with the obvious violation of amendment rights, by attempting to federally regulate sales of video games, it is safe to say that the regulations are best left to the industry itself.

They like to scare you

Media outlets like “scare” stories about gamers obsessed with violent games and they are not alone. Many research reports claim to back up the idea that virtual violence breeds real violence. Almost all too often there seems to be a news report on how someone acted in violence because they played video games. Like in the past when criminals used music as the blame for crimes, many of them now turn and use video games as a reason for their actions.

One of the most famous and controversial cases is the Devon Moore case, a case in which an Alabama teen shot and killed three people, two of the victims being police officers. When captured, Moore is reported to have told the police, “Life is like a video game. Everybody’s got to die sometime“. Moore’s line could have easily been pulled from the game he had spent so much time playing, Grand Theft Auto 4. This fueled the critics of video games and for many gave them the key piece of evidence they needed to prove video games are the cause of violence in teens. There is just one problem many of them failed to listen to the entire story and did not take into account the other factors which may have led to the murders.

David Walsh is a child psychologist who co-authored a study connecting violent video games to physical aggression. When asked if repeated exposure to violent video games has more of an impact on a teenager than it does on an adult, he stated “It does. And that’s largely because the teenage brain is different from the adult brain. The impulse control center of the brain, the part of the brain that enables us to think ahead, consider consequences, manage urges …In fact, the wiring of that is not completed until the early 20s“. There are millions of children who play violent video games every day, and almost all of them are nonviolent. Taking just the one game Moore played into account, there should at least 35 million murders unaccounted for, since that’s how many copies of Grand Theft Auto 4 were sold worldwide. Walsh went on to say: “Not every kid that plays a violent video game is gonna turn to violence. And that’s because they don’t have all of those other risk factors going on”.

Moore had the factors needed to be violent; he grew up in foster care after leaving an abusive home. Like many criminals, Moore was already a person whose psychologist would say is predisposed to violence. In Rebecca Lung’s CBS News feature “Can a Video Game Lead to Murder” representative of the video industry Doug Lowenstein explains: “Look, I have great respect for the law enforcement officers of this country…I don’t think video games inspire people to commit crimes” he goes on to say “If people have a criminal mind, it’s not because they’re getting their ideas from the video games. There’s something much more deeply wrong with the individual. And it’s not the game that’s the problem”. Simply said some people are going to be violent, video games or not. The medium could have easily been replaced with any other form of media, and that’s assuming any form is needed in the first place.

Games can actually help teens

Video games may in fact help reduce violence in teens. Contrary to what the mass media will lead the public to believe, there has not been any conclusive evidence linking violence to video games. Most lab studies done on video game violence are in highly controlled scenarios that do not and cannot properly reflect real life. The closest thing to real-life that can be done in a lab study is what is known as a Double-Blind Study. A Double-Blind Study is when the participants and the researchers do not know what the desired outcome for the research is, only the person in organizing the study knows during the test. Biased participants and researchers can pose a danger to the study and in this way, such a danger is eliminated. There is currently no study or test of this type for video games on file with the American Psychological Association.

Adam Thierer is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In 2010, Thierer wrote an article not only challenging the studies being done on videogames and the correlation to violence in teens, but he also suggests that there may in fact be evidence showing the opposite. Thierer points out in his article that “it is impossible to ignore the real-world evidence being so starkly at odds with the “monkey see, monkey do” theories bandied about by some researchers or regulatory proponents. At a minimum, the real-world evidence should at least call into question the ‘world-is-going-to-hell’ sort of generalizations made by proponents of increased media regulation, who all too often make casual inferences about the relationship between media exposure and various social indicators”.

Taking Thierer’s statement into consideration, if video games indeed were themselves the sole reason for violence in teens, then the world would be in complete chaos. The number of people who play video games is several hundred million and that number is quickly reaching a billion people. The actual fact is that the FBI produces an ongoing report, Crime in the United States, that documents violent crimes trends; they tracked a severe decline in teen violence. The report covers everything from forcible rape to overall juvenile crime. “[T]he juvenile crime rate has fallen an astonishing 36% since 1995 (and the juvenile murder rate has plummeted by 62%)”. Like anything else when it comes to statistical analysis; correlation does not equal causation, but the facts are there. The media would lead everyone to believe the statistics say otherwise.

It is an outlet for many

Video games can help in childhood development by providing an outlet for violent fantasies. One of the main things the public overlooks when discussing violence in video games and their effects on children is the idea that games can provide an outlet like no other form of media. In a study published by the Journal of Adolescent Research, they state: “[r]esearchers have theorized that video games perhaps including those with violent content may have benefits for adolescents”. In other words, video games may actually help children develop the social skills needed to progress through life. The article goes on to say: “[a]s adolescents explore different roles and social situations, including the inevitable conflicts with peers and parents, they create, break, and negotiate rules”. Video games have become a child’s way of settling arguments and conflicts. What was once roughhousing amongst boys has now turned into an intense game to settle things. Many children who play games would prefer video game conflicts over actual conflicts. “In this period of development, boys use rough-and-tumble play to explore aggression, establishing peer status by focusing on dominance rather than causing physical harm to participants”. Rather than encouraging aggressive or violent behavior, video gameplay may help adolescent children consider issues of war, violence, and death.

They are even prescribed to some

Video games have even been proven to help people and children medically. Studies have been done showing that video games increase hand-eye coordination, help children with autism adapt, and have even been attributed to increasing decision-making abilities, just to name a few things. A report done in June 2012 said: “Now autism researchers, teachers and therapists are installing them in classrooms and clinics, reporting promising results for a fraction of the price of typical equipment. Could a teacher armed with a $300 Xbox and a $10 copy of Double Fine Happy Action Theater do as much good as months of intensive therapy”?

In a study done in September 2010 researchers learned that people who play action games make quicker decisions as compared to people who do not play. Ian Spence, Ph.D., and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto said: “First-person shooter games can change the brain, improving several low-level perceptual functions, sometimes dramatically”. He also says: “Perceptual functions are the various brain functions involved in seeing, hearing, smelling”. These are just a minuscule sampling of how video games have helped people around the world.

Do some research

It is too easy to blame video games for teen violence without looking at all the facts. At no point is anyone going to say that playing games for a long period of time will not have an adverse reaction, but the same can be said about any activity even working out. Even with all of the controlled tests, which are not true studies on real-life, results have shown that video games by way of correlation do more to reduce violence by providing an outlet for it. Parents need to realize that they are the first line of defense to what their child is exposed too. Video games come with ratings for a reason, research before purchasing anything and get involved in what a child does.

All images above were taken from a great infographic from the ESA focused on gaming trends in 2018.

I am a game designer and 3D modeler that graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Former pro gamer. Now I stream games and write. I am also a veteran of the U.S. Army and father of 3.

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