A game and nothing more

violent video gameBy Jakob Alchin (guest writer)

I have done a lot of regrettable things in my time. I have used guns to shoot people and swords to slice my victims apart. I have stolen vehicles and used them to run down helpless pedestrians. I have trafficked drugs in several gangs and engulfed entire cities in fiery destruction. Dare I say it; I have even stomped on babes. My victims are shown no mercy as I make them endure waves of carnage.

Of course, this was all accomplished in video games. Violence in video games has evolved over time and is becoming more realistic as technology advances. There is strong debate over whether or not violence in video games can cause violence in the real world. Taking a look back at all the cruel and inhuman acts I have committed in games, it’s hard for me to see the correlation between video game and real world violence. I have never committed a violent act outside of a video game. I was never even in a fist fight in grade school. I do not steal cars and go on crime sprees. Human life is not meaningless to me and I have not been desensitized to death. Real world violence and death still generates strong emotions within me. It is possible that I simply am able to distinguish fantasy from reality, and know that the two are completely separate from each other. I also think this applies to any sane-minded human being. This is why I argue that violence in video games has no effect on whether or not a person commits an act of violence in the real world.

Something that bothers me is the fact that some people actively look for certain kinds of media to blame, such as television, movies, cartoons, rock music, and games. This can even be extended to media such as images or artwork and literature. Video games are probably the newest of these medium, and as such are probably the most sought after to blame. I believe that whatever technological advancements follow video games will be the next targets of blame, and video games violence will be completely forgotten about.

Violent video games have been blamed for instigating violent offline behavior.

A famous incident where some blamed video games for its occurrence was the Virginia Tech shootings. In a 1996 study, it was found that over 98% of children who played video games played games that contained violent content. This is a very large percentage, which makes it difficult to see how it can be linked to a very small statistic, such as occurrences of school shootings like Virginia Tech. If so many children are observing violent content in games, and if that content is causing violence in the real world, then occurrences such as these should be much more prevalent. In my opinion, it seems irresponsible to try and shove the blame on video games instead of trying to figure out what the shooter’s life was like. I think things such as mental illnesses, living environment, quality of life, home issues, and so many other things need to be looked into instead of turning towards video games as something to point the finger at.

Violent video games have been around since the beginning of the 90s. If video game violence did in fact cause real world violence, then one would expect to see an increase in violent crimes from the 90s on. The FBI released violent crimes statistics in 2005 which showed violent crimes have been decreasing for the last 20 years. Video game violence has come a long way in terms of realism as graphics have advanced. Video games today display extremely life-like depictions of violence, and yet these statistics show a decrease in violent crimes being committed. I find it hard to believe that video game violence is causing real world violence when these statistics are decreasing and video game violence is becoming more realistic.

Sociologist Karen Sternhiemer found that video game sales have risen to more than $10 billion annually in 2007. At the same time she cites homicide rates of juveniles dropping by 77% and the chance for a student to be killed by school-related violence to be less than 7 in 10 million (Seff, 2007). As more children are purchasing and using games, less violent crime is occurring. When a school shooting happens, it is hard to believe video game violence was behind it when these statistics are presented.

Is Mario stomping on turtles violent? (Image from Abe Gong)

One issue that has always bothered me in this debate is what exactly qualifies as video game violence. Mario from Nintendo’s Mario franchise has been stomping on mushrooms and turtles for years. It may seem silly to think one would assert that Mario jumping on a turtle could cause violent behaviors, but some of the actual assertions made seem just as implausible. Violence in a lot of video games is graphically realistic, but is not often realistic in terms of the real world. Mortal Kombat games had fighters that could spit acid to melt their opponents or rip their heart out with their bare hands. At the very least, I find it hard to believe that someone would try to imitate these actions. A lot of video game violence is so far-fetched that it would be almost impossible to argue that someone would observe it and mistake it for anything but fantasy.

A lot of research has been conducted on whether or not video game violence causes violence in people. Many of these studies claim a link between the two. These same studies have been criticized as having inconclusive results and for the methods by which they were conducted. Laboratory environments in which these studies are conducted are also very different from the environments that people play video games in. These studies often times find correlations between violence and video games, but correlation does not imply causation. These studies may only show that people with already violent tendencies tend to enjoy video games with violence. There is simply no existing research that proves video game violence to be the leading factor in causing violent behaviors outside of the game . If study after study has come up with no positive proof of video games causing real world violence, then I feel this should be an indicator for researchers to branch out and study other areas that may cause these violent behaviors. I do not see a reason to continue dragging along an issue when there is no evidence to back it up.

Video games extend to a vast age group. Children, teens, young adults, adults, and the elderly all play video games. One argument some use is that violent video games have a greater impact on children. Whether this is true or not, it leads to the issue of why children are allowed to play these violent games. All games come with a rating system called an ESRB rating. The ratings go from early childhood (3 years and over), Everyone (6 years and older), Everyone 10+ (Ages 10 and over), Teen (13 and older), Mature (17 and older), and Adult (18 and over) (ESRB). These ratings are clearly labeled on all games sold in stores. While some parents argue that violent video games are affecting their children, this would not be the case had the parent just restricted their child’s game play to the correct age group. These ratings are imposed in order to protect children from content that it is believed they should not be viewing. I would be much more inclined to believe violent video games could cause violent behavior in children as opposed to adults. But this rating system is put in place specifically to protect children. If the parent fails to control the content their children are taking in, then blaming video games and ignoring parent responsibility seems completely ridiculous. I feel that the whole issue of video game violence is just placing blame on something else rather than taking personal responsibility for our own actions.

Some research suggests that video game violence is the most harmful of all media violence. According to this research, it is because video games reward the player for doing well, whether it be killing the most people and causing the most damage, whereas in a violent movie or television show, the consumer is simply observing the violence and is not partaking in the outcome and being rewarded . I would argue that this makes video game violence more effective at actually preventing real world violence. Most human beings realize there is consequence to their actions. If the player is indeed looking for a reward for their efforts, then real world acts of violence would be something to avoid, as the outcome would be punishment, rather than reward. A player can then enjoy being rewarded in the virtual world of a video game, and at the same time realize that only the game rewards this type of behavior, and as such that is the only time the behavior should be displayed.

Some analysis suggests that video game violence can actually help quell violent urges. For those who might experience anger during the day and feel the need to take it out on another person, they can instead sit down to a fighting game and beat up on a virtual opponent . Video games can be a great way to relieve stress, whether it is a laid back game or a game about stealing cars and shooting at police. I believe sometimes some people forget that a game is a way to get away from reality, and not a tool to take things from a fantasy setting and apply them to a real world setting.

What I find most discerning is the fact that all of this research and debate has to be conducted because of a few non-typical instances of violence. Laboratory tests are done in artificial environments in a short period of time, but the majority of people who play video games have been doing so over long periods of time. I have been playing video games since I was five years old, and have been exposed to an enormous amount of violent content in these games. In my years of exposure, I have never committed or felt inclined to commit a violent crime. This applies to many other people in the same situation. There can be no logical link between video game violence and real violent crime if this is the case. Limiting cases like the Virginia Tech shootings occur and video games are blamed. I could twist it around and conduct studies that correlate playing violent video games to not committing violent crimes in the real world. They would be just as invalid as the research conducted proving the opposite. I would be taking a sample of people who were already non-violent human beings, and finding that they play violent video games, so there must be correlation. There is absolutely no cause in that situation, or in the opposition’s situation. That example may seem like a long-shot, but blaming video games on school shootings and other violent crimes is not that different.

It’s hard to argue with the facts. The fact is, more video games are being bought and consumed than in the past. Violent crimes statistics show a decrease in crime (See Erik Kanes’ article in Forbes). If violent video games did in fact cause violent behaviors in people, then as video games became more used, it would be expected that crime statistics increase. This is simply not the case. Studies on violent video games have shown to be inconclusive and provide only correlations and not causal relationships. For these reasons, and from my own personal experiences, I believe violence in video games does not lead to violent tendencies in the real world.

Violent video game releases don’t necessarily correspond to societal violence in general (Courtesy of Forbes.com)

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One response to “A game and nothing more

  1. Pingback: Game researchers take stance in controversy over effects of violent video games | Play as Life·

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