10 Reasons Violent Video Games Contribute To Youth Violence
For most of the population under the age of 40 it will seem as though computer games have been around their whole lives. From the beginning with simple (yet addictive) games like pong games have morphed to become fully immersive real world environments in which a person can lose themselves for an hour or two (or perhaps more) a day.
People who grew up playing Snake, Pac-man or Donkey Kong or even early experiential games like TIE Fighter but who have not played some of the more modern games might be shocked at how realistic the gaming experience is today. Add in an internet connection that allows real time play and communication with other gamers and it really is a very different experience. Many games might be harmless fun but some contain some very disturbing scenarios indeed.
Gaming is a part of modern life whether we like it or not, 97% of US children play video games of one sort or another but the sad truth is that approximately 50% of these games contain violent scenarios that, when enacted, reward the player. We firmly believe that playing such games can contribute to a whole host of problems that result in negative impacts for society and that therefore they have no place on the shelves of American shops (or online warehouses).
We believe that violent video games should be banned and after reading our 10 compelling reasons we think you will agree with us.
10. The US Military Use Video Games To Teach Troops To Kill
It may seem somewhat surprising but in recent years the US military has turned to video game manufacturers to help develop training tools for US soldiers. When we think rationally, however, it should not surprise us at all. After all pilots use high tech simulators to learn to fly new aircraft and land at new airports so why should the military not put technology to good use.
The truth is violent video games are very effective at teaching people how to shoot and kill. In 1996 the US Marine Corps worked with Doom to create Marine Doom an interactive video game. By 2002 the American Army had released their own ‘shoot em up’ game called, unsurprisingly ’America’s Army’ to aid in recruitment drives. The game was, at the time, one of the most realistic weapons games ever designed.
A psychology professor from West Point says that allowing civilians to access violent video games without the support, discipline and context that military training provides allows them an introduction to some serious weapons technology.
When this technology is used from the comfort of home to ‘kill’ people without consequences the ‘safety catch’ that exists within the brain of most people is disabled when these games are played regularly. The net result is that playing violent video games provides people not only with the skills (taught by the game) to kill but also disables the normal psychological restraints that prevent them from doing so.
9. Video Games With A Negative Attitude Towards Women Encourage Such Attitudes In Real Life
Negative attitudes towards women are still pervasive across some sections of society. Sadly some video games play up to these negative attitudes by expanding on them and incorporating them into their games.
Many choose to treat women as sexual objects with no other role other than to satisfy men. Studies of such games have led to very worrying results. In 2012 a review in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that games featuring women as objects and encouraging violence towards women within the game result in those who play the game developing an attitude of hostility to rape victims.
These concerns are not new. Reviews in 1998 showed that 21% of games involved some level of violence towards women and that 28% of them treated women as nothing more than sex objects. One more modern game (Grand Theft Auto V) includes a scenario where the gamer can choose to murder a prostitute in order to recover their money.
The real concern is that the more those who play violent video games are exposed to (fictional and on screen) situations where their character reacts violently towards women the more likely they are to behave in this way in real life. As time goes on a player will be more likely to view women as inviting rape. Through exposure to the game a gamers psyche will start inextricably to link sexual gratification with violence.
8. People Who Play Violent Video Games Tend To Have Lower Empathy And Are Less Kind
Empathy is a particularly important personal skill. It grants a person the ability to understand the feelings of others and therefore the impact that their behavior has. It is a powerful inhibitor of bad behavior. Empathy as a skill is something that we learn to develop from early childhood onwards.
Playing violent video games leads, it seems, to a reduction in the capacity of someone to show empathy. Tests on the impact of playing violent games show that those who play them are significantly less likely to want to help others while children who play video games with a violent element to them are significantly less moral than their peers. While concern has been raised, in the past, about violent videos (Child’s Play springs to mind) it seems that violent video games are in a completely different league and are the only form of media that can truly damage a child’s ability to develop or maintain empathic skills.
The reason violent video games have a much greater impact than any other form of violent media is because of the unique combination of the on screen violence and the viewer/gamer’s participation in the events they see unfolding. The gamer is not just a passive viewer but a key player in what happens. They choose which path to take and then watch as the results of their decisions unfold on the screen. However, because of the nature of the media they are never exposed to the negative impact that their choices have on others leading them to believe they can act as they want with impunity.
7. Playing Violent Video Games Desensitizes People to Violence In Real Life
We have already seen (above) that violent video games can result in a reduction in the capacity for empathic behavior in gamers. This is because the gamer is an active participant in the fame.
Playing violent video games for no more than 20 minutes a day has been shown to have an impact on a gamers’ understanding of the effects of real life violence. Effectively they become less provoked by violence or, in other words, it takes more violent behavior to shock people exposed to violent video games. Those who play violent video games are much more likely to respond to real life scenarios with greater levels of aggression than their peers who do not play such games.
The level of violence that children are exposed to through participation in violent video games is not small. It is estimated that, by the time they turn 18, an American child will have seen approximately 16,000 murders (and many more acts of extreme violence) through all forms of media but, most particularly, video games. This level of violence is simply not normal and the impact it has on our young people is of significant cause for concern.
6. Children Imitate The Actions Of Characters From The Games And Find It Difficult To Separate Reality And Fantasy
Violent media is a problem, over 280 studies have shown that those who watch violent media become more aggressive (known as the aggressor effect) but they also see the world as a much more frightening place in which they need to protect themselves, for example by carrying weapons (the victim effect) and of course, as we have seen above, it causes people to be desensitized to violence and reduces their capacity for empathy.
While this is true of all violent media the problems are exacerbated with video games. When children play video games they really enter into the spirit of things. Many times they are not just playing a game they are the character and they are dealing with the challenges and issues that confront them in the scenarios they face. Unlike a film, a game requires a player to be an active participant and to make certain choices that impact on the flow and story of the game. This makes for a fun (if troubling) experience for the children. The problem comes when they put the game away and return to real life for a few hours. Their experiences in the video games have conditioned them to respond to situations in a certain way and have desensitized them to violence. When faced with a difficult situation, therefore, they respond in the way they do on screen, i.e. violently. This troubling phenomenon was acknowledged by Supreme Court Justice Breyer in his powerful dissenting opinion in Brown v ESA in which he stated ‘the closer a child’s behavior comes, not to watching but to acting out horrific violence, the greater the potential psychological harm’.
5. Psychologists Believe Playing Violent Video Games Is A Risk Factor For Aggressive Behavior
Parents have worried about a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior for some time and it seems that medical professionals agree that they are right to be concerned. In 2014 a study of pediatricians and parents showed that 90% of pediatricians felt that playing violent video games led to an increase in aggressive behavior in children.
Six of the leading medical associations in the US (including the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics) agree with the survey and they issued a joint statement in which they state that while the effect of media violence is ‘complex and variable’ it does lead to several measurable effects which are likely to include children increasingly seeing violence as a means to settle conflicts, viewing violence as acceptable and increasing the tendency towards violent and aggressive behavior. They also state that the impact of violent video games is likely to be more profound than that of other forms of media due to the interactive nature of the entertainment.
The position these medical associations are taking is that while playing video games many not cause an otherwise psychologically healthy child who has no other risk factors to turn into a violent individual as a risk factor it does increase the odds significantly.
4. Many Of Those Responsible For Mass Shootings Were Found To Have Played Violent Video Games
It is not wrong to say that America has a problem with teen violence and whatever your stance on the right to bear arms it is a fact that a large number of mass shootings take place every year. While such tragic events can happen even in societies where guns are outlawed (such as the tragic Dunblane and Whitehaven massacres in the UK or the island massacre in Norway) they are far rarer than in the US. The statistics are sobering, in 2012 the number of people murdered by a gun (per capita) was 30 times that of the UK. So many people are shot in the US every year that when the death toll from shootings between 1968 and 2011 is totaled (1.4 million) it comes to more people than were killed in all American wars from the War of Independence to participation in Iraq (1.2 million).
Many of the people responsible for such shootings were keen players of violent video games, this includes the Colombine shooters, the Colorado movie shooter and the Arizona senatorial shooter. The Bethel High School shooter said, in interviews after the fact that he did not really understand that shooting someone would cause them to die because when he played Doom they just got back up again. This phenomenon is not just seen in the US, Norwegian serial shooter Anders Brevik claimed that he used Call of Duty as a training tool in the run up to his rampage.
The FBI take this link so seriously that a threat of violence will be seen as being more credible if the person making the threat has a known history of playing violent video games.
3. Playing Violent Video Games Causes An Increase In Violent Behavior In Real Life
It is all too easy for a parent to abrogate responsibility for the potential impact of violent video games. If you are in a middle class family living a comfortable life it is comforting to think that the problems highlighted in this article, the negative impacts of playing violent video games are something that will happen to other children, ones from deprived backgrounds or who live in areas in which violence is already a fact of day to day life.
Sadly while this is a comfortable fiction it is, nonetheless, a fiction. The simple truth is that playing violent video games will cause an increase in the likelihood that a child will become more violent, aggressive and a potential bully whether they come from a professional family in a comfortable suburbs or from a family scraping to make ends meet in a trailer park or urban ‘hood’. The statistics are chilling; a 3 year study of children in Singapore showed that playing an M rated game (M = mature) results in 40% of middle school girls and 60% of their male counterparts to beat up another person (compared with 14 and 39% respectively for those who did not play). These children are also more likely to get involved in bullying and the rising problem of cyberbullying.
The reasons for this are complex but come back to the combination of the aggressor/victim effect (see 6 above) which occurs when players are desensitized to violence through game play resulting in their becoming more aggressive overall. At the same time the games condition the players to be on constant alert for potential threats. When they encounter such a threat or perceived threat they react in a far more violent manner than they would otherwise have done.
2. Video Games Encourage Violent Behavior
We have already seen (above) that playing violent video games can affect the players’ attitude towards women and the most vulnerable in society. We know that it desensitizes people to the impact of aggression and violence and that it causes a reduction in the ability to feel empathy. The cumulative effect of all of this is to cause an increase in the likelihood that someone who plays violent video games is more likely to exhibit violent behavior in real life and that behavior is likely to be a level of magnitude greater than if they had not played the games.
The reason for this is not only because video games are a realistic and immersive world but because they are a world that rewards an increase in violence on the part of the player. In essence the more violent someone is in the game the more likely they are to be rewarded with higher spec weapons, with a move to a new level and so on. Frighteningly a study of 81 video games marketed for teenagers showed that 90% delivered high level rewards for violence towards others in the game scenario. What is of greatest concern is that the players of such games showed a much higher level of aggression in real life than those who played a version of the game that did not contain any violence at all or punished violence when it occurred.
1. Violent Video Games Allow Children To Be More Effective When Engaged in Violent Behavior
We have already seen (see above) that playing video games is an immersive, interactive environment. This means that when players are asked to complete a violent action (it might be something as ‘simple’ as a basic shooting or stabbing but it could also include more complex tasks such as fighting with a chainsaw) they are in effect learning to complete these actions. Game controllers have come a long way since the basic joystick and controls are now very sophisticated which allows the entire experience to be chillingly realistic. This is a true worry as recent research has shown that the more realistic the controller the greater the effect on the level of aggression inculcated by the game experience.
This effect is not just hypothetical, it has already been seen in the real world in horrifying cases such as the Norwegian mass murder (see above) and in one chilling instance the perpetrators of one shooting in Tennessee claimed that they were inspired by their experiences when playing Grand Theft Auto. Studies have also shown that those responsible for shootings were more likely to be an accurate shot and to aim for the head if they had played a first person shooter style violent video game with a gun style controller.
We do not deny that video games can be a fun and worthwhile activity but we absolutely do not believe that violence has a place in those games. We do not argue against games of strategy but against first person shooter style games such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and the like. These games immerse players in a variety of violent scenarios which provide them with the opportunity to use and train on a wide variety of weapons and engage in some appallingly violent activity.
If this behavior remained on the computer we might find it distasteful but have no reason to ban it but the sad truth is that the violence cannot be contained. Players become so desensitized to violence that they lose their boundaries and inhibitions in real life, they start to see threats where they would not otherwise have done and escalate their response to such incidents to the extent that aggression becomes their default setting. Those in favor of video games like to claim that there is no causal relationship between violence and playing games but the facts as set out in this article say otherwise. It is indisputable that the American Army uses games to train their troops to kill. It is indisputable that mass shooters have used such games to train themselves before their rampages, that they have been inspired to do what they did by playing games and that the FBI takes the causal link so seriously that they believe a threat of violence is more credible when made by a person with a history of playing violent games.
These games have no place in the ordinary home.