The Truth about Videogames and Violence

The United States has endured another school shooting, this time in Washington State. It didn’t take long before the who, what, when, and where were solidified. Now the media will ask why.

Inevitably, video games will become an explanation.

Call of Duty, Doom and Counterstrike have all been blamed for the behaviors of Anders Breivik, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and Seung-Hui Cho respectively. These interactive violent video games cause violent behavior. Or so they say.

Psychologist Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M International University explains why people blame video games.

“It’s normal for the country to be frightened and traumatized,” Ferguson says.  “It’s a normal human reaction to want answers. Whether they’re the right answers doesn’t always matter.”

The easy right answer is video games. The thing is, video games do not simply cause violent behavior. There is far more to it and much more research needed to provide conclusive proof.

A Pew study conducted in 2008 found that 97 percent of adolescents play video games. If video games cause violence is it fair to say that 97 percent of adolescents are violent? Probably not…

Violence has existed since the beginning of time. It’s not like people started to get violent in 1958 when physicist William Higinbotham created the first video game. Do you know what else people were blaming for juvenile delinquency in the 1950s? Comic books. Specifically the comic Superman.

This is one of the flaws that comes with the argument that video games cause violence. People blame new fads that they do not trust. They rally against an industry they hate. It happened with rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and again with heavy metal in the 1980s. After the 1999 Columbine Massacre, in Littleton, Colorado, U.S., video games became the scapegoat.

But where is the consistent scientific proof? Scientists are highly polarized on this topic. There is a common criticism of research that links violent games and real life violence–the definition of violence. Each scientist designed their experiments around a different definition of violent behavior, making it hard to compare studies and find fair conclusions.

Additionally, there are other factors that may influence violent behavior including predisposition and home life.

Although science has not proven a link between violent behavior and violent video games, it has proven a link between aggression and losing. The BBC reported that, “feelings of aggression after playing video games are more likely to be linked to gameplay mechanics rather than violent content.”

This means that losing a video game causes aggression. Similarly succeeding in a videogame results in no behavior change.

The study used altered versions of Half-Life 2. One version was violent and one version was non-violent. Additionally, one had a tutorial and one did not. The psychologists found that those who played without the tutorial displayed the most anger. As Forbes contributor Paul Tassi explains, “being bad at even a non-violent version of the game was more rage-inducing than playing a violent version with instruction.”

I look at my own gaming habits and this is true. I can spend hours mowing down demons in Diablo 3 without a single hint of aggression, or I can lose Gran Turismo by 0.34 seconds and want to throw my controller through the T.V. Tassi would agree citing Diablo and Mario Party as his examples.

My point is that while there is evidence to suggest losing a video game causes aggressive behavior after the incident, there just isn’t enough to prove long-term consequences.

I’m willing to bet that in 20 years we’ll blame flying-heavy-metal-playing-virtual-reality cars for our children’s behavior, and we’ll praise video games for their ability to teach hand-eye coordination, cooperation, and problem solving skills.

1 comment

  1. The ideas that are brought out in this are really interesting. I would agree that it is more aggravating when you lose rather than just viewing violent behavior. Just because there is violent content, it is not as real horror movies or or even some stories on the news. I also find that because there are millions of people who play video games daily, it is unfair to blame a small percentage of crime on something millions of other people spend time with.

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