The subject of violence in videogames ebbs and flows in the various arenas of public discussion according to the frequency of news reports that sensationalize juvenile violence and mass murderers. Whenever a mentally disturbed individual performs horrific and brutal murders, it seems like journalists clamor to find a copy of Doom on the murderer’s personal computer, after which they publish headlines like, “MASS MURDERER WAS VIOLENT VIDEOGAME ENTHUSIAST.” Subsequently, politicians ascend to their podiums and promise to end videogame violence in an attempt to win votes from alarmed parents.
It becomes very hard to separate fact from fiction when stories like these are highly popularized and then twisted for the personal agendas of politicians or advocate groups. There is a horrible fallacy of logic that many people are guilty of when they make judgments or form opinions about a subject such as videogame violence. The operative phrase that we must all bear in mind when we consider such topics is, “correlation does not imply causality.” If a person kills another person and violent videogames are found in the murderer’s home, that absolutely does not establish a causal link between the violent videogame and the decision to commit murder.
Does excessive videogame violence promote aggressive behavior in the individuals, especially youths, who play them? This is the question that must be answered. Concerned parties want to know who is culpable whenever a violent crime is attributed to videogames. Who takes the blame; the player, the publisher, or the parents? Hopefully some current research will give us a bit of insight.
The predominant question in research regarding violent videogames is, obviously, is whether or not they have deleterious effects on how we think and behave, and secondly, if these effects pervade or are only short-term in their duration.
Proponents of observational learning theories would say that impressionable youths can mimic what they see in the videogames they play, so if a young boy sees one game character shoot another with a gun, then he may perform the same action if he were able to get a hold of one. This pattern of learning can also be applied to other media through which violent images and concepts can be communicated, such as television, music, and more appropriately what the individual experiences in real life.
Other researchers find that violent videogames can desensitize an individual to violence. Bartholow, Bushman, & Setir (2006) have found that participants who play violent videogames showed a significant decrease in response to violent images. Desensitization to violence is considered hazardous to the psyche because psychologists reason that the less averse to violence we are, the more willing we will be to commit it. An appropriate example would be a child who plays violent videogames, loses any and all emotional response to violence that would make him shy away from it, and then kills one of his peers when such an opportunity arises.
In addition, some researchers have found that violent videogame players lose pro-social behaviors. Sheese and Graziano (2005) found participants who played violent videogames in pairs were more likely to exploit their partner for an award than pairs who played nonviolent videogames. However, the findings did not conclude that this effect was necessarily created by the violence, but could instead be caused by increased feelings of competition.
Many researchers have found evidence to the contrary, or hypothesize that violent videogames do not have long-lasting or negative consequences. The most popular counter-argument, and the one with the most validity, is the idea that a certain personality type, which is predisposed to violence, is attracted to violent videogames. Instead of violent videogames causing violent behavior, these researchers believe violent videogames attract a certain type of person.
Kronenberger et al. (2005) found that violent media has a stronger impact on participants who suffered from disruptive behavior disorders. In addition, Sigurdsson et al. (2006) found that the acceptance of violence is strongly associated with the interest in violent computer games. Some researchers go so far as to propose interest in violent videogames as a strong indicator of personality disorders.
Interest in violent videogames may even be an indicator of family conflict. Research performed by Vandewater, Lee, and Shim (2005) found adolescents in high-conflict families watched more violent media, and younger children in high-conflict families played more moderately-violent videogames than non-violent videogames.
With the current information, we now must ask who is responsible when a youth commits a crime and the violent videogames that he or she has played may have attributed to their violent demeanor. Many politicians and child advocacy groups would place the blame on the videogame publishers since they are creating a potentially hazardous product that is being marketed to young children and teenagers.
If we make a comparison between tobacco companies and videogame publishers, we will see that there are similar restrictions already in place. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rates videogames according to their content. If the ESRB rates a videogame for mature audiences, then only individuals who are 17 and older may purchase it. This is equivalent to state laws that require an individual to be 18 years of age to purchase tobacco products.
If the videogame publishers have to follows the rules of the ESRB and disclose all relevant material of the game so that the ESRB can give it an appropriate rating, then it shouldn’t be a problem since the violent videogames won’t be accessible to younger children. However, younger children do get violent videogames one way or another. Whose fault is it now? Many people would say that this is something the child’s parents should oversee. Parents and legal guardians are responsible for the health and well-being of their children, and therefore they are responsible in large part for the exposure (or lack thereof) to violence that their child receives. It is imperative that every parent who has a child that plays videogames takes it upon him or herself to understand the different ESRB ratings and takes an active interest in the games that their child plays.
Bartholow, B. D., Bushman, B. J., Setir, M. A. (2006). Chronic violent video game exposure and desensitization to violence: Behavioral and event-related brain potential data. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 532-539.
Kronenberger, W.G, Mathews, V. P., Dunn, D. W., Wang, Y., Wood, E. A, Giauque, A. L., Larsen, J. J., Rembusch, M. E., Lowe, M. J., Li, T. (2005). Media violence exposure and executive functioning in aggressive and control adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61 (6), 725-737
Sheese, B. E. & Graziano, W. G. (2005). Deciding to defect: The effects of video-game violence on cooperative behavior. Psychological Science, 16(5), 354-357.
Sigurdsson, J. F., Gisli, G. H., Bragason, A. V., Kristjansdottir, E., Sigfusdottir, I. D. (2006). The role of violent cognition in the relationship between personality and the involvement in violent films and computer games. Personality and Individual Differences, 41, 381-392.
Vandewater, E. A., Lee, J. H., Shim, M. (2005). Family conflict and violent electronic media use in school-aged children. Media Psychology, 7, 73-86.