Are video games unfairly singled out by the media and social commentators for the violent acts they are supposedly the cause of?
I love video games. Any platform, any genre, any story, I am never happier when there is a controller in my hand. I’ve been an avid player of games since I first played the Playstation at the age of seven, when my father introduced me to Resident Evil. Don’t judge him, it might have been gory but the night terrors stopped after a couple of weeks. But over time I found at home shooting zombies, racing carts, raiding tombs, and became engrossed in the escapism of the video game universe.
So, perhaps I’m biased, but when I frequently read through a newspaper or online article, I find myself shaking my head in bitter disappointment and anger when I see an article such as this. It links to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), which provides evidence of a consistent relationship between video games and acts of aggression.
The study claims after reviewing over 300 papers published on the subject between 2005 and 2013 that there is an undoubted link between violent video games and acts of aggression and violence in the lives of regular video gamers. The report concludes: “The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”
Unsurprisingly, these results were denounced by pro-gaming groups and those involved in the industry, who state that the APA have a select bias against video games which they highlight through this research. In response to these latest findings, UK Interactive Entertainment said: “This report, like others before it, does not identify a causal link between games and aggression, and definitely no link between games and real life violence. Such studies also show that games offer many positive cognitive skills benefits, such as problem solving skills, team management, and social skills.”
Still, this has led to more calls for video games to adjust their ratings as they become more violent and adult-orientated. Yet, this isn’t the first time video games have been found on the receiving end of comments about how they corrupt minds and cause unhelpful behavior patterns, particularly in children and teenagers. One only need to google the phrase “video games cause violence” to become awash with scholarly articles, interviews and headlines making that exact claim.
However, despite these claims of the APA, not one single scholarly article or experimental research program has been able to discern conclusive proof that significant exposure to video games causes violent behavior. Whilst atrocities such as the Aurora Cinema shooting and the Sandy Hook massacre have been linked to video games, there is no firm evidence to suggest they were a predominant cause in either of these cases. Just because the culprits played a lot of video games does not infer that they became uncharacteristically violent – I know many avid gamers that haven’t taken part in mass shootings.
As a gamer, it is hard to find reason to defend this targeting when other medias such as films, television and books seem to receive far less damning critique, at least in such a broad fashion. A few decades ago, when these systems were new and still developing, it would be natural for conservative bystanders to find reason to damage their reputation. But today, video games are now more profitable and widespread than Hollywood movies, meaning they are now the mainstream.
And yet, they still come under immense scrutiny from certain sects in the news media especially, who lock into any tenuous link between video games and violent crimes and actions. It breeds the myth that video games are the sole cause of these actions, that seeing violent acts on screen and participating via a controller or keyboard will make it much likelier that gamers will perform them in real life. Was the wave of criticism that befell Grand Theft Auto 5 shared by mainstream films like Taken or television shows like Dexter or Hannibal that could be recreated in real life?
Frankly, this is scaremongering and unfair targeting of a media that has become wildly successful over the years. Yes, there are violent games, and even I’m willing to admit that heavy exposure can separate you from the rest of the “real world”. There are also violent movies, television shows and books that can be equally as dangerous if given prolonged devotion to – it is simply a case of you can have too much of a good thing.
So whenever I read a headline that refers to a violent act being caused by video games or a study that boasts such a claim, I take the sensible approach that these occur rarely to a handful of individuals with underlying psychological issues. Video games are hardly ever a “cause”. A catalyst or accelerator, perhaps, but rarely a cause, and should seldom be treated as such.
Frankly, if you want to see how video games can cause violence, why not take away your son/daughter’s console for the sole reason that you read some games will make them aggressive?