Violent Video Games: Do They Lead to Aggressive Behavior or Not?
Video games for children, teens and young adults bring in
$10 billion a year in the United States. Certainly some of
the games offer harmless entertainment and maybe even some
educational value. But the games that seem to be the most
eagerly anticipated, the games that major retailer Zany Brainy
says "the industry is focusing on," and the games
that fly off the shelves as soon as they're released are those
rated "M" for mature and "AO" for adults
Over 90 percent of U.S. children and adolescents play
video games (for an average of 30 minutes a day).
To garner an "M" rating, the content is intended
for people aged 17 and older, and may contain sexual themes
and intense violence or language. An "AO"-rated
game is suitable only for adults 18 and over, and may include
graphic depictions of sex and/or violence.
The popularity of the games is astounding. According to a
2004 report by the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource
Center, a 2001 review found that 49 percent of the 70 top-selling
video games contained serious violence. Out of all games,
41 percent required violence for the protagonists to achieve
their goals. And in 17 percent of the games, violence was
the primary focus of the game itself.
The violence is often brutal and degrading to women. In the
game "Duke Nukem," for instance, a player can enter
a room with naked women saying "Kill me," while
tied to posts. In the Grand Theft Auto series, one of the
most popular and also most violent and controversial of the
games, a player is rewarded if he has sex with a prostitute
and then murders her (the most recent of the series, Grand
Theft Auto: San Andreas, was the best-selling title in 2004).
Whether or not these games contribute to violent "real-life"
behavior among their primary users (pre-teen and teen boys)
has spurred major controversy. And, as with most hot-button
issues, there are strong proponents and opponents on either
Yes, Video Games Cause Violence
Much attention was brought to video game violence after it
was realized that the two teenagers behind the Columbine High
School shootings played (and even created their own levels
of) DOOM, one of the first "first-person shooter"
video games (attesting to its popularity, a movie version
of DOOM was just released on October 21).
The most recent study on the topic, to be published in the
January 2006 edition of Media Psychology, found that playing
violent video games does indeed cause violent thought patterns
in the brain.
A team of international researchers observed 13 males, aged
18 to 26, for the study. It was found that, after playing
a mature-rated game, 11 out of the 13 participants showed
significant effects from the games.
An image from the Grand Theft Auto video game series.
"There is a causal link between playing the first-person
shooting game in our experiment and brain-activity pattern
that are considered as characteristic for aggressive cognitions
and affects," said René Weber, assistant professor
of communication and telecommunication at Michigan State University
(MSU) and a researcher on the project. "There is a neurological
link and there is a short-term causal relationship.
"Violent video games frequently have been criticized
for enhancing aggressive reactions such as aggressive cognitions,
aggressive affects or aggressive behavior. On a neurobiological
level we have shown the link exists," he says.
Previous studies have also found such links. Said psychologist
Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D.:
"Violent video games provide a forum for learning
and practicing aggressive solutions to conflict situations.
In the short run, playing a violent video game appears to
affect aggression by priming aggressive thoughts. Longer-term
effects are likely to be longer lasting as well, as the
player learns and practices new aggression-related scripts
that can become more and more accessible for use when real-life
conflict situations arise."
Some researchers say that violent video games are worse than
watching similarly violent TV programs or movies because the
interactive nature of the game makes the player become involved
and learn to identify with the aggressive game character.
No, Video Games and Violence are Not Related
On the other side of the coin are those who argue that no
such link exists. One recent study at the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign supports this case. After playing a violent
video game called Asheron's Call 2 (AC2) for an average of
56 hours in a month, no link between the game and real-world
aggression was found in the 75 players (average age 28).
Said lead author Dmitri Williams, "Players were not
statistically different from the non-playing control group
in their beliefs on aggression after playing the game than
they were before playing. Nor was game play a predictor of
aggressive behaviors. Compared with the control group, the
players neither increased their argumentative behaviors after
game play nor were significantly more likely to argue with
their friends and partners."
Another study of 35 8- to 12-year olds, in which the children
played a non-violent and a violent video game for 15 minutes
each, found the game playing did not alter the children's
previous tendencies toward aggressiveness or empathy.
Are the Game Ratings Enough?
Just as controversial as the violence issue is whether or
not the game ratings go far enough. While some contend that
it's up to parents to monitor the game ratings and their children's
exposure to them, a study found that many parents, though
aware of the ratings and of their meanings, do not take them
"Most parents think their child is mature enough so
that these games will not influence them," said Jurgen
Freund, chief executive with the Swiss research firm Modulum.
According to the study of over 1,000 UK adults, parents were
more concerned with the number of hours their children were
playing video games than with what game they were playing.
"Parents perceive age ratings as a guide but not as
a definite prohibition," said Freund. "Some may
have not liked the content but they did not prohibit the game."
And while the debate is likely to continue on a large scale
in years to come (California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
recently signed into law Assembly Bill 1179, which prohibits
selling or renting violent video games to Californians under
18), one thing's for sure -- kids will continue to be drawn
to them, if for no other reason than because they're not supposed
to have them.
"We called it Magic 18," said Freund. "The
18+ label was seen as promoting the content, promising adult
content rather than saying 'my parents will stop me playing
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