Violent video games are nothing new. Wolfenstein (1992), Doom (1993) and Mortal Kombat (1992) are all household names in the video game communities. As technological advances lead to more and more realistic video games, the violence that games portrays becomes much more real also. This article is not here to debate whether or not this violence is appropriate for children etc and so on, because frankly it’s not up to me. Instead, I will look at the troubling trend that has become more and more prevalent regarding the association between violent video games and violent conduct in the real world. In recent years, gun crime in the United States has been at the fore of main-stream media coverage, and various news outlets have given this association too much credence to what is at best an unsubstantiated rumour and at worst a convenient mechanism for distraction from the real issues.
I think we’re all aware of these claims of the correlation. Whether we paid it any attention it engaged in the debate, the debate is seen often on television. The question is though, is there even a debate? According to Snopes, Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University who focuses on video games, found in his research that men who commit severe acts of violence actually play violent video games less than the average male. About 20 percent were interested in violent video games, compared with 70 percent of the general population, he explained in his 2017 book “Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong.” In an interview, Markey said; “Everything kind of suggests no link, or if anything, it goes in the opposite direction,”.
Various American politicians have suggested that there may be a link between real world violence and that seen in video games. In 2018, Donald Trump put forward the incredibly innovative suggestion that there should be a rating given to all films and video games based on violence, sexual content etc. in order to prevent children playing games featuring inappropriate content. The need for a rating system was also suggested by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin in February 2018 in the wake of a high school shooting in Florida. Bevin was quoted as saying;
“There are video games that, yes, are listed for mature audiences, but kids play them, and everybody knows it, and there’s nothing to prevent the child from playing them”
Luckily for Donald, this system already exists and has done since 1994 in the US. The ESRB rates every video game on a scale from E for everyone to ‘Adult only’, a very similar system to the Pan European Game Information or PEGI system in Europe for games. Which ranges them from 3+ to 18+. Even while writing this article I am becoming distracted. Rather than paying attention to the real issues, the indisputable idiocy of their argument draws me to engage with it, to show that it is not the case, and as such it fulfils its role as a distraction mechanism. The rating system is flawed for one reason only, and that is that parents are the ones who, more often than not, the ones who buy the games, but it is not flaws in the rating systems that cause gun crime in the United States.
What is really at hand is whether or not there is any correlation between playing violent video games and violent thoughts and behaviours as a result. An article recently cropped up on my Facebook as a ‘sponsored post’, and I was horrified by the sheer misinformation that it spouted. The article was feature on charismanews.com, a Christian news site. The article included, amongst many other spurious claims, the following paragraph;
“With video games becoming more and more realistic, we need to be extremely cautious as to what our youth and young people are being exposed to on a daily basis. Fantasy violence can leave a troubled mind craving more and more until they act out in reality. There is a violent cultural script that too many children are influenced to live out. To dig further, here is a list of some of the most violent horrible killings in the past few years; all of these killers had an obsession with violent video games.”
The article goes on to, without reference or citation, link various tragedies with violent video games. Spurious links such as; “Dylann (sic) Roof, spent much of his time playing violent video games.” or “Eric Harris, based on his journal, a panel of psychologists, psychiatrists and FBI agents point to Harris’ contempt for others and his total lack of empathy and conscience as evidence of his psychopathic tendencies. He also enjoyed violent video games”. To say that this does not tell the whole story of these stories would be an understatement. These claims are illegitimate, uninformed and genuinely dangerous to anyone who reads them. The article claims later that “Numerous studies have linked violent behaviour to consumption of violence in video games.”, referencing just a single study from the Ohio State University. Coincidentally, the person who conducted the study, Brad Bushman admitted that it was impossible to know for sure how much aggression may increase for those who play video games for months or years due to the fact his study took place over just three days.
So what reliable studies have been conducted regarding a genuine causal link between violent video games and aggressive behaviour? A study conducted by the Royal Society was released on the 13th of February this year, investigating “the extent to which adolescents who spend time playing violent video games exhibit higher levels of aggressive behaviour when compared with those who do not”. With a rather formidable sample size of 1004 British adolescents, the study could be considered a far more reliable one than that put forward by Charisma News. The results of the study showed that there was no evidence to support the position that violent gaming relates to aggressive behaviour. The study also states that there should be; “caution about drawing impulsive, thoughtless or potentially stigmatizing conclusions”. Obviously, this is not conclusive evidence and more studies need to be done to confirm these findings conclusively, but it is certainly better evidence than any we’ve had to date.
Due to the lack of research as of yet, we can not definitively say that there is no link, but we are getting close. Until that point comes, all we can do now is wait for further confirmation. Until that moment comes, we must merely pay no attention to these distraction mechanisms put forward in the media. Video games don’t kill people and no studies have shown that video games cause people to kill people.