Violent video games have been under the microscope for a number of years. It has been a popular view that violent video games cause people to become more violent and to commit a violent crime. Is this true? Are we even able to know? As someone who has played violent video games for a number of years, here are my thoughts.
First, violent video games have become more popular over the last twenty some years. In the same time frame, violent crime rates have dropped which causes some difficulties in connecting violent video games to increased aggression and increased violent crime. This is not to say that violent games may have some effect on us, but what effect it does have is not as drastic as increasing violent crime. Truth is we may never be able to know what effect they do have on us or even if it is only a negative effect, but at least it doesn’t seem to have the sensationalized effect that the news or certain organizations would have us think.
Second, we have to ask this question. “Are violent video games more dangerous than other forms of violent media?” In a study done by the Secret Service and Department of Education on school attacks in 2004 it showed that 27% of those involved in attacks expressed an interest in violent movies; 24% in violent books; and 12% in violent video games. Both movies and books were of more interest to those involved with school attacks than video games. This doesn’t mean that video games aren’t there, but they are there with other forms of media, and since the largest group 37% were creating their own violent media in journals, poems or essays it is hard to say how much any of these media are to blame. If anything it shows a mixed picture. We can’t simply lift video games out as the scapegoat any more than movies or books.
Third, many people have labeled violent video games as “murder simulators” and that they could help you train for a violent attacks. I’d really like to know what games these people are referencing because I don’t know how to use a gun any more now than I did before I had played video games with guns. Maybe I’d have some idea if I got a gun in my hand, but I’m also pretty certain that shooting a gun is a lot different from pressing a button on a keyboard or a controller. There might be some truth to this, since the US Army is using video games to help training, but even with that I wonder how effective this is or if it is more to teach things like awareness on the field, team work, and strategy than it is to learn how to shoot and kill.
Fourth, we now have a great little thing called a ratings system on video games. Which goes in order of ages is: Early Childhood (EC, which is 3 and up); Everyone (E, 6+); Everyone 10+ (E10+, 10+); Teen (T, 13+), Mature (M, 17+); and Adults Only (AO, 18+). Now the thing about this is that it does require some parental knowledge of the ratings system. It can be a good way of regulating what games you allow your kids to play if you are worried about the effects. If you buy Grand Theft Auto IV for your kids or allow them to play it when it is rated M can you turn around and blame the game for depicting violence?
Finally, if life has taught me anything so far it is that things do not often have one and only one cause. It doesn’t seem to me that violent video games are the root cause of violence. Violence has existed a lot longer than any of our modern media, so to turn around and say that this is the cause of it rings a bit hollow. You don’t have to play violent video games or want your kids to, but we should at least treat video games on the same level as other forms of media. Honestly, casting blame to any media is the easy way out. It causes us to ignore a lot of the more difficult complex issues like mental illness, family environment, bullying, self-esteem, parental involvement, etc. Violent video games, movies, or books may be a piece of the puzzle, but my guess is that they are a minor piece if one at all.
http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_01.html Crime rates from 1990 to 2009
http://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf This is the report from the Secret Service and DOE, statistics referenced are on page 22 of PDF.