Violence and Video Games: An Ongoing Dilemma
With the rise of technology come many new popular forms of entertainment. In the past twenty years, video game popularity has skyrocketed, even surpassing the motion-picture industry in sales and revenue. In the past, technologies such as radio, motion picture, and television have been scrutinized for supposed violent side effects on the mind. The most recent victim of this scrutiny is the most increasingly popular form of entertainment - computer and video games. Much of the scrutiny the video games industry is receiving is due to simple ignorance about the industry, as well as some poorly run studies that receive a great deal of media attention. After evaluating many claims and upon close inspection of many studies, it can be concluded that there is currently no proven link between real-life violence and video game violence.
As an industry worth over 7 billion-dollars, video and computer games are becoming a prime form of entertainment in the home. The video game industry also mirrors radio and television with the amount of criticism it is receiving (Grapes 1-2). Video games are currently receiving a great deal of scrutiny from anti-violence groups, the media, and some studies. One study, run by psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill, was conducted in order to find a link, if any, between real-life violence and video games. The study claims they have reached conclusions proving a relationship between violent video games and real-life violence. In the this study, the experimenters sat a number of people down, some playing the violent action “shooter” Wolfenstein 3D, and others playing the calm puzzle game Myst. The arousal was much higher in the people playing Wolfenstein 3D than in the people playing Myst, and the experimenters interpreted it as heightened aggression (Freedman 5). Many other studies have also come to similar conclusions using similar techniques.
The media clearly supports the negative claims about video game violence. National news broadcasters, newspapers, and magazines commonly run segments and articles highlighting new studies and their negative conclusions, as most recently seen with the events in Germany. In an article by Ken MacQueen that was clearly “one-sided”, MacQueen uses offensive phrases, such as “Nothing is more intimate than a knife; you can practically feel them die” to reinforce an attitude of neagativity towards video games in the reader (MacQueen 23). Elsewhere in the article, Stephen Kline, from Simon Fraser University, claims “…the industry is getting away with murder” (MacQueen 24). Throughout the article, Kline continues to point out the most violent aspects of the most violent video games, using propaganda to further his belief, rather than actual evidence. The article simply failed to recognize any other points-of-view.
With numerous studies and claims such as these, one would assume many statistical facts would be readily available to back them up. This is entirely untrue. In fact, juvenile crime has taken a steady decrease with each coming year since 1992 (Stossel 2). Overall, violent crimes among juveniles and adults dropped almost 20% from 1991 to 1997. This is despite the fact that video game popularity has increased a tremendous amount in the past decade.
In fact, many industry experts claim video games can actually benefit children. Some industry experts, such as Sega of America’s former president Tom Kalinske, claim that video games can help children develop new skills for the technological job market. Kalinske even goes as far as to say it helps many children in their education. He points out a true story of how video game technology helped a struggling special education class in Southern California. One student was even able to regain seven years of math, a study he had much trouble with before the new program (Grapes 31). Other experts claim that after playing video games, children have a better ability for following directions, improved hand-eye coordination, and are better at problem-solving and logical skills (Falcon 2). Problem-solving and logical skills are especially useful since they are believed to correlate with a person’s I.Q.
Criticism against video games is not entirely unwarranted, however. Even though the average American “gamer” in 2000 was of the age twenty-eight, there are still millions of children playing video games, both violent and non-violent (Gannet 3). Most people would agree that letting someone as young as eight years old play a video game with any amount of gore should be restricted. Video game developers have been very responsible in the use of these ratings. According to a report issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the industry has made progress in limiting inappropriate ads to children. The National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), an organization that evaluates media for adequate family-oriented content and responsible regulations, complimented the video game industry’s efforts to keep violent games out of the hands of children. In their “Sixth Annual Video and Computer Game Report Card,” released on December 13, 2001, NIMF gave the video game industry an “A-“ grade (Walsh 5). According to NIMF, the video game industry has been “more responsible than the other media industries” (Walsh 2).
Many studies about video games have been conducted. A good number of studies are conducted by splitting a certain number of people into two groups, one group playing violent games, and the other playing non-violent games. Shortly after the allotted time of play, the subjects’ aggressive thoughts are measured. Almost always, the people who played the violent games had a much larger amount of aggressive thoughts than the people who played non-violent games. These thoughts are interpreted by the experimenters as a higher aggression (Freedman 3-5). This is where one problem lies. Its not truly a measurement of how aggressive someone is, but simply that they are thinking about aggressiveness.
Jonathan L. Freedman, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, comments on these types of studies, saying “After watching a war movie, you probably have thoughts of war, but no one would suggest you are more likely to wage war” (Freedman 7). Other studies, such as the aforementioned Anderson and Dill (2000) study, go as far as to interpret higher arousal or excitement as a sign of higher aggression. They don’t even look for any other possible source of the excitement or arousal, but simply assume the violence caused it (Freedman 5). Authors of one study even admit that to come to negative conclusions would still be risky at best. Also, Marc Saltzman, from the Gannet News Service, points out how “the authors don’t control for the possibility that the subjects may have a predisposition to violence in the first place” (Gannet 2). Many of these problems can have major effects on the results of the study. The list of flaws simply goes on and on.
It seems the United States Surgeon General recognizes the lack of truly scientific and fairly conducted studies. In 1999, President Clinton called for a report on the effects of violent media on children. The study, conducted by the Surgeon General, concluded “there is no substantial evidence that supports the hypotheses that violent video games have any effect on a child’s psyche, let alone their behavior” (McDowell 1). The Surgeon General also found that video games can help children by giving them more “positive forward thinking” (McDowell 1). With the support of the Surgeon General, one would think that the media tendency to scrutinize video games would lessen, if only by a small amount. Sadly, this report did not make much news and is ignored quite a lot in the media. Instead, countless news reports still point out the outdated media violence study by the Surgeon General in 1972, named “Television and Growing Up: The Impact of Televised Violence”. This study claimed media violence, including the then-popular video game arcade, was demoralizing youth (Illinois 2). More people would likely support the media’s video game arguments if they would stick to studies on the current types of video games, rather than games from the 1970s.
Many courts have been graciously fair when cases against the video game industry are brought to court, however. One teacher’s family in the Columbine High School shooting filed a lawsuit against several video game makers and publishers, claiming they were responsible for the attacks. On March 4, 2002, the United States District Judge Lewis Babcock dismissed the case in favor of the video game industry (Wadhams 1). In Indianapolis, a case was brought to court that was fighting to keep any game, violent or not, out of the hands of children. The video game industry won this case, while being given $300,000 dollars to cover legal fees (Gibson 1). This case was simply an entire waste of money, and simply assists in proving how modern society can sometimes foolishly look anywhere for scapegoats.
However, as seen in the recent decision handed down by Judge Limbaugh, games in the United States have been ruled unprotected under the First Amendment! As, Tycho Brahe of www.penny-arcade.com recently stated “Jason X makes the cut, the legally recognized expression cut (as well as the "cut into my head and gouge my brain" cut), and somehow Xenogears doesn't.” Jason X, a movie which glorifies teenage violence is valued as free speech yet Xenogears, a game which questions the morality of life and raises questions about faith, God, and Christianity, is not? While violence can be present in many video games, just as films, books, and music, games have the equal amount of opportunity and potential to be works of philosophy, art, and beauty.
Video games, while one of the most popular forms of entertainment, are one of the most controversial topics in today’s society. After compiling and evaluating many different sources of information, including studies, media reports, industry experts’ comments, and court cases, it is clear that there is currently no substantial evidence or support concluding a link between violence and video games. Without fair and well-organized studies, and especially without support of the legal systems, those who claim violence in video games cause people to act violent currently have no solid support for their theories.
-Revised and Edited by Keith "Anubis" Lee
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