Whenever a violent crime is committed, the victims often seek to find the very causes of such a horrific event. Was the suspect a victim of abuse? Was the shooter a social outcast? Oftentimes, the signs lead to nowhere. Other times, it is singularly attributed to perhaps a seemingly harmless activity: playing video games.
But are video games the root cause of such violence? Some argue that video games trivialize criminal actions such as robbing, murdering and raping. Others, however, assert that violent video games are an outlet for those with violent urges to find their release.
According to a study conducted by Iowa State University, as many as 89% of video games contain violent material. Oftentimes, such violence in video games reward the player: money for shooting somebody, time bonuses for efficiency and better guns. Such rewards reinforce positive ideals of using violence, and therefore could potentially account for aggression. At other times, players are penalized for violent actions, like when hostages are injured. Therefore, violence is rewarded, but only in certain contexts. It’s a matter of what contexts in which these actions are being rewarded, and whether such actions translate into real-world behaviors that matter in social environment.
In “Violence and Video Games,” author Royal Van Horn makes an argument for why video games themselves do not contribute to violence, but rather a lack of parental supervision. It’s perhaps the sustained response to stimuli in video games that is a direct contributor to the mass shootings seen on the news. After all, Horn states that younger children “is the group at highest risk for being affected by media violence.” Violence may allow people to siphon their antisocial tendencies into socially acceptable means.
That isn’t to say video games are necessarily beneficial. In “Video Games and Adolescent Fighting,”
Michael R. Ward states that a survey of 266 college students showed a positive correlation between the playing of video games and aggressive behavior. In the study, findings compared hours of video game play to instances of fights, while taking sex into account as well.
So do video games directly contribute to real-world violence? Certainly it’s a question that’s been extensively studied, but the debate hasn’t been utterly conclusive. The topic has also been the subject of legislation in many states, though restrictions on video games today remain fairly loose. Contributors to violence aren’t necessarily born from a single variable. Rather, contributions from family relationships, alcoholism and mental disorders are still potential causes of violence. Nevertheless, it’s unmistakable that video games, $54 billion industry, still has a prevalent role in the media landscape, and its effects on people still need to be carefully considered.