According to the data found on the website (Violent Video Games- ProCon.org 2018) sixty percent of Americans play video games. Twenty-eight percent of gamers are under 18 years old and they contribute to the $21.53 billion-dollar U.S. gaming industry (Violent Video Games- ProCon.org 2018). Video games depicting violence make up 50 percent of the top-selling video games sold today(Violent Video Games- ProCon.org 2018). These video games have been blamed for school shootings, and a rise in bullying. The debate is not new, and dates back to as early as 1976(Violent Video Games- ProCon.org 2018). Proponents contend that violent video games contribute to desensitization, increased bullying, and aggressive behaviors in children. Opponents disagree and have confidence that these games give a safe place to express anger, and aggressiveness, and that playing these games lead to lower crime rates. This raises the question: Do violent video games contribute to an increase in violence in youth? The major perspectives on whether violence in video games contributes to an increase in violent behaviors, and actions are; The American Psychological Association (APA), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), President Trump, other politicians, game industry leaders, and expert researchers.
This issue is not a new one to the population. This debate has been a hot topic of interest for 32 years. It started in 1976 with the release of the game Death Race (Violent Video Games- ProCon.org 2018). The object of this game was to run over gremlin-like figures with a car. The argument began because of the similarities to people that these creatures mimicked. Reports were also circulated that the real title of the game was Pedestrian. It was only when protestors went to the extreme of physically destructing these games that they were no longer in production (Violent Video Games- ProCon.org 2018). Fast- forward to 1993, and the release of the popular fighting game Mortal Kombat. Again, the public was outraged at the level of violence portrayed in the game. This led Congress to conduct senate hearings on controlling the sale of these violent games. In the weeks prior to these hearings Senator Lieberman, and children’s television icon, Captain Kangaroo conducted a press conference to condemn these violent games. Fear of these impending regulations directed the video game industry to create the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in 1994(Fulton, 2015). It wasn’t until 1999 in the days following the Columbine Massacre that all of society was in total agreement with each other that there was a definitive connection between violent video games , and mass shootings. It was reported that the teenagers that that opened fire at Columbine High School were avid players of the first-person shooting game Doom. This was the critical starting point where many individuals became more aware of the issues surrounding the games, and crusaded to end video game violence(Disis, 2018). In the response to this mass shooting Senator Jeff Sessions blamed the negative influence of movies, media, music, and violent video games. They are able to hook into the Internet and play video games that are extraordinarily violent, that cause the blood pressure to rise and the adrenaline level to go up, games that cause people to be killed and the players to die themselves. It is a very intense experience.(Cherkis, 2013). In 1995 New York Senator Hillary Clinton proposed a bill that would criminalize selling M rated and Adults only games to minors, stating that these games were a silent epidemic of desensitization (Violent Video Games- ProCon.org 2018). The bill did not pass. Many subsequent efforts at the state level were also denied. In the aftermath of the Parkland, FL school shooting, an article posted on abcnews.com cited that President Trump feels that there may be a need for imposed reforms for the gaming industry in regard to video game violence(Phelps/abc news, 2018).
Many scientific studies, and experiments have been conducted throughout the years to determine of there is a link between violence in video games, and increased violence in children, and teenagers. A study conducted in 2014 concluded that 90% of pediatricians agreed that violence in video games can increase aggressive behaviors in children, and 67% of parents concurred with this perspective(Violent Video Games- ProCon.org, 2018). The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement claiming that there is a proven connection between virtual violence, and real-world aggression(Virtual Violence, 2016). In 2017 The American Psychological Association’s task force on violent media concluded that although there is a definitive link between violent video games and increased aggression, there is no sufficient evidence to link these games to violent criminal behavior (APA, 2013). Over 130 studies, and experiments have been conducted all over the globe, and there have been over 130,000 participants within these studies. Many researchers, and doctors agree and believe there is a direct causal link. Brad Bushman a psychology and communications professor at Ohio State University believes that the evidence found from the many studies is clear, and there is a direct link between the games and increased aggressive behaviors in children. He not only claims that they lead to an increase in aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal, including increased heart rate, and aggressive behavior, but also a decrease in empathy for others (Association for Psychological Science, 2011). Douglas Gentile a developmental psychologist at Iowa State University agrees with Bushman and states the psychological science on the link between the games and increased aggression still holds up. He believes that parental involvement and setting limits on their children’s video game use is the best way to protect them overall (Association for Psychological Science, 2011). Many of these studies have concluded that a decrease in empathy is linked to video games depicting violence. A study published by the APA concluded that exposure to violent media led to decreased empathy, and positive social behavior ( Violent Video Games- ProCon.org, 2018). Prominent Psychologist, and researcher Jeanne B. Funk PhD, and other notable members of the Department of Psychology at the University of Toledo conducted a study consisting of 150 fourth and fifth graders, and the effect violent media has on empathy, and prosocial behaviors. This study found that video games are the only form of media that is linked to a decrease in empathy (Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004, pp.22). An increase in mass school shootings done by teenagers has been a focus of this debate in the last 20 years. According to an article published in USA Today online, as of February 2018 there have been 25 fatal school shootings in the Untied States since Columbine in 1999(Diebel, 2018).
Many psychologists, medical professionals, and game industry leaders disagree that there is a definitive link between video games and increased aggressive behavior, and violence. Many believe that video games are only a small influential factor in the potential for real world violence. Many argue that there is a lack of supporting evidence indicating a prevalence of past physical abuse, and psychological issues with participants of the studies. Information published by The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) published data that shows the difference in video game popularity, and crime rates. Data depicted on a graph produced by the ESA shows a steady rise in video game sales from 1998-2015, but also shows a significant decline in reports of violent crimes during this time period (Entertainment Software Association, 2015). This data leads many to contend that video games have a positive effect on teenagers’ aggressive behaviors and gives them a safe outlet to release negative emotions. Christopher J. Ferguson PhD, and associate professor at Stetson University published a paper stating that the results of The Hitman Study suggest that video games help with mood management, and lead to a decrease in depression, and hostile behaviors(Ferguson, & Rueda, 2010). There is a general consensus of game developers, creators, founders, and designers that claim that not only is there no link to an increase in violence, but there is evidence supporting a positive outcome from playing these games. Co- founder of Liquid Entertainment Ed del Castillo feels that games allow players to lessen their aggression by providing an outlet on the screen, instead of in the real world(Fisher, 2013). There are many that argue that video games are not the most important contributing factor when it comes to an increase in aggressive behaviors, and real-world violence. Patrick Markey a professor of psychology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania contends that recent studies show video games a tiny influential factor on aggression, and real life violence. In an article published in Healthday Markey stated, This suggests that less than 1 percent of the variance in aggression [among kids] is explained by exposure to video game violence. This is an itty-bitty effect. (Norton, 2018).
There are many perspectives on the issue surrounding the link between violence in video games and real-life violent acts. There have been many studies, and experiments done to determine if there is a link between the two. Although studies have shown a link to these games, and increased aggression, there is no conclusive evidence linking this to real-world violent acts. It is important for us to weigh all the data compiled from the many studies conducted throughout the last 20 years, and gain perspective on this critical debate. By doing so we can become better educated and help to come up with a solution to the occurrence of violence committed by youth in our society.
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