The war on video games has been going on since the nineties. Video games have been attacked by the NRA, feminists, social justice warriors, religious leaders, governments of the US and other countries, and the media. The dispute has entered the spotlight again with the involvement of the president of the US. As others before him, Donald Trump has taken a stand that violent video games have something to do with mass shootings. The commander in chief met with the leaders and the critics of the gaming industry to consider the dangers of gaming.
“More and more people say the level of violence in video games is shaping young people’s thoughts.” – Donald Trump
One of the proofs in the case against video games we hear is that mass shooters played violent video games. Among mostly cited are Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Proponents of video games argue that it’s a question of visibility, with games being everywhere (some suggest 70% of adolescent males play violent video games) and mass shootings occurring rarely but making the headlines.
The media’s portrayal of the link between violence and video games is used to sell prints. When we look at the statistics, for the last 20 years youth violent crimes have actually been going down, and at the same time, video games sales have been going through the roof. One would be tempted to figure there is actually a negative correlation there.
Conservatives, of course, are not blaming guns and lack of gun control for the shootings, but video games like Call of Duty that feature guns. On the other hand, in support of gaming, Japan is often cited as the country with the least murders per capita and known to be home to many lovers of video games. On the other hand, Japan has a very strict gun control policy. (Their police’s policy of filing a lot of murders as suicides is also a factor, but let’s not get into that.)
Another thing violent video games are accused of is being immoral. Could it be that it’s just the old way of attacking a relatively new medium since you don’t hear war books or horror movies are being dragged around the news in relation to violence? I would guess the games are just as immoral as real world situations they portray, with around 50 armed conflicts and 100000 casualties per year around the world, and US troops engaged in conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Niger, Somalia and elsewhere; although the number of violent crimes in the US has declined since the nineties, there are still about 1,2 million violent crimes reported a year in the US.
What does the research say?
A lot of researchers think aggressive behavior and video games are linked. On the other hand, a lot of them disagree. Some authors are attributing the bad image of video games in the media to the publication bias – a phenomenon that studies showing a link between violence and video games are more likely to be published.
American Psychological Association task force that conducted a review of literature in 2015 founda link between playing violent video games and increased aggression (aggressive behavior, thoughts and feelings and a decrease in sensitivity to aggression) in players, but found insufficient research to link video game play to criminal violence.
There are papers that argue that being bad at difficult video games cause real-world aggression and not the type of game or the amount of blood or violence in the game – the flight or fight response arises because of the competitiveness and not video game violence.
The aforementioned American Psychological Association task force report argues that a number of risk factors together lead to violent behavior, but doesn’t deny that violent video games are one of the factors. Also, the studies that researched the effect of violent video games on the youngest (up to ten years) have been scarce. Because of that, the report proposes that in addition to the current global ratings, ratings that reflect the levels and characteristics of violence should be introduced.
Parental control over children’s play time is an important thing, but it should be approached with caution, because not allowing your child to play popular games at all could be hurting them, since a vast majority of children are playing games, so a child who doesn’t play could feel isolated from their peer group.
As we see, the research findings are more complex than what’s usually in the media. We can say there is a link between violent video games and increased aggression (some researchers blame it on frustration when failing a level and not the type of game)in players, but the link between video games and criminal violence hasn’t been proven and blaming mass shootings on video games is just plain wrong. Of course, we advise parents to monitor what games their children play.