Violent Games Do Not Make Children Violent

Same tired debate, different day

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Graphic: Alinna Boonklun/ SAC.Media

Recently, an aggravating topic reared its ugly head yet again. This particular issue has plagued the video game industry for decades, and it’s a favorite amongst parents and politicians. I’m talking about violence in video games. I’m sure everyone has heard the claim at least once; violent games make for violent children. Every single time I hear this, it’s like the scene in “Jaws” when Robert Shaw rakes his fingernails across a chalkboard. Being a long-time heavy consumer of video games, I’ve had to listen to this asinine dribble for entirely too long. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of this discussion. Video games do not turn children into violent little monsters.

I’ve been playing video games for 22 years now. In that time, I’ve played more violent games than I care to attempt to count. I’ve done some very violent things in those games. So why am I allowed to walk amongst the populace? Surely, I’m some sort of horrible, demented sadist?

This may shock denouncers of violent games, but I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve never robbed a bank or stolen a car. I’ve never even doodled in a textbook. It angers me when anyone tries to insinuate that the games I play will make me a dangerous person. It’s a blatant insult to my integrity and intelligence. My parents may not have been perfect, but they certainly didn’t fail in teaching me common sense and the difference between right and wrong. Thanks to their efforts, I’ve had very little difficulty separating reality from video games. I’ve never even briefly considered replicating my actions in a video game in a real-world setting. The fact that other organisms are as alive as I am, that they feel fear and pain as I do, is not lost on me. I have no desire to inflict upon others what I wouldn’t want inflicted upon myself.

I consider all this outcry over video game violence to be nothing more than people searching for a scapegoat. No one ever wants to admit that their precious little angel is perhaps not such a precious little angel, and God help you if you so much as hint at the possibility of parental error. It’s never their fault; it’s always something else corrupting their innocent children. Does that sound familiar? It should.

This type of self-righteous crusade is far from new. Pretty much every form of entertainment media has, at some point, endured the same overblown, hackneyed accusations of being a bad influence that will somehow single-handedly bring about the fall of society.

Look at music for example. The emergence of rock ‘n’ roll was not exactly welcomed with open arms. History won’t let us forget the legendary outrage Elvis Presley caused with his audacious hip gyration. Eventually the public started to calm down a bit, and then metal hit the scene. Shame on you if you liked metal. If you liked metal, you clearly loved Satan. After all, metal was the music of the devil. In both of these cases, you had to be some kind of deviant to enjoy such music. Nowadays people look back at things like this and laugh. How long will it take for us to do the same for video games?

As I said before, parents and politicians love to point the finger at the game industry for encouraging violence. My response to this is a rather simple question: “Where were you?”

In their early years, children have no greater influence than their parents. Children will encounter a lot of bad things as they grow, and parents cannot prevent that. What they can do, is sit and talk with their kids. They can give their kids the tools they need to become decent, respectable adults in spite of the many outside influences they will undoubtedly face. I grew up on video games, Schwarzenegger movies, Godzilla movies, “Jurassic Park,” John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” the “Alien” franchise, all sorts of things that would probably give a developmental psychologist a heart attack. Yet here I am, unaffected. All because my folks had the good sense to talk to me instead of letting the screen do it for them.

Aside from all that, it’s not as if games with content deemed inappropriate by parents just happen to fall into the hands of their kids. Someone has to buy the games, and that “someone” is usually the parents. If parents really want to prevent certain content from reaching their kids, then they should take a look at the ESRB rating on the bottom left of every video game case. Established in 1994, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was created to help consumers make informed decisions when purchasing games. The front of every game case has a letter grade indicating which age groups the game is suitable for, and the back of every case has a little box with short descriptions of what people can expect to see. The industry took it upon itself to provide us with a warning system. Why can’t parents take it upon themselves to read it?

Then there’s the argument of censorship. All other forms of entertainment media fall under the protection of the First Amendment, so what makes people think they have the right to control what video games can do and show? Games have a right to freedom of speech as much as film, television, music, books, etc. This isn’t merely a sentiment. According to Psychology Today, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, ruled that video games are indeed protected by the First Amendment and cannot be regulated by government bodies. This brings me back to my argument for personal accountability. If you disapprove of the content of an entertainment item, you’re free to not support it. What you aren’t free to do is try to use legislation to silence something you don’t agree with.

As part of their explanation, the court said, “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.” That’s of particular interest for two reasons. First, it reaffirms that there’s insufficient scientific evidence to prove the existence of a harmful association between video games and real-world violence. Second, it calls into question why there are aren’t similar crusades against other hyper violent media. “Saw” serves as a fine example. After the first entry, that franchise rapidly devolved into tasteless, blood-and-guts popcorn flicks. I don’t recall anyone attempting to pass legislation that limited the availability of those movies or their content.

Those studies the court alluded to have been conducted for decades. Yet despite all those years of research, the scientific community still cannot definitively state that violent games foster violent behavior. This past February, Forbes reported on a new study led by Professor Andrew Przybylski of the Oxford Internet Institute that investigated whether or not violent video games foster aggression in teenagers. This study, published in Royal Society Open Science, interviewed a sampling of 2,008 individuals composed of British teens and an equal number of their parents or guardians. In addition, the study only used games that had received age and content classifications from the ESRB and Pan European Game Information, or PEGI, rating systems. The study concluded that there is no association between aggressive behavior and playing violent video games. This finding suggests that concerned parents don’t have as much to fear as they think they do when it comes to violence in games.

Unfortunately, studies such as the one I just mentioned often suffer publication bias. In this context, that means the studies most likely to be published and receive the most attention are the ones that do find some repercussions to playing violent games. A study, helmed by Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson, professor of psychology at Stetson University found this to be the case, with those studies being cited more often in scholarly sources and thus garnering media attention.

However, this same study also found that those studies are frequently of a lower quality, meaning their conclusions are questionable. So, studies that refute the claim that violent games increase aggressive behavior deal with publication bias, and the studies that are published and showcased aren’t necessarily trustworthy. This is frustrating, because the average, everyday person probably won’t take the time to sit down and thoroughly sift through the research for themselves when they can simply watch the news or rely on word-of-mouth.

Needless to say, the debate rages on and most likely won’t slow down for some time to come. It’s madness. This is simply the bullying of a relatively young form of media. Science has been unsuccessful in establishing a link between undesirable behavior and entertainment media time and time again, yet dissenters seem to conveniently forget that. For my part, I will continue vehemently rejecting the notion that violent games put children at risk. I enjoy violent games; I will continue to play them, and I’m not sorry about it. What I do in video games, stays in video games.