Video games are a very young medium in the grand scheme of things. And as one would expect, a new medium invites criticism from an older generation. Video games as a medium are no stranger to controversy. Many of us will remember growing up with various controversies surrounding our favorite hobby. For example, I remember growing up with a lot of furor surrounding the video game violence and sex in GRAND THEFT AUTO.

The most (in)famous of such controversies would undoubtedly also be the most persistent. That is: is there a link between video game violence and violence in the real world? Do video games influence young and impressionable children towards violence? Should the government step in to put a stop to this “problem?”

Short answer: no.

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The Controversy: Then and Now

Up until recently, this controversy seemed to be a mostly settled issue. Many saw it as a curious relic of the 90’s and 2000’s, and accepted video games as just another form of entertainment. As video games become more and more mainstream, and a generation who has been gaming their entire lives comes of age, it becomes harder and harder for people to argue that video games are nothing more than “murder simulators,” as disgraced ex-lawyer and anti-gaming crusader Jack Thompson infamously put it.

However, this lumbering zombie of a controversy has been given new life in wake of recent events such as the gruesome Parkland school shooting. Many high-profile people, up to and including the President of the United States of America, have suggested that, despite all evidence to the contrary, perhaps there is a link between violence in video games and real-world violent tendencies.

To some people, this “problem” needs to be remedied somehow, potentially even via legislation. The President went as far as to suggest there be a “rating system” for video games. A visionary suggestion only diminished by the fact that video games in North America have had a rating system since 1994.

In February, Rhode Island state senator Robert Nardolillo even proposed taxing violent video games!

Violent video games and taxes
Making these games cost 10% more will surely solve the problem!

Let’s just ignore the fact that less than 20% of school shooters play violent video games regularly. Is there a reason this controversy will just not die? Is there any merit in the claims that video games can lead to violent tendencies? Once again, the short answer is no. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take science!

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What Science says About Video Game Violence

This idea that video game violence can be tied to real-world violence is a decades-old controversy. Older gamers may remember the controversy and hysteria brought about by MORTAL KOMBAT in the early 90s. To this day, it remains one of the most infamous examples of a moral panic brought on by video games. The media circus surrounding it led directly to the creation of the ESRB.

Mortal Kombat violence
There was a Congressional hearing over this.

Is there any actual science backing up this hysteria? Is there an actual, proven link between video games and violent behavior in real life? Or is this entire controversy little more than scaremongering and fear of new media?

Yet again, the answer is no, there is no link.

Over the years, many studies have been conducted on this issue. Despite all of this research into whether such a link exists, no study of any repute has found one, both past and present. Quite the opposite, in fact. One is far more likely to find studies that come to the opposite conclusion!

The Studies

Video game controllers lead to violence
The making of a killer

As an example, let us look at two very recent studies on video games and violence.

Firstly, we shall look at this study conducted by the University of York in the UK, which was published in January. In the study, which had more than 3000 participants, the researchers explored whether violent video games “prime” players into violent behaviors.

That is, the idea that exposing players to these concepts in video games will make those concepts easier to use in real life. Compared to the many studies that came before it, the researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants as well as comparing different types of realism in gaming. No conclusive link, or any link for that matter, was found.

Some may argue that studies only account for short-term effects. Sure, playing GRAND THEFT AUTO once may not make you violent. But what about if you often play violent games? Over a long period of time? Would that gradually lead to people becoming more violent?

Guess what? The answer is still no!

This is proven by a study conducted in Germany last year by Frontiers in Psychology. The goal of the study was specifically to examine long-term effects of playing violent video games. The study compared those who had long-term exposure to violent video games and those who did not. It found that those with such exposure displayed nothing out of the ordinary compared to their non-gaming peers. You can find the exact findings and methodology of the study in the link above.

There are countless other studies with similar findings to the ones above. Based on this, I think it is safe to say that there is not a conclusive link between video game violence and real-world violence.

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So Why Won’t This Controversy Die?

Video game violence controversy is a zombie that won't stay down
It just won’t die! (Image credit: MaxGrecke)

I think that this sufficiently shows that video games do not make people violent. That these claims of video games being a source of violent tendencies have no merit. In case it was not obvious to begin with. But if these claims have no merit, this begs the question: why does this controversy refuse to die? Even though it seemed settled for a time, this zombie just won’t stay down. Even the US President feels the need to feed the hysteria!

Why? Why can’t they just let it be, and accept that, no, video game violence is not a source of real-world violence?

The answer to that question should be obvious. It is little more than scaremongering and fear from an older generation that is afraid of a new medium. It is something that we have seen time and again throughout history. We saw it on TV, rock and roll, radio. Go back far enough and you can find Socrates decrying writing, claiming that it would lead to forgetfulness and the downfall of intellectual thought. Video games are not the first form of entertainment to made into a bogeyman by the older generation.

They will certainly not be the last.

The Future

Video games are only becoming bigger. (Image credit: Acagamic)

This controversy will finally be put to bed as video games become further mainstream, as new generations come of age and older generations die off. Video games will be seen as just another form of media, that is no different from film, TV, music, literature, and so on. You could even say that this process is already happening. As video games are already a multi-billion dollar industry that only continues to grow, I imagine that this day may come sooner than we think.

There are billions of gamers in the world today. Whether they are mobile gamers or hardcore PC gamers, the vast majority of them are not violent. The mantra that video game violence is a source of violent tendencies grows thinner every year. Almost all people will someday see the claim that video games cause violence as completely absurd. When that happens, maybe we can focus on solving actual problems.

But until then, this annoyingly persistent controversy is something we’ll just have to put up with.

One Comment

  1. ianrl1989

    April 21, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Great read. Video games have been used as a scapegoat to account for the surge, but it’s like calling a mirror flawed for one’s undesirable reflection. Video games reflect and mirror normative values. Yes, they add to the normalization and desensitization of violent images, but they certainly didn’t start the trend and anyone can look to years of violent glorification films as proof. Competitiveness and conflict are deeply embedded cultural values in hyper-capitalistic states, so it’s only natural that these values would be reflected in mass media as well. If we want to have a conversation about violence, we need to start at the structure and not its symptoms; what is causing this perpetuation of violent media? How do we move away from a society centered on competition and conflict. etc.


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