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Violence in Video Games

The concern over how much of a child’s actions, if any, are influenced by the violence contained in the video games they choose to play, has been become a topic of debate in recent times. Certain heartbreaking events, such as the Columbine High School shooting in April of 1999 where two students open fired on their fellow classmates killing in total 13 victims followed by their own suicides, sparked a renewed interest in researching if video games could cause acts of violence in adolescents. (Baertlein, 2007) This apprehension is mostly due in part, because children are in theory, more inclined to behavioral influences when they actively participate, as opposed to when they are merely observing. The belief has been that, a child playing violent video games can have more of a tendency to commit violent acts. On the contrary, there has been no clear-cut substantiation to show these violent video games are to blame for youth violence. The fact remains; it is actually not an easy task to prove a real world connection between violence and video gaming. Youth violence reports show crimes rates have decreased while video game playing has become trendier. (Baertlein, 2007)

In January of 2001, the Surgeon General David Satcher released his report findings concluding that, youth crime rate was not rising, and that the increase youth crime rate was merely a myth. “Since 1993, when the epidemic peaked, youth violence has declined significantly nationwide, as signaled by downward trends in arrest records, victimization data, and hospital emergency room records” (Satcher, 2001). Moreover, the study showed the amount of lethal violence has declined. This was primarily attributable to the decline in use of firearms among youth. (Snyder, 2006) This goes contrary to the claims of those who say that violent video games are teaching youth to use guns. The study performed by Surgeon General Satcher, along with other research performed on the topic, further substantiates the argument that violent content found within video games is not the cause for violent acts committed by the youth. According to the Surgeon General, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. (Satcher, 2001) The reality is recent reporting has shown a decrease regarding violence in teens since games have become more graphic. The violent crime rate has decreased from a rate of 51 victimizations per 1,000 members of the population age 12 and over in 1994, down to 21 per 1,000 members in 2005. (Bureau of Statistics, 2006) In addition, the Juvenile Violent Crime Index has also shown a declining rate since 1994. Crimes of murder committed by juvenile offenders have actually fallen 65% from 1994 to 2002. (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006)

Although the crime rate has declined, concern regarding violent acts by juveniles is still an issue; the public continues to hold fast on its views that children participating in playing violent video games are being led to commit violent acts. Theorists such as Bruce Barthalow, Mark Sestir and Edward Davis have based their opinions according to a large quantity of research performed by many esteemed scholars. They state that a connection has been made known between real life violent crimes and violent content in video games. (Barthalow, Sestir & Davis, 2005) The main positions in the argument for these theorists are derived from results of several types of studies, lab experiments, field studies as well as correlation studies. Correlations are a measure of how strongly associated two events are. However, co relational studies and other studies such as those cannot account for whether or not violent video games can cause aggression. Furthermore, some co relational studies find no significant relationship with aggression. Even still, those studies cannot prove violence contained in video games is the cause of true-life violence.

After all, what is lacking from the studies used video game research? Crucial factors are missing in research studies conducted on violent video games. The players in these particular studies are not in control. Their free will and freedom of choice are not included when researches test their theories. They are selected to play a video game not of their choosing, when the action of play is in essence, a self directed and voluntary activity. The element of forced exposure to a video game can alter the player’s reaction to the experience. Play is not an action that can be recreated in an experiment held in a laboratory. There are other questionable factors regarding the testing video games as well. For example, “the duration of play is too short, typically 5-15 minutes, for anything like the play experience to be duplicated” (Calvert & Tan, 1994). In these laboratory studies, no individual really “plays”. A video game is played by individuals for entertainment and therefore, being instructed to “play” a video game defeats the purpose of electing to play for amusement. The studies performed do not take in to consideration why individuals play video games at all. (Calvert & Tan, 1994) Research on video games also fail to recognize that a player of video games participates freely and ceases to play when they so desire. (Calvert & Tan, 1994) Players are free to enter the world they create for themselves in these games, and this freedom remains missing from the laboratory studies conducted on violent video games. Studies completed have concluded that there has been no definitive link between violent acts and violent content found in video games, and that some fashion; violent video games may actually provide a venue for children to "vent" their aggressions, rather than taking physically taking action. (O'Brien, 2007)

In studies performed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s, Office of Justice Programs, it is reported that the largest influential factor in adolescent delinquency is the family dynamics within the children’s homes. (Snyder, 2006) Parents have a certain obligation to their children. They play an important role in the child’s life and are responsible to provide them with guidance as to what is wrong or right. If children cannot clearly determine the differences between fantasy life in video games and reality, they cannot be blamed for committed violent acts such as those contained within video games. Without parental guidance, children are susceptible to misinterpret scenarios they come across in real life. (Anderson, et al., 2003) Violence from video games will not make submissive adolescents violent when they have been made aware of the limits within a fictional world.

Many factors can cause a child’s incapacity to make a distinction regarding right from wrong, reality from fiction. An adolescent or teenager may be lacking the maturity level necessary to understand the impact of their actions, or perhaps can suffer from mental instability limiting their perception of reality. However, is it the violent content found within video games to blame? The studies suggest that when parents actively participate in a child’s life, discuss real life conflicts, the inappropriateness violent solutions, and help the child generate alternative solutions to violent actions, it can help reduce the actual impact of media violence on the youth. (Anderson, et al., 2003) Psychologists have also concluded that, children whose parents have regulated the length of time video games are played are less likely to show aggressive behavior. (Anderson, et al., 2003) It is the parent’s responsibility to monitor their children and to educate them. It is a parent’s role to discipline their children and to teach them social norms and values. After all, it would be impossible maintain a child from the outside world. There will always be negative influences out there. It is the parent’s duty to their children, to ensure they are taught the consequences of their behavior, as well as right from wrong. Parents should be the ultimate decision makers of what they allow their child to watch, play or do. Parents have the responsibility to be aware of the content involved in the games their child plays.

Video games are labeled to describe the content within them, as well as specify when they include strong language, violence, mature sexual themes, as well as other subject matter that may be unsuitable for a child. In 1994, the video game industry established the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), a self-regulating labeling body. (Entertainment Software Association, 2006) The ESRB ratings method is astonishingly all-inclusive. According to the ESRB, it rates over 1,000 games per year. Practically every title produced by major game developers for retail sale today carries an ESRB rating and content descriptors. “The ESRB rating system helps parents and other consumers choose the games that are right for their families. ESRB ratings have two parts: rating symbols that suggest what age group the game is best for, and content descriptors that indicate elements in a game that may have triggered a particular rating and/or may be of interest or concern” (Entertainment Software Association, 2006). These ratings provide the parents with information they need to determine whether the video games is suitable for their child to play. Even with the ratings and the violent content, some parents still purchase these games for their young children without screening the video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 89% of the time parents are present at the time games are purchased or rented, 61% of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives, and 87% of the time children receive their parents’ permission before purchasing or renting a game. (Entertainment Software Association, 2006)

Parents, teachers, guardians, mentors or anyone else a child may look to for guidance, should be able to provide them with proper direction, lessons about choice and consequences in life that could affect them and those they hold close as well. “When the fantasy world is brought into the picture, these lessons should let the child know that certain actions in a fantasy world are not appropriate in the real world, thus the separation” (Goldstein, 2001). Video game violence contains simulated acts of aggression. Video games cannot actually emphasize acts of aggression if there is none to begin with. (Delamere, 2005) The same features that hold back the audience from rushing the stage during a murder scene in a play are present in video games. When and adolescent plays a video game that is labeled as "violent", it is actually containing simulated acts of violence. (Goldstein, 2001) There is not an actual physically performed action taken, since the child is in an imaginary world. They cannot abuse, damage or violate because there is nothing to abuse, damage or violate. (Goldstein, 2001) The child has ultimate control what occurs which is a major deciding point in separating reality from video games. In the real world, consequences are certain. When a child commits and act, either good or bad, something will happen. In video games, the player can suspend the game play and even bypass consequences. These factors provide cues that the game play is not real, and that they child is merely doing something for amusement. (Goldstein, 2001)

Video games can actually be beneficial to children.They provide cognitive benefits such as system thinking, pattern recognition, strategy, decision making, and even patience. A book written by author Steven Johnson makes another point in favor of viewing video games from a new perspective. Johnson argues that video games are growing progressively more refined, they present players a mental exercise that is far more invigorating, satisfying, and even more educational than much of the media content they were force fed in the past. (Johnson, 2005) Particularly, Johnson states, modern games, including those filled with violent material demand children to mange resources, evaluate multifaceted social networks, and recognize long-term patterns. (Johnson, 2005) A common video game presents a predicament to be solved and diverse means to accomplish the resolution. Children playing video games are driven to play video games because they can achieve the impossible. (Simpson, 2005) Distribution of resources, trial and error and completing tasks are all part of the learning experience. (Simpson, 2005) The software embedded in these video games clearly establishes roles, powers, and limitations. Video game players have the ability decide their course of actions and recognize that they must take accountability for their own actions. The children playing these games are aware that there are both harmful and helpful consequences during game play. Games can mimic real-life consequences, and playing them teaches children that patience and perseverance lead to successful results. (Simpson, 2005)

Violence in video games is not cause of violence in adolescents; this is a rumor or myth made by people looking for an excuse or a solution to why things happen. With the level of violence in video games increasing, adults have been linking the acts of violence contained in video games with violent acts that have been committed by children. Rather than look in to all the determining factors that can be reasons for children to act aggressively, they would rather lay blame on something new. The public has not even taken a moment to reflect on the past and realize that video games are just another source of media added to the list excuses justifying a child’s actions. Films, radio, novels, television programming, have all had been faulted for leading young people off course and stirring up aggressive or unsociable behavior. Video games violence is a handy scapegoat for individuals who do not care to explore deeper into the quandary of where the "desire to murder" comes from.

The myth that video games reveal a new, excessive collective fixation with violent entertainment is untrue. Harold Schechter, in the manuscript Savage Pastimes: A Cultural History of Violent Entertainment, painstakingly documents the incidence of violent media all the way through the history of art and entertainment. Schechter remarks that even the purportedly quiet days of the 1950s were complete with violent media, most of it aimed at children. (Schechter, 2005) “The fact is that, contrary to popular belief, there was a shockingly high level of sadistic violence and gore in some of the most popular commercial entertainments of the 1950s” (Schechter, 2005). Violence and aggressive media and behavior have always been a part of civilization, so why it is receiving so much attention these days? Perhaps the degree of youth violence has not changed at all, but the factors mentioned above have simply created a heightened awareness of violence amongst youth. Perhaps a heightened awareness and a lower tolerance for such acts have simply caused an increase in reporting violence, creating an illusion of an increase in youth violent behavior. There are extreme cases of youth violence in recent years that stand out, and were covered extensively by the media. The Columbine incident is an example. This type of incident is rare, but the media attention it received contributed to the perception of an increase in youth violence. Youth violence did not increase during this time; it just became more of social issue. Many factors contributed to those crimes, leaving the public many ways of laying blame.

Youth violence is not caused by content found within a video game; it is more of an issue with the individual committing the violent acts. The underlying problem deals with the individual having a firm grip on reality and knowing the difference between those actions and the ones found within a video game. The adolescents are less apt to see violent video games in an unconstructive way if the individual is there not already a predisposition to violent acts. (Zarozinski, 2001) “Media in all forms can move people to consider things they had not considered before. But media cannot take over a mind and make anyone do something he's not predisposed to do” (Zarozinski, 2001). Stating, in essence, violent video games do not create violent children, however they may add to the troubles of an already violent youth. (Zarozinski, 2001) The public is quick to fault violence in the planet on video games, movies, television and music for the reason that they are effortless plausible targets. Although these media sources can influence and individual to a certain degree, the public has to look further than this particular focal point and start searching for the real cause for the violent behavior in civilization.

A game cannot and will not make a human being kill another. Numerous individuals view violent images on a regular basis, yet only a small percentage of those actually commit crimes of violence. As studies by respected academics show, people that are already predisposed to violence are those that tend to gravitate towards playing video games. (Delamere, 2005) “The violence present in these media sources may help instigate a violent act; it is never the only cause” (Delamere, 2005). However, the groups of alarmed individuals that plead for the government to take action to against video games will not openly admit that the source for their civilization's problems may be due to their own actions. The people want a scapegoat that will appease their conscience and at the same token, avert the fingers of blame from pointing in their direction.

This day and age, humankind is a world where real violence is everywhere, from neighborhood shootings to the war in Iraq. People are mostly helpless to stop it, and just have to live through it, but when a juvenile turns on a violent video game and spends endless hours playing, the question remains, does it change their perception of the real world and cause them to become delinquent? Violence in video games has been at the forefront of a lot of controversy recently. Incidents, like the Columbine High School shooting has come and gone, reopening old wounds and revisiting unanswered questions. What could have caused two seemingly average kids to go on such a rampage? Some of the blame has fallen on violent video games. Are these games actually part of the problem, or just an easy target? Fueled by myths of increased youth violence, and tragedies such as school shootings, youth violence is an increasing concern in for the public. Nevertheless, there is a lack of hard evidence to support the supposed increase in youth violence, much less, that violence in video game plays a part in it.


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