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Video Games Versus The World: Don’t Shoot ‘Em Up
After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the attention towards violent video games shifted considerably. This generated a worldwide panic, which left psychologists, parents, and educators scrambling for an explanation as to how this could have happened. During the investigation after the shooting, it was found that the perpetrators of the shooting had created a customized version of the video game Doom, which is a first-person shooter game. A videotape was also found where the shooters pretended to kill their enemies, the popular kids of the school. Less than a year later, they would act out this performance in real life (Pooley, 1999).
Like movies and other forms of entertainment, many successful video games must involve some form of conflict before reaching a goal (Costikyan, 2003). This is part of keeping the player engaged in the storyline of the game, and what also makes the game exciting for the players. However, this engagement and excitement at interacting with video games which specifically contain violent themes is disturbing to many people and can leave us wondering just how easy it could be to turn a seemingly normal adolescent into a Columbine shooter.
Based upon the evidence below, the conclusion reached is that playing violent video games does lead to an increase in aggressive behaviour, but only if the person is not yet at the stage of development where they gain the understanding of cause and effect. If the person has already gained the understanding that actions have consequences, typically from the age of 13 upwards, then they will also be able to understand that violence inflicted upon people in real life is not okay (Siegler & Richards, 1979).
This essay will address the concerns of unknown psychological and behavioural damage that violent video games may create, as well as providing a future direction, by discussing and analysing two empirical studies on this topic. The first study by Przybylski and Weinstein (2019) theorised that violent gameplay is related to aggressive behaviour. However, once they analysed the results of their study they found that there was no significant correlation between the two. The second study by Anderson and Dill (2000) argues that, based upon their own findings, there is a direct relationship between violent video games and aggressive behaviour.
Przybylski and Weinstein (2019) were interested in comparing the levels of aggressive behaviour of adolescents who play video games to adolescents who do not play video games. They hypothesised that recent violent gameplay is both linearly and positively related to carer assessments of aggressive behaviour. They tested 1004 14 and 15-year-olds (497 14-year-olds and 507 15-year-olds) living in England, Scotland, and Wales. 540 of these participants were male, 461 were female, and 3 identified as another gender. These participants were recruited in partnership with a research firm, who took them from a pool of participants previously contacted for health and technology research.
After both the adolescent participants and their carers provided consent for participation, carers completed demographic information. Adolescent participants then completed personality and gaming behaviour questions. Carers also completed a ‘Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire’ to measure their adolescent’s recent aggressive behaviours. This questionnaire was chosen because it is already used extensively in community, academic, and clinical settings across a wide range of cultures. The questionnaire consisted of five statements about the adolescent’s behaviour, for example: ‘Often fights with other children or bullies them’. Carers responded to each statement by selecting either ‘not true’, ‘somewhat true’, or ‘certainly true’. An abbreviated form of the Buss-Perry aggression scale was used for the personality component of the study for the adolescent participants. Participants were asked to rate their behaviour corresponding to 12 statements on a 5-point scale, ranging from ‘very unlike me’ to ‘very like me’. For example, ‘Given enough provocation, I may hit another person’. Four scores were calculated for each participant by averaging each of their scores for each category of statement (physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, and hostility).
For the gaming behaviour component, the adolescent participants were first asked if they play games, and then for the names of the three games they played most in the past month, the gaming or computer system used to play these games, and whether these games were played in a single or multiplayer mode. In line with recent large-scale research asking this age group about the frequency of gaming activity, adolescents responded to a fifth item, a 9-point scale ranging from ‘none at all’ (coded 0) to ‘about 7 or more hours a day’ (coded 8) as a frame for reporting the frequency of their play for each game they identified playing.
This information was then used by a coder (who was blind to the purpose of the study) to find the game’s entry on the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) website for confirmatory hypothesis testing. This rating was complemented with data derived from the game’s entry on the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) website, which was used for an exploratory analysis. For example, the entry for Grand Theft Auto V for PC is coded as violent, as players see and enact virtual violence during play. In line with past research, the carers’ responses were each given a score, which were then added to scores from the adolescents’ responses. Violent video game play scores were then computed for each participant. A total of 1596 games were named and successfully coded for violent content. Of these, nearly two in three had a violent content badge and were coded 1, while the remaining games did not have a violent content badge and were coded zero.
Researchers found that the results gathered from both the adolescent participants and their carers did not support their prediction that there are statistically significant links relating violent gaming to aggressive behaviour in adolescents.
Anderson and Dill (2000) examined the effects of violent video games on aggression-related variables. They investigated 210 undergraduate students (104 female and 106 male) and compared their aggression levels of violent versus non-violent video games, high irritability versus low irritability scores, and males versus females. Participants played either a violent or non-violent video games three times in two separate sessions. The participants were told the experiment was about testing their motor skills to hide the aim of the study.
In the first session, participants played for 15 minutes and were then presented with a questionnaire. The questionnaire had emotional statements such as ‘I feel angry’ or ‘I feel sad’ which participants responded by either agreeing or disagreeing. The participants then played for another 15 minutes, which was followed with a cognitive session during which the participants read words associated with emotions relation to aggression, anxiety, escape, or control, and were timed. The second session consisted of a competitive reaction time-based task against an opponent. They were told that whoever pressed the button the fastest would be able to give a blast of loud noise as punishment. The winner would also be allowed to set the volume and duration of the noise that would be inflicted upon their losing opponent.
They found that the longest and loudest blasts of noise were given by participants who played the violent game. This led to the conclusion that playing violent video games increased levels of aggression in participants, and could also lead to long-term effects such as permanently aggressive thought patterns.
These two studies were both conducted in laboratories, which meant that the researchers were able to have a good amount of control over any variables. However, participants in Anderson and Dill’s (2000) study were unable to visualise their opponents in the reaction test. This reduces the validity of their study in contrast to how this would play out in a real-world situation. The results of their study, therefore, may not be a clear indicator of real-life aggression. The design of this study also had limitations that could explain why their results were conflicted, such as a very small sample size of only 210 participants. Editorial biases in scholarly journals are also a significant influence on research papers. This is consistent with findings from Hilgard, Engelhardt and Rouder (2017), who investigated previous meta-analysis techniques to find substantial publication bias in experimental research on the effects of violent games on aggressive affect and aggressive behaviour. Experimental studies that find effects are more likely to be published than studies that find none, otherwise known as ‘The File Drawer Effect’ (Rosenthal, 1979). Participants of Anderson and Dill’s (2000) study may also have been able to guess the aim of the study, even with the ‘cover story’ that was given that it was about testing their motor skills. Because the participants may have been able to guess that they were being watched and tested for their aggressiveness, they may have acted differently to how they would behave in the comfort of a familiar environment. This could also be true for Przybylski and Weinstein’s (2019) study, which is, unfortunately, one of the negatives of the reality of needing to conduct experiments in a relatively well-controlled environment, as well as making sure that participants are aware they are being studied and consent to this.
Parents, educators, and any other adult who takes an interest in the wellbeing of children often seek to place the blame on one thing. It makes it easier that way to come to a neat conclusion. But the reality is that violent behaviours in youth are a multi-faceted issue which has many influencing factors. Associations have been found between an increase in screen time in general and lower psychological well-being in children and adolescents. Twenge and Campbell (2018) found that more hours of screen time are associated with lower well-being in participants who were aged 2 to 17 years of age. Twice as many high users of screens had an anxiety or depression diagnosis when compared to low users of screens. This mirrors previous research that children and adolescents who are high users of screens are more likely to be overweight or obese (Morita et al., 2016). This can then easily translate into other manifestations of negative emotions, such as aggressiveness.
In conclusion, the recommendation going forward should be that the librarians impose a minimum age restriction on this competition to ensure all the participants are mature enough to deal with the content shown in the video games appropriately. This should cause to limit the number of participants in the competition who are subsequently unable to properly understand how the virtual world translates to the real world and the consequences that come with the behaviour of acting out aggressive behaviours.
- Costikyan, G. (2003). The problem of video game violence is exaggerated. In R. Espejo (Ed.), Video Games (pp. 18–26). Retrieved from http://www.dikseo.teimes.gr/spoudastirio/E-NOTES/V/Video_Games_Viewpoints.pdf
- Morita, N., Nakajima, T., Okita, K., Ishihara, T., Sagawa, M., & Yamatsu, K. (2016). Relationships among fitness, obesity, screen time and academic achievement in Japanese adolescents. Physiology and Behavior, 163, 161–166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.04.055
- Pooley, E. (1999). Portrait of a deadly bond. Retrieved May 3, 2019, from Time website: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,23916-1,00.html
- Rosenthal, R. (1979). The file drawer problem and tolerance for null results. Psychological Bulletin, 86(3), 638–641. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.86.3.638
- Siegler, R. S., & Richards, D. D. (1979). Development of time, speed, and distance concepts. Developmental Psychology, 15(3), 288–298. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.2068
- Przybylski, A. K., & Weinstein, N. (2019). Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behaviour: Evidence from a registered report. Royal Society Open Science, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.171474
- Hilgard, J., Engelhardt, C. R., & Rouder, J. N. (2017, July). Overstated evidence for short-term effects of violent games on affect and behavior: A reanalysis of Anderson et al. (2010). Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 143, pp. 757–774. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000074
- Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2018). Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Preventive Medicine Reports, 12, 271–283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.10.003
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