Video games have always been a target of scrutiny particularly after school shootings starting in the late 1990s beginning with the massacre at Columbine and continuing into the 2010s with Sandy Hook last year. Video games were just new to the ‘90s and on the rise in popularity. Many more games, especially violent video games (and more violent/graphic games than those a decade ago), have come out since then. Studies examining links, if any, between video games and violent behaviour have also been undertaken. With the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and talk in government of re-evaluating and further studying video games’ role in affecting behavior, it’s worth considering the debate once again. Do violent video games factor into violent behaviour? And if so, how much?
Though school shootings themselves are widely televised and heavily analyzed, not as much consideration is given to the causes behind them. True, media outlets will mention it in passing, referencing bad family upbringing, psychological health, vendettas… and, of course, video games. But of all the reasons given, video games seem to be the most out of place and least likely. First of all think about your own experience… when was the last time you or your friends killed someone? I take it if you read this article you are a gamer, likely one that games more so than the average person. I’m sure you have also played a violent video game such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty at some point. If so, then you, just like any school shooter who has played those same video games, should be killing people, too.
Of course, this is only an exaggeration, but it’s the kind of exaggeration parents and lawmakers believe to be true. If it were the case that violent video games were the predominant causes of violent actions, then yes, they should be closely evaluated, perhaps censored, and in the rarest cases never put out on the market. However, most studies conducted since Columbine to understand the effects games have on players, particularly children and adolescents, have shown no conclusive link. Still, video games are relatively new, and their effects are still not fully known or exhibited fully. It will be a while before better studies come out.
The biggest reason for the suspicion of video games as opposed to other media sources (such as TV and movies) is that games are interactive. As opposed to being an observer by watching violence, gamers become engaged and part of the action. They participate in the digital act of murder and killing. There’s something about participation that video games provide that have a more profound effect on the brain than just watching TV. There are some studies to back up this effect.
“One of the most recent studies, conducted in 2006 at the Indiana University School of Medicine, went right to the source. Researchers scanned the brains of 44 kids immediately after they played video games. Half of the kids played ‘Need for Speed: Underground,’ an action racing game that doesn’t have a violent component. The other half played ‘Medal of Honor: Frontline,’ an action game that includes violent first-person shooter activity (the game revolves around the player’s point of view). The brain scans of the kids who played the violent game showed increased activity in the amygdala, which stimulates emotions, and decreased activity in the prefrontal lobe, which regulates inhibition, self-control and concentration. These activity changes didn’t show up on the brain scans of the kids playing ‘Need for Speed.’” (From “Do violent video games lead to real violence?” on HowStuffWorks.com)
When considering the violent game debate, the topic always leads to another consideration: parenting. What is the point of a video game rating scale if parents are willing to buy their children games rated for teens and adults? The same parents who whine and complain about video games are often times not practicing what they preach. Often times, shooters have bad parenting in their background. Rather than address the issue of violent video games or gun control, the government should focus on the problems bad parenting and upbringing contribute to unstable individuals who commit the acts. But I digress.
Unfortunately, video games are still relatively new and the studies and evidence on the link between video games and violent behavior is sparse. Even the studies now that are not conclusive of a link do not provide sufficient proof to dispel doubts as to the effects games have on individuals, particularly under the age of 18. As such, the debate will continue on for some time. What can best be said about the whole issue is this: bad things happen. Even if the government were to crackdown on violent video games and guns, school shootings may still happen from time to time. Hopefully, if new studies are done on violent video games, the evidence will be more conclusive to yield a final and definite answer to whether or not violent video games cause a significant rise in violent behavior.