The Blame Game
This article is the opinion of the author and may contain sensitive triggers for some readers.
It is intended to inform and educate rather than to incite or instigate.
All report sources listed at the bottom.
All images free from https://www.pexels.com unless otherwise noted.
When we play a video game, or any type of game, we take on the role of a character. Whether that character be a ninja fighting demons, a plumber jumping on turtles, a war-fighter shooting terrorists or simply a piece of plastic moving around a board, we assume the role of that character until the game is complete either by winning, losing or quitting. Some games are admittedly more violent than others and thus fall under scrutiny for inciting violence in the young people who play them. We must ask if this claim has justification or if we are blaming something because it seems like it could be the cause. When we look around the world today, it feels like there is a new reason to call our youth more aggressive and more prone to violent outbursts than they used to be. When thinking about the inherent evils of video games as a cause for this increase in violent tendencies, there are several questions that we must ask and must be answered before we can legitimately state as point of fact that video games are the cause of this increase of aggression. There are a great many studies that have been done in an effort to answer this exact question, none of them conclusive.
Claims that video games are the cause of violent behavior have been around since the 1940’s (Stack, 2018) and have been used as a way to explain why young people carry out violent acts ever since. Of course, video games are not the only thing that gets blamed. Movies are often said to cause violence, and music (specifically rock and roll) has been blamed ever since Elvis Presley first shook his hips (Gordon A. Crews, 2019). It is easy to blame a medium that looks bad from the outside after all; if a player is shooting another player in the game then they are being taught to kill or at least, that is how it might look. This makes it easy to rally people to grab their metaphorical pitch forks and torches to battle this evil that corrupts the minds of the young. These claims are little more than a modern day witch hunt incited by people who would rather use an easy excuse to explain away the evils of the world and wrap them up in a neat little bow. People who are scared and confused are easily manipulated by these claims, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, despite the fact that once you look under the surface of these claims they fall apart. Unfortunately for the gaming industry, these claims do not look to be going away any time soon. In the case of “video games are bad and train killers”, it will probably always be guilty until proven innocent. While violence in America seems to be at an all-time high, appearances can be deceiving and should be looked at analytically rather than be taken at face value. This is not simply a left versus right or male versus female issue. There seems to be an agenda that crosses all boundaries of politics and social circles that is set against the video game industry.
Even games that are mostly non-violent, such as Minecraft, fall under scrutiny for fostering a toxic environment that nurtures violent behavior in young people. Hate speech (a term coined to describe speech that is racist, sexist or otherwise hateful toward a group of people) (Rosenfeld, 2003), is used within voice communication applications such as Discord or (the older but still used) Teamspeak or within the game’s own multiplayer text based chat service (Petr Slovak, 2018). This so called hate speech is then thought to incite violence within players who have young and impressionable minds. On the surface, this seems like a legitimate claim. It seems like common sense after all. Something that people can look at and say “Yes, this explains everything!”, but it is simply not true and lacks any creditable evidence. While the use of hate speech, mostly by kids looking for attention by “trolling” other players is a very real thing, a kid seeing a racial slur in chat or hearing a sexist comment in voice chat does not make them go and commit violent acts. The idea would be laughable if not for being so sad, yet we have world leaders right now who would have you believe that.
Claiming that children are so impressionable that they would commit mass murder because they acted out similar acts in a virtual world might seem ridiculous (to some), but this is a claim that is brought up time and again whenever there is a tragic killing committed by a young person. Once the evidence has been examined, however, it is much more likely to be a mix of pre-existing mental or emotional conditions in combination with external stimulus (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2012). It is true that violent games or any other type of environmental simulant could cause these conditions to be intensified, however, the existence of the initial condition must be present first and that is what those making the claim of games causing violence won’t tell you. These groups such as Mothers Against Videogame Addiction and Violence ignore some facts that are contrary to their agenda (Wilkins, n.d.) and is a contradiction to their propaganda (Ferguson, 2008) which used to blame Dungeons and Dragons and now focuses on video games. If video games were the cause of this violence, then it would stand to reason that violent acts carried out by young people would be split equally between male and female perpetrators. According to research, females make up 50.9% of the gaming community (Dmitri Williams, 2008), so if women are over half of the people playing these games then it would stand to reason that they would make up half of the violent criminals. You would expect that the mass-killings that we see would be just as often perpetrated by females as they are by males but throughout my research I came across only one case of a female mass murderer (Kostas A. Katsavdakis Ph.D., 2011), and while there are likely more out there, the fact that I only found one while looking might say something. Finding instances of male mass murderers is simply a matter of searching “mass murderers”, but finding female examples is a little more involved.
President of the United States, the Honorable Donald J. Trump, has spoken out against video games on several occasions. Trump is quoted as saying “I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts…” this is a direct quote to Florida’s attorney general shortly after the tragic Parkland school shooting. Later the president doubled down on this claim when he tweeted “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped-it is creating monsters!” Trump is not the first and will likely be far from the last to spew this rhetoric. The same claim has been around since the Columbine shooting in 1999 and is a claim (or at least an implication) that is made every time there is a violent tragedy. (Ducharme, 2018)
As I write this, there have been three recent shootings, one in Gilroy California, one in El Paso Texas and one in Dayton Ohio. As I scroll through my social media accounts there are a great many accusations from politicians as well as religious groups that video games are to blame. When logging into Google, the start page is flooded with reports of the same claims. (Timothy Bella, 2019) This is a sad and tragic loss of life, made even sadder by the fact that there are people using these violent mass killings to further an agenda. The Washington post gives a summary of the El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius’s manifesto (Yasmeen Abutaleb, 2019). In this hate-filled jumble of nonsense, Crusius talks about segregating blacks and whites into separate communities, getting rid of the Hispanics (which he labels as invaders and uses that term many times throughout), how the Democratic party will rule over the United States, and he blames both Democrats and Republicans and states that his actions would be misunderstood as being tied to Trump (Kane, 2019).
He praises other mass killers and mentions the game “Call of Duty” briefly, but as to make fun of gamers in a sense as he says “Remember: it is not cowardly to pick low hanging fruit. AKA Don’t attack heavily guarded areas to fulfil your super soldier COD (Call of Duty) fantasy.”. The fact that he describes his actions as anything more than cowardly shows how out of touch he is with his actions. He opened fire on innocent people at a Walmart to prevent the invasion of America that he sees happening. What this says in my opinion is that he does not like or relate to people who play video games. As for the Dayton shooter Conner Betts, very little is known as I write this. The only things for certain are that his sister was among his victims, and he murdered nine people.
According to news reports (McBride, 2019), Betts was a leftist who talked about hell and guns on social media, and he was a bully in high school who had a hit list as well as a rape list (Paul P. Murphy, Konstantin Toropin, Drew Griffin, Scott Bronstein, Eric Levenson, 2019). It seems that there was a history that should have drawn the attention of someone who could have stepped in to prevent this tragedy from happening. The Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter, Santino William Legan from what I was able to find, did not play games and if he had no known online presence, though there is not a lot of information about him either.
Remember: it is not cowardly to pick low hanging fruit. AKA Don’t attack heavily guarded areas to fulfill your super soldier COD (Call of Duty) fantasy.Patrick Crusius
While tragic and unforgivable as these events might be, shifting blame to video games being the cause only takes the focus away from finding true answers. “Why do mass shooters commit the crimes that they commit” is a question that we may never be able to answer completely and that is a shame. Blaming video games for the crimes is irresponsible and only perpetuates a stereotype that video game players are violent and bad people, if we truly want to know why people commit violent acts then we need to stop focusing on ideas that we know to be wrong and look elsewhere. Other potential causes for violent behaviour could be things such as sexual assault, child neglect, child abuse, drugs, mental illness, how a person was raised, beliefs that were instilled as a child, the list goes on! Video games are still the thing that gets blamed over and over again because it is an easy target for an issue that cannot be easily explained. While video games have been a part of our society for several decades now, violence between humans has been around much, much longer. No one blames video games for Nazi Germany, the Crusades, Viking raids or the Roman Coliseum, but suddenly they are the cause of every violent act in our society. It seems more likely that video games are simply an easy target of blame. Perhaps then it is more an issue of morality and a lack of discipline in our children. One could argue that the perceived increase of violent behaviour coincides with a ban of prayer in school (Find Law, n.d.) in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale) or perhaps a decrease in discipline of children due to laws limiting a parent’s options for fear of Children and Social Services removing the child from the home as a result of confusion about the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Aubyn C. Stahmer, 2008).
If we want to determine if video games, or more specifically, violent video games cause violent behavior in children, we first need to answer a multitude of other questions. We need to know how we should gather the information needed to answer these questions. I will be avoiding using posts made on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter except when quoting someone such as a politician. People post the things that they agree with on these platforms without performing any type of research and without taking into consideration that their opinion on the matter could be biased (Eugenio Tacchini, 2017). We could perhaps use news sources such as Fox, CNN, MSNBC or others but, with all of this talk today about Fake news (especially in regards for political topics) and supposed proof that several news outlets have misled the public to sway opinion in a certain direction, it is safer to find a better source for this research. In order to show specific historical instances (such as the shootings mentioned above) there will be little choice but to cite news outlets as research will not have caught up on these events that were so recent. Wikipedia is a not the most reliable place to conduct research as information can be altered be whoever would like to change it, and while the site authors try to make certain that information is factual, there is very little guarantee of this and so not a reputable source of information. This is a lot to consider while conducting research on this topic; thankfully though, there are many other places to gather information on the massive knowledge-base that is the internet. Scholarly sources will be the best to use such as university studies and statistics that have been compiled by groups such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Oxford Internet Institute conducted research on the topic as well as the University of York. Specific US Laws will be cited when necessary as well. The problem that I have found is that for this topic, sources are a bit difficult to find, and many of the ones available require you to pay for an account in order to view them. This research will require many sleepless nights and long hours of searching.
Facts are great when we are searching for the truth. They are important to add proof to our claim, but sometimes we need to equate our findings to real world experience. For this purpose, we should have anecdotal examples to better help us understand what the facts suggest. There are often stories that we can find online from people who have had a situation similar to what we are talking about. For these examples, as they do not have to necessarily be supported by facts, we can look to about any source, since we are, for the most part, just looking for someone else’s experience. I would go as far as to say that these experiences should at least be from individuals who are known for, or are known to have experience with the subject matter being discussed. For instance, I would want to use for an example of a gamer, someone who plays games for a living (game reviewer, YouTube gamer, game tester, etc…) rather than someone who played a game once ten years ago and didn’t care for it or someone who has never played a game at all. When appropriate, my own experience as a lifetime gamer and the father of gamers will be used for the purpose of anecdotal material. Finally, I will give some of my own opinion on the topic with feedback on the facts that have been laid out. We will look at everything that has been presented.
The first question that we need to ask is: Is there truly an increase in violence, or do we only perceive that there is? We need to answer this because, if the rate at which violent crimes are committed are increasing, and games are also getting more violent, then perhaps there is a correlation. If, however either of these two are decreasing as time goes by, then the likelihood of games and violent crime being related is slim to say the least. The media would have us believe that we are living in the most dangerous time in history, that people are being gunned down in the streets left right and center, but we need to know if this is actually the case. Research for the topic of violent crime in the U.S. should be gathered from sources that have little to gain from misleading information in order to gather the most reliable and unbiased data possible. (Statista Research Department, 2019) per 100,000 people in the U.S. shows a steady drop from 1991 (758.2) through 2017 (382.9) this information was gathered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A second source (James, 2018) Congressional Research Service posted an analysis by Nathen James in 2018 that corroborates this data. This second collection of data goes very in-depth, listing various data sources and statistics that show this decrease from 1991 and as the same conclusion is drawn it only serves to corroborate the evidence. So if the rate of violent crimes has been decreasing since 1991 and we know that there are still violent video games (Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Apex Legends both released in July 2019) then violent video games are unlikely to cause violent behavior, otherwise we should see a rise in violent crimes rather than a decrease. Using these two sources we can see a decline in violent crimes beginning in 1991, let us keep this in mind as we move forward as it will be an important piece of information.
Keeping in mind the decrease of violent crime we should ask: When did violent video games begin hitting the store shelves? Well according to (National Coalition Against Censorship, n.d.), the first time that violent games made it past censorship and were able to be consumed by players would be in 1993 with “Night Trap” and then “Mortal Kombat” a fighting game that allowed players to execute opponents after beating them in a tournament style battle. There were violent video games prior to this, “Death Race” in 1976 and “Custer’s Revenge” in 1983, the first was pulled from stores and the latter was protested and did not find success in the market. Realistically though, what constitutes a violent game is objective. Technically, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released “Spacewar!” in 1962 where players shoot “alien spaceships”, “Space Invaders” was released in 1978 encouraging the same behaviour and “Donkey Kong” encouraged hitting an ape with a hammer in 1981. 1993 was really the turning point for violence in games, though, as it showed a depiction of blood in “Mortal Kombat”. Games quickly became more violent and graphic over the next two and a half decades, but all after 1991.
As a young teen, I personally played the first three “Mortal Kombat” games on a regular basis, as well as games like “Twisted Metal” (a car battling game), “Grand Theft Auto” (kill pedestrians, prostitutes and cops), every single “Resident Evil” game (fighting zombies and evil corporations), “Call of Duty”, “Halo” (gun down other players on opposing sides of a war) and “Doom” (Shoot demons while controlling a foul mouthed soldier). All of these were released in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and were pretty violent for their time. Violent video games as mentioned before show no signs of going away, if anything they are more violent today as technology allows game graphics to get better and better. In fact, with the re-introduction of Virtual Reality units only a few years ago in 2010 (Oculus, HTC Vive, Google Daydream, etc…) players can be completely immersed in the violent gaming world allowing them to practically live the lives of the character that they play. These headsets are placed over the player’s head, headphones go over the ears so that all the player hears are the game sounds. The player’s eyes are covered by a visor that attaches the screen to their head meaning that wherever the player looks, the screen follows. A controller in each hand uses button layouts to simulate the player’s fingers, and using a mini joystick allows the player (in some games) to move around. These headsets are currently being used in healthcare, construction, and business as well as entertainment (Zaynah Bhanji, 2018). So, if games are continuing to get more violent and graphic as well as more realistic while crime rates are continuing to drop, perhaps we have our answer.
Looking at the information that we have so far, violent crime has been steadily decreasing since 1991, and video game violence did not take off (and I mean really take off) until 1993 getting more violent over the years. If violent games truly were to blame for violent behavior, we should expect the opposite to be true. That is, violent crime should have increased as video games became more violent. This is not the case however and so this is evidence that the games are not to blame. There are, however, other questions to consider before a conclusion can be drawn. So far it seems that if anything, maybe video game violence could cause a decrease in violent behavior. Perhaps performing violent acts in a virtual space is a way to vent our violent and aggressive feelings in a healthy and safe way. The rate of violent crime compared with the rate of games sold shows a decrease in crime with an increase in game units sold in research conducted in 2008 (Ferguson, 2008). This research shows that there is no correlation between violent video games and school shootings. The research compares video games or computer games to homicide and school shootings. The research goes on to describe the link between the two as “slim at best”.
The next question that should be asked is: Why do children act out in a violent matter? To answer this question, we can look at research conducted on child aggression (Raul Silva, n.d.) which lists several factors such as mood disorders, psychosis, injury and trauma. Nothing that this source lists is based on the child’s consumption of entertainment (such as video games or other media forms), but rather issues with the mind itself. Children, like adults, become frustrated about a situation and act out. Like adults, children can be afflicted with mental illness that causes them, if not treated properly, to become violent. These findings are further backed up by a 2008 study (Christopher J Ferguson, 2008) that looks into the effects of violent video games versus other potential causes. According to research conducted at Massachusetts General (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2012), there is no evidence to suggest a correlation between violent video games and violence in children. They do suggest that parents monitor what entertainment their children use and regulate it accordingly, however, their research shows no correlation between media and violent behavior in children. Still, political figures would suggest that video games are to blame whenever there is a violent mass shooting that happens.
Perhaps these politicians should think on the fact that was mentioned earlier of the banning of prayer in schools. This is not a question of religion, but rather a question of morality. When prayer was removed from schools, so to was the teaching of morals. A final factor could be indoctrination, that is, children are taught hatred through their parents and other mentors around them. Racism, sexism and discrimination of any other kind can breed hatred and then that hatred can very easily turn into violence (take Crusius for example). As a 39-year-old gamer who has been playing video games since 1984 (Pacman with my mother), and most of these games extremely violent, I have never thought about committing a mass shooting. It has never even been a thought to entertain that I might go on a killing spree or cause harm to another human. As a parent of three well-adjusted children ages 21, 19 and 15 who all play and have played video games since they were old enough to hold a controller, I find the accusation that video games cause violence to be not only misplaced, but somewhat aggressive in the way that it is used to show gamers as violent people. When the leader of a nation calls the group that you have been a member of for nearly all your life “monsters”, it is off-putting and hurtful to say the least. Since I, as a parent, took the time to teach my children right from wrong; since my parents did the same with me, these types of violence are not events that we would consider. If research shows that there is no link between what our children play and their behavior, then it seems obvious that violent video games do not cause violent behavior. It seems that just like any other form of media that we use, video games serve simply as a form of entertainment and nothing else. Just media to be consumed.
The next question that we have to ask is: Does a child acting out violent behavior in a video game cause them to become more aggressive in real life? From the same article from Massachusetts General, research suggests that the opposite might be true. The researchers found that children actually tended to play games to help cope with emotions, challenge themselves, keep us with peers on the latest trends, escape into a different world and relieve stress. Taking this information into account, the idea that violent video games not only do not cause violence but could in fact lower the prospect of violence by providing a healthy outlet is more likely. Keeping this in mind, the use of games such as “Minecraft” (creativity), and “Human Resource Machine” (programming) to teach children useful skills is an amazing tool that could be utilized by parents to help educate children at home. Other games such as “The Oregon Trail” (19th Century pioneer life) and 11-11: Memories Retold (World War 1) can help children to understand history by allowing them to experience it through play and interaction. Understandably, not all games are educational and are used simply as a means of entertainment, which is fine. As humans, we need an outlet and a form of release that entertainment fills perfectly. Movies, music and theater are great for entertainment, but there is just something about being able to let go of reality and lose yourself in a new reality for a while. The art of play is important to the development of children as it helps in the development of dexterity, imagination and physical, emotional and cognitive strength (Kenneth R. Ginsburg, Committee on Communications, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, 2007).
As a parent, I always tried to give my kids plenty of playtime to have fun and relieve the stresses of the day. As adults we tend to forget how stressful childhood can be: the stresses of fitting in, the stresses of impressing your peers, doing well in classes, completing chores, and the list goes on. The stresses of social interaction in my opinion can be the strongest. I always found it difficult to fit in with my peers. I had very few friends growing up, because I always felt like an outsider. Video games helped me as I was growing up. When I was younger, these games were a conversation starter with kids who shared my interest, with the huge growing online gaming market as I got older, my ability to socially interact with people all over the globe gave me the confidence to interact with people in real life. The bottom line is that video games not only do not cause children to act out violently, but they help to develop the skills that are needed to have a healthy social life. This bold claim that I make is backed up by research (Barnett, 2018) that shows the benefits of play in children.
The next question that we should look at is: Does acting out violent acts in a video game desensitize children to violence? Answering this question will not be easy and may not even be possible, but I’ll start with a personal story. As a gamer who grew up playing games of a violent nature, I heard the desensitization argument often. I was told by adults ranging from relatives to teachers and religious authorities. When I became an adult, I joined the United States Army and it being 2001, I eventually went to war in Iraq. The first time and every time after the first time that I was forced to use my weapon, there was a distinct hesitation. The decision to take the life of another human being is not an easy one. Years of playing violent video games did not make this easier, it did not help me squeeze the trigger of my rifle and it sure did not help take away the nightmares after the fact. I will never buy into the desensitizing argument because in my personal experience, it is not realistic. While I as a gamer had trouble and took issue with the notion of killing, even though I had done so in video games for nearly my entire life, Jeffery Dahmer did not need to play video games to eat people, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy without ever playing a video game and Charles Manson charmed his followers into murder way back in 1969. This idea is backed up by research in ethics in relation to violent video games (Schulzke, 2010) that shows no link between consumption of violent media and desensitization to actual violence.
While it may be easy to understand how one can be led to believe that acting out violent and bloody acts in a gaming world could lead to a lack of empathy and a desensitization to violence; it just simply is not the case. Though there is no definitive answer on this subject, the limited research suggests that desensitization doesn’t actually exist, and rather is more propaganda to be used as an argument against violent media in general. If desensitization, for the sake of argument is a thing, it is more likely that it would be brought on by the true life stories that are shown on the news. When we see violence in movies, television and video games, a rational person understands, or should understand at least that it is a work of fiction, it is fantasy. When we see the news however, well this is something different, something that has really happened to real people. So it would stand to reason that, a person who has grown up in a society where violence is dramatized and glorified on the news might develop a desensitization to this type of sensory information. Of course, there are no facts to back up this claim, it is just speculation on my part.
Next, the question that we should ask is this: If hypothetically the answer to all the above questions is yes, does a child playing a video game that depicts violence cause that child to then commit violent acts? It would appear that the likelihood of violent games causing or increasing violent behavior is low. The fact that since the earliest violent game’s release the violent crime rates have gone down rather than increase. The fact that data suggests that the cause for violent behavior is centered around mental health issues and trauma rather than what we watch and play. The fact that children seem to play games as a way to cope with stress and anxiety rather than to learn how to commit violent acts. The fact that playing helps to develop skills that are required in a healthy young mind. All of these facts should be considered and when they are, they not only disprove this idea but reinforce the idea that playing games lowers stress and helps to build a healthy mental foundation.
As adults, it is easy to forget that the life of a child is hard. Kids go through a lot of things that can be, to put it lightly, very difficult in my opinion. Puberty alone can be an experience that can cause anxiety and depression in a young person. The feeling that you are being judged because your body is doing things that other kids are not, or that you have not yet gotten to that point, but all the other kids have, can be confusing and stressful. Add to this the anxiety of fitting in, romantic relationships, friendships starting and ending and the drama of high school life, grades, parents, teachers and preparing for college and life becomes a stressful test in endurance. Having a way to kick back and relax is important in reducing this highly volatile stress level. I would personally prefer my kids relieve stress gaming than experimenting with drugs, sexual exploration or criminal activities.
Many of the accusations against video games (as well as other violent media) come from religious zealots and politicians. Religious organizations have been responsible for more violence in human history than any other source, perhaps the accusations against the gaming industry is an attempt to take the eyes off of the hate taught by organizations that claim to promote love, perhaps not. History shows that religion has promoted things such as burning women alive after being falsely accused of witchcraft, beheading of anyone of a different belief system, flying planes into buildings, and lynching those of different skin tones. There are others who have contributed to the disingenuous propaganda and slander against the gaming world, such as Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman and Gloria DeGaetano in their book “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill” or Lawrence Kutner, PHD and Cheryl K. Olson, SCD in their book “Grand Theft Childhood”. Both above-mentioned books speak on the evils of video games. They make bold and unsubstantiated claims with statistics that are biased and studies that only factor in specific elements to nudge results into the direction that their agenda requires. Violent video games have been blamed for nearly every mass shooting since the Columbine shooting in 1999 by both the Left and Right but primarily conservatives. This blame shifting onto the entertainment industry and primarily video games is common practice for politicians, who need to save face and give the public a villain to blame.
Video games being the scape goat for the violence in the world is not new. Someone has to pay for these atrocities and it is easy to claim that video games are the big bad monster in the shadows that is corrupting and warping the minds of America’s youth. These claims just do not hold up! Study after study has proven that there is no basis for these claims. In the New York Times article “Do Violent Video Games Lead to Mass Shootings? Researchers Say No.”; Salam and Stack discuss this at length. In their article they look at the political tendency to blame shift onto the gaming industry for every violent act. This is not a new tactic either; in the 1940’s Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (New York) accused pinball of being “dominated by interests heavily tainted with criminality.” Claims such as these show the desperation of our political representatives to give the public an enemy to blame, because after all, if they can be the one to solve (or appear to solve) the issue of violence, well then no one would vote against them. In the end, it is all about the votes and public opinion and so you would think that with the gaming industry being so massive that these political charlatans would try to appeal to that demographic too, but they do not.
The final question that we should ask is this: If video games are not the cause of violence, what are some things that could be? Many would argue that guns are the problem, or more accurately, the availability of guns in the United States. This reason also is fed by an agenda that we won’t really get into here except to say that planes were hijacked with box cutters on September 11th 2001 and those planes flown into buildings, no guns required. Drug and alcohol abuse could and likely are contributing factors in some cases as they alter your brain activity (Jeffrey A. Lieberman, Gary D. Tollefson, & Cecil Charles, 2005) and can cause people to commit acts that they would not normally. Gang related violence is a massive source of violent crimes, the gang itself acts as a gang member’s “sense of self and identity” (Paul B. Stretesky, 2007) and the use of guns for the purpose of intimidation of others as well as for protection and to build a tough reputation.
Childhood abuse, neglect and trauma as discussed earlier are found to be factors in children acting out violently (Arthur H.Green, 2010). We also discussed the possibility of desensitization due to what we see depicted on the news (Schulzke, 2010). This is a factor that makes sense, but as I was unable to find a reputable source to corroborate the claim it must remain in the realm of speculation. Children not being taught morality or right from wrong could also be contributors to violent behavior. Prayer has been removed from schools and higher learning institutions and there is something to be said about the moral lessons that religion teaches. Then there is religion as a cause too, which contradicts the last idea but does have some serious evidence that it could partially be to blame. History is all of the proof that we need! People have been killing in the name of their different gods for all of recorded history. If this is a hard pill to swallow, note the Crusades, Salem Witch trials, Jim Jones, Nazi Germany, and the slaughtering of Christians, gays and women in the middle east. There is no shortage of examples of people committing violence for the forces of good. Religion has driven people to commit some seriously heinous acts in the name of God! Racism is also a cause for violence.
As just the most recent example, the El Paso Texas shooter was targeting Mexicans and others with a Central American heritage and had a manifesto that was filled with hate and anger for the “invaders” of America. El Paso though, is just one of the latest in a long and terrifying history that show the evils that people can do due in the name of racist ideologies. The history of black people in America during and after slavery is appalling. The violence that was done to the black community is a shameful part of America’s history, but the violence in this nation did not start there, nor is that where it ends. Native Americans were nearly wiped out completely as manifest destiny moved across the continent. Violence committed in the name of justice is another reason. Historically, pioneer justice in the wild west was filled with outlaws and gun fights. Even our sporting games are violent to the point that special protective gear is worn to protect the athlete from broken limbs and traumatic brain injuries. Not just America, but the entirety of the human race, throughout history has been violent. We started with clubs and stones and we have upgraded all the way to drones that can kill someone from other countries with the touch of a button and bombs that wipe out entire nations. Our violent history predates video games by centuries and the causes of the violence are plentiful. We are a violent species! The one cause that we should be able to confidently rule out at this point, however, is playing video games.
If parents are concerned with the type of content that their children are consuming, just like film has a rating system, the ESRB or Electronic Software Rating Board is a self-regulating system that help parents navigate through games to find ones that are more suitable to the content that they prefer (ESRB, n.d.). While not a perfect system, the ESRB does help to provide a filter and keep kids away from those games that depict violence, but only if the parent is diligent in monitoring the games that the child purchases. The rating system provides a rating as well as what the rating stands for; as an example: “E” is for “Everyone, where as “A” is for “Adults Only 18+”. A content descriptor is also listed such as: “animated blood” “intense violence”, or “comic mischief”, and other useful information that tell parents if the game has in game purchases, shares locations of player, etc. There are other types of censorship that exist to provide a similar tool for parents, for instance the Steam store requires users to enter their date of birth and acknowledge that they are about to view mature content.
My opinion on the topic of video game violence causing violence in children is that it does not. I feel like people, out of fear or hatred, will attack what they fear and hate. I think that those who have mental of emotional conditions are more prone to this type of behavior, and when those conditions are aggravated further by external forces, it creates a volatile situation. I think that the use of social media and the hate mongering that is conducted by the news media and political extremists adds fuel to this fire and that they should be held accountable. While I am against censorship, I feel that if you incite violence through your words or actions that you should be held just as accountable as those who commit the violent acts as a result of your pandering. I have a lot of experience with video games as a player, a reviewer, a developer and a general fan of the medium. I also have a lot of experience with violence as a combat veteran with five deployments on two separate war fronts. I have played genres across the board from the most non-violent type games such as “Solitaire” and “Pong” to games that show characters being literally torn to pieces such as “Mortal Kombat” or “Doom”, and the violence that I have experienced in game has had no effect on my mental state. I have raised my own children as game players and they have each become well-adjusted young adults, none of them have committed violence, and I do not expect that they would.
I have experienced real world violence and have not found that being in a violent situation is in any way easier after having a history with violent games. Each time that I was forced to draw my weapon against another human, it was a conscious decision. Each time I used the minimum amount of force necessary in order to stop the threat. There is a distinct difference between the virtual and the physical. I get angry when I hear this baseless rhetoric being thrown around every time that someone does something bad. It is insulting to gamers to be lumped into a category with mass-murderers It is disgraceful and tactless. Furthermore, in my opinion, it is disrespectful to the memory of people who are the victims of these acts to blame anything that they can other than the people who commit the acts themselves. I feel that politicians and religious leaders who blame video games, guns, or anything other than people for evil deeds are disgusting humans for using a tragedy to push a political narrative and or a religious agenda. I think that religious groups who have the audacity to blame anything else for violence with the violent history of their own religion is shameful at best.
My opinion might not matter, how gamers feel about this subject might mean little to political and religious groups, but we should matter. The gaming community is massive! We are a large voting demographic with over 165 million American players (Entertainment Software Association, 2019) and we are interwoven throughout different religious groups as well. It would objectively be a mistake to ignore our opinions, and it would be foolish to think that we do not matter. To this end, I ran a poll on Twitter: Do violent video games cause violent behaviour in children? 53 people voted, 51 (94%) said no, violent video games do not cause violent behaviour and 2 people (6%) said yes, they do (ArtilleryJay, 2019). I found it interesting that those who voted no also commented with links to data showing no connection between video game violence and actual violence, while one of those who claim that games do cause violence simply said “I think the screen addiction from the constant dopamine rush is harmful for the kid’s family interaction. They can become aggressive if devoid of their screens. That’s also violence.” providing no data to back their claim.
So in conclusion, do violent video games cause violence in young people? This is the question that we came here in hopes of answering. Well, the jury is still technically out on the topic, but the evidence suggests that they do not. In fact, it seems much more likely that video games are painted as the cause of violence by people who refuse to admit that maybe there is no real single cause and that people are simply violent by nature. It might be easier to point a finger at something else rather than accepting responsibility for our actions, and so until we are enlightened enough to stop this behavior of playing the blame game there will likely never be a shortage of accusations such as this one. Video games actually are beneficial in development as they help to improve certain skills and behaviors as well as allow players to relieve stress and provide a safe environment to serve as an outlet to vent frustrations. (Kenneth R. Ginsburg, Committee on Communications, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, 2007) Violence in children is better explained by underlying mental health issues in combination with external stimuli such as abuse, assault, indoctrination of hate at a young age or other trauma (Christopher J Ferguson, 2008).
We have looked at various potential causes for violence and several of them fit the bill, such as religion and racism in combination with underlying mental and emotional issues. We have discussed historical acts of violence and modern acts of violence. Violence has been around since humans have been around, violent video games cannot explain our violent history so it is absurd to blame them for our violent present. Ethically speaking, games do not appear to desensitize young people, and playing these types of games do not appear to cause children to commit violent acts (Schulzke, 2010). The claim that violent video games lead to violence in children is a narrative that continues to be perpetuated by political and religious groups in order to push an agenda. There is little evidence to support these claims, but still they persist. Even with rating systems in place to assist parents to regulate a child’s gameplay, if a kid really wants to play the game, they will likely find a way to. If video games serve any role within violent actions, it is as a symptom rather than the cause itself. There are many other places that the finger can be pointed to explain these violent tendencies, and evidence to support that they are more likely to be a cause, such as mental health issues and abuse however; it seems that for now at least, video games will have to bear the burden of being the bad guy a while longer.
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