Research has shown that playing violent video games such as Manhunt 2, Grand Theft Auto, or Counter-Strike can increase a child’s aggressive thoughts and behavior in both a laboratory venue and in real-world situations. In addition, playing violent video games may be more detrimental to children than viewing violent television shows or movies because they are especially enthralling, interactive, and necessitate the player to associate on a personal level with the violent character of the game.
The Entertainment media, it is widely accepted, is an extremely influential factor in everyone’s lives. “What behaviors children and adults consider appropriate comes, in part, from the lessons we learn from television and the movies” (Huesmann & Miller, 1994).
It is reasonable to expect video games, especially those that portray violence, will have similar and possibly a more expansive effect on violent behavior. Currently, few papers exist which have thoroughly studied the connection between violent video game and subsequent violent actions. As video games are progressively becoming more ferocious and explicit as well as more prevalent, additional research is needed regarding the effects on the impressionable minds of those that play them and illuminate to parents the risks associated with these games.
Infamous events have generated extensive debate regarding the effects of video game violence. For example, a nationwide conversation ensued in America regarding what connection video games had to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where two students murdered 13 and wounded 23 before killing themselves in Colorado (Shin, 2003). While many motivations were likely involved, it is not possible to identify precisely what provoked these teenagers to shoot their classmates and teachers but violent video games have been mentioned as one possible contributing factor.
The two students had often played Doom, a brutal and bloody firearms game that is used by the military to teach the U.S. armed forces how to kill more efficiently. To what degree this game influenced the actions of these two youths has been argued since this incident.
Another game, Manhunt, was banned from New Zealand shelves and implicated in a brutal murder in Leicester. According to reports, the perpetrator, 17-year-old Warren Leblanc was obsessed with playing the game, which is described as a psychological experience, and was acting out the activities of the game in real life when he murdered Stephen Pakeerah with a claw hammer and a knife (“Game Blamed”, 2004). While officials refused to blame the game for the boy’s actions, there were several connections between the game and the murder that suggest the murderer was indeed influenced by the game.
When video games first appeared about 30 years ago, they were simplistic and seemingly innocuous. Atari pioneered the video game with Pong in the mid-1970’s which was a video version of table tennis. The 1980’s saw arcade games such as Asteroids and Pac-Man become popular. “In Pac-Man, a yellow orb with a mouth raced around the screen chomping up ghosts and goblins. At this point, some eyebrows were raised questioning whether young people should play such violent games” (Elmer-Dewitt, 1993).
The nature of video games took a dramatic turn from cartoon-like ghost chomping to unabashed violence in the 1990’s. Mortal Kombat, the most popular video game of 1993, featured realistic representations of human characters fighting bloody battles.
The goal of the player in Mortal Kombat, as the name implies, is to slay the enemy combatant. Violent games such as this dominate today’s market. A study which tested 33 of the most popular Nintendo and Sega video games found that almost 80 percent were violent in nature (Dietz, 1998). The study also revealed that a disturbing 21 percent of those games portrayed violence towards women. The game was finally banned in the UK in 2007 as a result of its brutality (Smith, 2007). The game Counter Strike was blamed for the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 (Benedetti, 2007).
Playing a violent video game also has been shown to encourage the susceptibility to aggressive thought patterns by the ‘semantic priming process.’ “We know from related research that merely seeing a picture of a gun or other weapon can increase the accessibility of aggressive thoughts” (Anderson et al, 1996). This process, in all probability, accounts for the ‘weapons effect’ first reported by Berkowitz and LePage (1967).
There is presently no scientific evidence to conclusively report whether or not playing a violent video game increases susceptibility to aggressive thoughts but numerous studies do seem to suggest this is the case. Current research demonstrates that aggressive behaviors arise both in everyday life situations and during orchestrated studies using objective, scientific procedures; the playing of video games that were violent in nature unquestionably correlated to an increase of aggressive conduct.
In a college study, students who played a violent video game, not surprisingly, acted with increased aggression towards a playing partner than did those students who had played a nonviolent game. Another study was conducted which examined the video game habits of students during their four year college career which reported that when playing in a normal, dorm-room type environment, playing violent video games over a period of these years encouraged more aggressive behavior.
This increase occurred, not only during the game but in other facets of the student’s lives as well. Both studies found that violent video games negatively influence a person’s current emotional condition escalating feelings of hostility or anger. The similar findings of these differing study methods gives further credibility to the premise that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive behavior (Calvert & Tan, 1994). Though the propensity for increased levels of violent behavior based upon playing violent video games cannot be definitely and scientifically established on the basis of one pair of studies, this evidence supports the findings of similar research.
Considering what is known regarding the effects of media violence, especially television, the prevalence of violent video games, especially given the current trend in the realism of video game violence verify that parents, teachers, and society as a whole are justified in their concerns. “The present data indicate that concern about the potentially deleterious consequences of playing violent video games is not misplaced. Further consideration of some key characteristics of violent video games suggests that their dangers may well be greater than the dangers of violent television or violent movies” (Eron et al, 1987).
At least three rationales have been established to explain why irrational behavior results from playing violent video games. The first concerns association with the aggressor. “When viewers are told to identify with a media aggressor, post-viewing aggression is increased compared with measured aggression of those who were not instructed to identify with the aggressor” (Leyens & Picus, 1973). When playing a video game that allows for ‘first person’ interaction, the player very often prefers to choose a character whose persona the player wants to identify with.
The player, by controlling the action of their character usually attempts to view the game from their character’s perception. In other words, the player ‘becomes’ the video character, which enhances the game’s enjoyment. Anyone who has seen two teenage boys playing video games has witnessed them pretending to be the person they are controlling. The second rationale concerns the enthusiastic involvement while playing video games.
Studies regarding catharsis hypothesis suggests that willingly behaving in an aggressive manner typically intensifies future aggressive behavior. “The active role of the video game player includes choosing to act in an aggressive manner. This choice and action component of video games may well lead to the construction of a more complete aggressive script than would occur in the more passive role assumed in watching violent movies or TV shows” (Geen, Stonner & Shope, 1975).
A third rationale involves video games’ addictive nature and the negative stimulus that results from repetitiveness. The reinforcement characteristics of violent video games may enhance the learning and performance of aggressive scripts. Video games are “the perfect paradigm for the induction of addictive behavior” (Braun & Girioux, 1989, p. 101). Braun and Giroux’s research concluded that as many as 20 percent of teenagers are pathologically dependent on video games. “Video game addiction may stem, in part, from the rewards and punishments the game gives the player much like the reward structure of slot machines” (Griffiths & Hunt, 1998).
In a very real sense, violent video games supply a comprehensive learning atmosphere for “aggression, with simultaneous exposure to modeling, reinforcement, and rehearsal of behaviors” (Loftus & Loftus, 1983). This combination of learning approaches has been revealed to be very influential. “When the choice and action components of video games is coupled with the games’ reinforcing properties, strong learning experiences result” (Loftus & Loftus, 1983).
Violent video games provide a compelling and additive medium that conditions young minds to employ aggressive measures in the resolution of conflicts. Evidence suggests that the effects of violent video games seem to be cognitive in composition. Playing violent video games, in the short term, appears to affect hostility by prompting aggressive thoughts. Long-term effects are liable to be longer lasting as well because the player is trained then practices aggressive acts that become progressively easier to access on a sub-conscious level for use when confronted by future aggravating circumstances.
Repeated exposure to violent video games has been shown to, in effect, alter the player’s basic personality structure. The resulting changes in everyday social relations may lead to steady escalation in aggressive actions. The interactive learning environment the video game presents suggests its influence is more powerful than the more broadly studied movie and television media. With enhanced realism and the growing trend to include increasing amounts of graphic violence in video games, those that play (and those that buy) violent video games should be alerted to the possible consequences.
Anderson, C. A.; Anderson, K. B.; & Deuser, W. E. (1996). “Examining an Affective Aggression Framework: Weapon and Temperature Effects on Aggressive Thoughts, Affect, and Attitudes.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol. 22, pp. 366-76.
Benedetti, Winda. (2007). “Were Video Games to Blame for Massacre?” MSNBC. Web.
Berkowitz, L. & LePage, A. (1967). “Weapons as Aggression-Eliciting Stimuli.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 7, pp. 202-7.
Braun, C. & Giroux, J. (1989). “Arcade Video Games: Proxemic, Cognitive and Content Analyses.” Journal of Leisure Research. Vol. 22, pp. 92-105.
Calvert, S. L. & Tan, S. (1994). “Impact of Virtual Reality on Young Adults’ Physiological Arousal and Aggressive Thoughts: Interaction Versus Observation.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Vol. 15, pp. 125-39.
Dietz, T. L. (1998). “An Examination of Violence and Gender Role Portrayals in Video Games: Implications for Gender Socialization and Aggressive Behavior.” Sex Roles. Vol. 38, pp. 425-42.
Elmer-Dewitt, P. (1993). “The Amazing Video Game Boom.” Time Magazine. pp. 66-73.
Eron, L. D.; Huesmann, L. R.; Dubow, E.; Romanoff, R.; & Yarmel, P. (1987). “Aggression and its Correlates Over 22 Years.” Childhood Aggression and Violence. D. Crowell; I. Evans; & D. O’Donnell (Eds.). New York: Plenum, pp. 249-62.
“Game Blamed for Hammer Murder.” (2004). BBC News. Web.
Geen, R. G.; Stonner, D.; & Shope, G. L. (1975). “The Facilitation of Aggression by Aggression: Evidence Against the Catharsis Hypothesis.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 31, pp. 721-26.
Griffiths, M. D. & Hunt, N. (1998). “Dependence on Computer Games by Adolescents.” Psychological Reports. Vol. 82, pp. 475-80.
Huesmann, L.R. & Miller, L.S. (1994). “Long-Term Effects of Repeated Exposure to Media Violence in Childhood.” Aggressive Behavior: Current Perspectives. L.R. Huesmann (Ed.). New York: Plenum Press.
Leyens, J. P. & Picus, S. (1973). “Identification with the Winner of a Fight and Name Mediation: Their Differential Effects Upon Subsequent Aggressive Behavior.” British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Vol. 12, pp. 374-77.
Loftus, G. A. & Loftus, E. F. (1983). Mind at Play: The Psychology of Video Games. New York: Basic Books.
Shin, Grace. (2003). “Video Games: A Cause of Violence and Aggression.” Serendip. Web.
Smith, Tony. (2007). “Manhunt 2 Banned.” Register Hardware. Web.