In recent years videogames have increased tremendously in popularity. U.S. computer and video game software sales have more than doubled since 1996 grossing about $7 billion dollars. Gone are the days when videogames were solely the choice entertainment of computer geeks. Now game consoles can be found in the homes of the average consumer- a staggering 75% of households have a game console. Gone too are the days when videogame violence consisted of atrocities such as jumping on toadstools, or Pac-man swallowing ghosts whole (not that people didn’t complain about that being extremely violent at the time). Due at least in part to technological advancements, today’s videogames are a great deal more graphic. In games such as Resident Evil 4 players can now blast the heads off opponents, and watch them explode with amazing realism. Needless to say violence in videogames has become a major concern of parents, especially after the Columbine shootings, but should they worry?
In the past not many studies were done on the effects of videogame violence on players. Some studies such as the one by Dominick (1984) found a positive correlation with videogames and aggression. On the other hand another study amongst 12-34 year olds found no such correlation. Another study by Lin, and Leper (1987) found correlation between use of arcade games and teachers ratings of aggressiveness. It seems that as soon as one study said one thing, another study said no, not quite, only to in turn be contradicted by another study. While the majority of studies did find a positive correlation between videogames and aggression they could not determine causation, and sadly modern studies can’t seem to either although they’re getting closer.
Fortunately the General Aggression Model (2002) by Anderson and Bushman seems to be a step in the right direction. According to this model aggression is largely based on the activation, and application of aggression stored in memory. In other words aggression has to do in part with the persons pre-existing attitudes, and the situation. The person’s internal thoughts affects their feelings, and arousals, and work together in the person’s interpretation of an aggressive act.
In respect to videogames the General Aggression model states that videogames can create aggression by promoting aggressive beliefs, and attitudes. They believe this creates aggressive scripts, which then create aggressive expectations, which further increase aggression. Anderson, and Bushman also theorize that exposure to aggressive games desensitizes individuals. That seems to be the case if one looks at how videogames have grown progressively more violent over the years. For example games such as Pac-Man and Super Mario Brothers were once deemed violent. In the mist of today’s graphically violent games it’s hard to bat an eye at a game were the hero vanquishes enemies by jumping on their heads. In modern games such as Devil May Cry players decapitate enemies regularly, or watch them explode in a barrage of body parts, and blood after pelting them with bullets. Mortal Kombat was one of the first games to feature particularly graphic violence, in fact it’s so violent no discussion of videogame violence is complete without mentioning it. The game has you fight human opponents, and finish them with a fatality. Fatalities have you brutally kill your enemy by barbecuing
them, beheaded, beating them until they explode in a flurry of bones and blood, ripping out spinal cords, etc, etc. This game really paved the way for violence in videogames,
and did a lot in changing the standards for what is considered violent. To this day there is no game more violent than Mortal Kombat,(though an increasing number match it) because really after you’ve ripped a person’s spinal cord out through their skull, there’s not a whole lot more you can do.
Some studies suggest that not only is the violence in videogames desensitizing, but it is additive as well. In other words the more aggressive an individual is the more aggressive they are likely to become after playing violent games. According to this view relatively non-aggressive individuals are unlikely to be as affected by violent games. Unfortunately this hasn’t really been proven as other studies claim that violent games made everyone considerably more aggressive.
While the General Aggression Model doesn’t focus primarily on any one age group Steven Kirsch applied the model to the entire adolescent age range. Due to the brain development occurring in this age group Kirsch believes that younger adolescents are more affected than older adolescents by violence in games. Studies have shown that younger adolescents lose half of their neocortical synapses, and this pruning is believed to increase judgment. Younger adolescents are also more aggressive than older adolescents. This study might make parents want to keep a more watchful eye on the games their younger adolescents play, but then that’s why games have a rating system.
People that are particularly concerned about violence in games have the option of utilizing the ESRB rating system which rates games much the same way movies are rated. Games that are rated E are considered suitable for everyone. T rated games are suitable for teenagers 13, and up, and M rated games are for those 17, and up. The final rating is AO or adults only, which is basically the equivalent of a XXX movie rating, and can only be purchased by those 18, and older. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (a game already under fire for intense violence) is one of the only games to receive the Adults Only rating, and it only received it due to programmers being to lazy to completely remove coding for a mini-game that simulated sex (meaning unless you have a lot of time on your hands you weren’t going to see it anyway). Unlocking the mini-game requires downloading user made mods to access the source code. Parents were outraged but, had they paid attention to the original M rating they would have realized this wasn’t a game for children anyway. Since games have a rating system it would seem that consumers, and parents could easily select for games that don’t offend their sensibilities.
A lot of the problems related to violence in videogames have to do with the fact that many people assume games are only for children. Despite the lingering stereotype, the average gamer is no longer that lanky nerd from biology, the average gamer isn’t even a teen, but a 30 year old man, whose been playing for 9.5 years. Not to say that teenagers don’t play, clearly they do but the emphasis on the evil effects of games on youth may be somewhat misguided especially considering 83% of the time parents are right there when the game is purchased. 87% of the time children under 18 ask their parents for permission to buy games, and despite the recent media storm over the prevalence of extremely violent games, only 16% of videogame sales were of mature rated games.
In conclusion the studies have not shown that videogames definitively cause violent behavior or aggression. The General Aggression Model predicts that videogames may increase aggression by promoting aggressive beliefs, and attitudes which create aggressive expectations. These predictions however are highly theoretical. The GAM also predicts that violence in videogames desensitize players, a prediction which the progression of game violence seems to support. As the technology advances videogames get increasingly more violent, and detailed, and the shockingly violent games of yesterday (Super Mario) don’t phase anyone today. While research on the effects of game violence have yielded conflicting results, research into the brain structures of younger adolescences imply that due to biology they may be more influenced by violent games than adults. This on the other hand only brings up the question of whether or not videogames should be considered solely a kid’s activity when the average player is 30, and the average child only purchases a game with adult consent anyway. All in all the issue of videogames and violence is a complex issue that definitely deserves more research, and if the trend continues it will definitely get it.
1. Entertainment Software Association “Facts and Research” http://www.theesa.com/facts/games_youth_violence.php
2. Dave Munger “Video games, adolescents, and development” (2006) Cognitive Daily http://cognitivedaily.com/?p=145
3. Psychology Matters “Violent Video Games - Psychologists Help Protect
Children from Harmful Effects” (2006) http://www.psychologymatters.org/videogames.html
4. Thomas A. Koojimans “The effects of Video Games on Aggressive thoughts and behavior in development” http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/kooijmans.html
5. Douglass Gentile “Examining the effects of Videogames from a psychological perspective” http://www.mediafamily.org/research/Gentile_NIMF_Review_2005.pdf
6. Anderson & Bushman “Violent Videogames and hostile Expectations: A test of the General Aggression Model” (2002) http://wwwpersonal.umich.edu/~bbushman/BA02PSPB.pdf
7. ESRB “ESRB Game Ratings” (2006) http://www.esrb.org/ratings/index.jspTechnorati Profile