Society

Video Games Are Too Violent For The Children: Arguments For And Against

As gaming increases, particularly among children and adolescents, so has the concern over video game content, influence, and excessive use.

Video games have continued to grow in popularity throughout the past few decades. The growth has been attributed to technological advancements such as the internet and mobile devices. According to Microsoft, there are currently more than two billion gamers across the world. The estimate includes people playing across various platforms, including free games on phones and those with state-of-the-art computers fitted with the latest technology. In 2018, the industry generated $119.6 billion in revenues, and the figures are expected to rise to $300 billion by 2025. As gaming increases, particularly among children and adolescents, so has the concern over video game content, influence, and excessive use. Children of 8 years of age or younger who play video games spend a daily average of 57 minutes on computer games, 69 minutes on a hand-held console games, and 45 minutes on mobile games. Considering that over 85% of video games on the market contain some form of violence, parents and caregivers have sought to understand whether such games have adverse effects on children.

Arguments Linking Video Games To Aggression And Violence

Over 98% of pediatricians in the US believe that excessive exposure to violent media can result in childhood aggression. There is also a consensus among the majority of video game researchers that too much exposure to violent video games increases the incidence of aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. It is believed to promote desensitization to violence and leads to a decrease in prosocial behavior and empathy. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of violent video game effects have established significant links to violent behavior. Some longitudinal studies provide strong evidence that they are causal effects. Researchers, however, point out that media violence is not the sole or the most important source of violent behavior. Based on the risk factor approach, people can have various risk factors for violent behavior or aggression. They might include having a violent peer group, coming from a violent home, exposure to violent media, high levels of trait aggression, among other factors. The higher the number of risk factors one is exposed to, particularly at a younger age, the higher the chances of that person becoming aggressive or violent.

Imitation

Humans, to some extent, are hardwired to imitate others from birth. Recently discovered mirror neurons in primates and humans represent one mechanism in the brain that helps facilitate such behavior. Imitation helps in the fast learning of behaviors and also plays an essential role in human bonding. Imitation can, however, have negative effects when people imitate unhelpful and antisocial behaviors. Children are seen to imitate behaviors from people around them and the characters they see from the media. Some characters are more likely to be mirrored than others. They include those that are attractive, rewarded for their behavior, heroic, and those that have high social status. It is, therefore, possible for people to copy the behaviors of characters they see or interact with while playing violent video games. For example, an 18-year old in Thailand stabbed a taxi driver to death while trying to find out “if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi driver” as it was in GTA IV.

Consequently, GTA IV was banned in Thailand. In 2003, William Bucker, aged 16 and his stepbrother Joshua aged 14, shot at cars in Tennessee, resulting in the death of one man and the injury of a woman. Once questioned, the boys said they were acting out Grand Theft Auto III. Following his arrest for carjacking, Devin Moore from Alabama killed three police officers in 2003. When he was arrested, he said that “Life is like a video game, Everybody’s got to die sometime.” He also said that he was copying what he had learned playing GTA III. While violent video games cannot be solely blamed for such actions (since an accumulation of risk factors is required), the imitation of media violence seems to play a role in such cases.

Repetition

Learning through repetition of behavior establishes and reinforces them in memory, increases skills, and automates them as learned responses. Further, the repetition of an entire sequence of behaviors commits it to memory better than the repetition of parts of a sequence. Violent video games often involve the repetition of complete behavioral sequences. Players repeat specific actions, receive similar rewards, and experience the same feelings and thoughts while carrying out those actions. They are also exposed to espoused attitudes in the game explicitly and implicitly. For example, in GTA, sleeping with prostitutes and then killing them to get one’s money implies the acceptance of violence to get what one wants, misogyny, and that human life has little meaning. Repetition of such scenes in the game can lead one to learn negative scripts of behavior.

Lack Of Negative Consequences

Most acts of violence in video games often go unpunished, have unrealistic consequences for the victim, or are rewarded through points, money, and elevation to higher game levels. 

Fictitious Violence Versus Real Violence

Recent studies involving brain imaging technology that photographed children’s brain activation patterns using MRI machines while they were experiencing violent media found that while they knew that the violence was fictitious, their brains responded to the violence as if it was a real threat. Long-term memory systems were also activated, suggesting that the effect would endure beyond initial exposure. Some studies indicate that fantasy media violence has a similar impact on children as exposure to realistic media violence.

The General Aggression Model

The General Aggression Model provides a theoretically sound way of understanding how a person’s exposure to violent media can increase their likelihood of being aggressive in both the short term and long term. The model demonstrates what is happening psychologically during an episode of aggression. Typically, a person brings their readiness to aggression through beliefs, attitudes, gender, personality, and other stable factors. Various situations have cues and triggers of aggression, such as an insult or presence of a weapon. When such conditions are encountered, relevant cognitions including, memories, attitudes, beliefs, and scripts of behavior, are activated, along with feelings like anger and fear, and a level of physiological arousal. Higher levels of arousal increase the chances of a dominant tendency to act. If a person has time and the cognitive capacity to make a more considered response, they are likely to evaluate the options available and create a more thought-through response. Either way, the eventual response, which could be aggressive, elicits a social response, and is encoded into memory. Once committed to memory, it can affect their responses to future situations.

Arguments Against Linking Video Games To Violence

Some experts have argued that blaming video games for violence carried out in the real world can be equated to blaming the news media for bringing violent crime into homes. Indeed, relevant authorities have examined the scientific records and found that it does not establish a causal link between real-life violence and media content.

The Decrease In Crime Rates

Violent crime, especially among young people, has decreased considerably since the early 1990s. During the same period, video games have become increasingly popular. According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the US is at a 30 year low. The exact opposite of what one would expect to happen if there was a causal link. Researchers have also found that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume low media content prior to committing a crime compared to the average person in the general population. While it is true that individuals involved in mass shootings in the US were gamers, it is important to point out that young people, in general, are gamers (90% of boys and 40% of girls). The overwhelming majority of children who play video games do not commit antisocial acts. Experts have argued that if video games were equivalent to flight simulators training young people to kill, then it is difficult to explain why homicide rates have gone down despite the sale of millions of modern “simulators.”

The Lower Crime Rate In Other Countries

 Games with violent content are sold in many markets, including the US, some games with even more violence are also in foreign markets. Video games with violent content are popular in many countries, including those with crime rates that are much lower than the US, which suggests that the background of the individual, the availability of weapons such as guns, among other factors, are more relevant to understanding particular criminal acts. The New York Times, while analyzing gun ownership, concluded that the only variable that could explain the high rates of mass shootings in the country was the high number of guns.

The Fallacy Of Linking Games And Violence

An international coalition of 228 scholars, academics, and researchers issued an open letter to the APA (American Psychological Association) challenging its 2005 policy statement on media and violence. The letter argued that APA relied on flawed research, manipulated data, and inconsistent findings to determine a causal link between video games and violence.

Parental Control

All consoles have parental control. Although they might differ, they generally have the ability to: block the playing of age-inappropriate games and films, restrict purchasing features, restrict access to online communication features, and limit playtime. Experts believe that gamers should be presented with an unavoidable choice to activate parental controls when setting up the console. Gaming companies should recognize issues such as children switching on and setting up consoles for the first time as opposed to parents. Experts also believe that parents need to be educated on their responsibilities with regard to monitoring gameplay, parental controls, and age classification systems.

About the Author

Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor. 

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