Why video games are not the be-all, end-all cause of violence

Daniel Garcia/HIGHLANDER
Daniel Garcia/HIGHLANDER

The jury is in — playing video games is not going to turn you into a homicidal maniac, or at least, it is not the sole cause for youth violence. Two recent correlational studies performed at Stetson University in Florida have demonstrated that exposure to violent media, particularly video games, are not responsible for causing long-term real-life violence. Psychologist Christopher Ferguson and his team discovered in their research that there has been a drop in violent crime perpetrated by teens in recent years, even though the consumption of violent media — movies and video games — has increased in the same time period.

The conclusion we can draw from this study is that many violent crimes, especially the tragic shootings at such sites as Sandy Hook or Columbine, cannot simply be blamed on a simple scapegoat factor such as video games. The parties responsible for these respective shootings cannot be described as being in the best of mental health; psychiatrists have retroactively diagnosed these perpetrators, among other possibilities, as psychopathic and depressive, with evidence of drugs in their systems that are prescribed for behavioral issues. Therefore, to simply place blame on video games while ignoring the underlying psychological symptoms of these culprits is an unfair attack on a particular form of media that does not meet approval by the whole of society.

However, to ignore the influence any form of media may have on a person who commits a crime ignores a key element to be considered; namely, the inherent desire of humans to emulate a role model. In past times, the only role models around were one’s parents and perhaps other adults to which a young person might be exposed. In this modern era of mass media, however, a youth can be influenced by a multitude of different sources, and these sources are not limited to video games: Movies, music and even books can also display similar levels of violence.

For most of them, these influences are not malignant; I do not believe a kid is going to be affected badly by wanting to be Elsa from “Frozen,” or one of the Ninja Turtles. Furthermore, there is a major difference between liking something and trying to emulate it. There is a problem, however, when a 10-year-old, because of easy access, has the chance to emulate a game like “Call of Duty” or “Grand Theft Auto,” games that feature violence and profanity fit only for someone of 17 years or more — hence, their rating of M, for Mature.

Perhaps the evidence shows there is no long-term causal link between video games and violence; I have no qualification to argue that. Nevertheless, nothing good can come of exposing young people to the sorts of violence that even some people in the military never see. When games feature combat involving chainsawing people in half, exploding people’s heads by shooting them, and other gratuitous gore, it should be no surprise that someone young and impressionable — including teens — might think such violence is no problem, or even useful as entertainment.

Thankfully, there is a major gap between finding entertainment in a violent video game and imitating it in real life; perhaps it takes a combination of the exposure to violence and some form of mental disorder to make that transition, as evidenced by the fact that the Columbine shooters were obsessed with the game “Doom.”

By permitting a young person to have such video games, it is ultimately the parents of a child who are responsible for allowing exposure to any violence. A kid will find it hard to buy an M-rated game; for those of you unfamiliar with the ESRB system, one must be 17 or older to buy such a game. Therefore, parents either judge their child mature enough for an M game or simply do not care about the rating. Either way, the act translates to condoning the content of the game in the child’s eyes. If the worst should happen and a youth commits a crime, in part because they are influenced by a video game, the parents must take more responsibility for the actions of that child, because the child would not have been influenced without the permission of the parents.

No single element can be blamed for setting certain people off and turning them into killers. It is the combination of multiple factors — psychological issues and media violence — that is the ultimate cause of violence. Therefore, the solution is twofold: by simultaneously making effort by both vendors and parents to prevent youths from accessing media beyond their level of maturity, as well as researching psychological disorders, (for instance in a school setting), we can perhaps prevent further losses from acts of mass violence.

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