Video games have been around in some form or another since the 1950s, and for as long as companies have been making them, they’ve included violence and violent acts in some shape or form. From the early days of pixelated graphics and low fidelity blips and pings of controversial games like Custer’s Revenge (pictured), video games have revelled in destruction and carnage as they try to entertain the young people in society.
If you wander down the video game aisle at your local shopping mall today, your eyes will be assaulted with a vast array of hyper-realistic first-person shooters, role-playing games that promote the destruction of enemies in the most grisly ways, and driving games where pedestrian safety is.. let’s say not necessary. The problem is, this level of violence, whilst entertaining millions, has led to a backlash that threatens the video game landscape altogether and may see the pastime we love change forever.
Why are people worried about Violence in video games?
Over the past few decades, violence in society has forced its way to the forefront of local, national and international news, and drawing parallels with violent video games have become commonplace. With mass shootings in the United States seemingly every few weeks and stories of crime and mayhem plastered across the news twenty-four hours a day, it’s understandable that people will look for things to blame. But do the tabloid fears have any foundation and are there any relationship between this make-believe violence and violence in our real world?
“Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When.” Christopher J. Ferguson of Stetson University
Well, over the past ten years, in particular, researchers have begun seriously studying the effects of video game violence on those that play video games, and the results may surprise you. Despite all the sensationalism and doom-mongering new stories warning of grave consequences, there is little to no evidence that suggests that those who play violent games are more likely to commit violent crimes in real life.
Some still go on and on about how violent games rot young people’s brains. The President of the United States, Donald Trump has played continuously to this notion and repeatedly tied video game violence to mass shootings and violent crimes. Other prominent groups within society are also certain that violence in video games causes people to become more violent in the real world. They argue that video game violence desensitizes people to actual violence and causes them to believe that violence is routine. This may seem like common sense in some ways until you think about the issue more thoroughly.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are groups who are sure that video game violence has zero impact on people. They argue that millions of people play violent video games every day, and only a very, very small minority end up committing violent acts.
So, what is the answer? Do violent video games make people more violent?
Well, unsurprisingly to find the answer to this question you need to steer clear of the popular press and their biased agendas and look to the many studies and reports that have been undertaken to investigate the topic.
One such 2014 study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture found no evidence of any link between violent crime and people who play violent video games. The results of the report suggested a decrease in violent crime for those that play video games and espoused video games as a positive outlet for anger that could prevent violent crimes from being committed.
Another study by Scott Cunningham, Benjamin Engelstätter, and Michael R. Ward bring the link between video game players and an actual reduction in violence even more into focus. Their report states, “It’s just genuinely not the case that video games lead to violent crime. If anything, it’s the opposite: Time spent playing video games reduces the amount of time that young men can get into mischief.” The study looked at the number of violent crimes committed in the weeks after the release of top 50 best-selling video games from 2005 to 2008, and the report found that in most cases the number of violent crimes actually decreased. It may seem strange promoting video game playing as a time-consuming hobby that reduces opportunities for young people to cause mischief, but when you look at other crime reduction techniques, many of them rely on keeping people busy and engaged, so they have no time or urge to do anything else.
Perhaps the most comprehensive study of the link between video game violence and real-world violence was published in 2014 in the Journal of Communication in an article entitled, “Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When.” Christopher J. Ferguson of Stetson University undertook the study, first looked at the frequency and graphicness of violence in movies between 1920 and 2005 and compared it to things like homicide rates, household income, policing, etc. over the same time. It went on to look at the correlation between violent video game sales and the behaviour of young people between 1996 and 2011. After extensive research, the study found there was no real evidence that supported the conclusion that violence in media and society had any correlation and that a myriad of other factors was more likely to blame for any increase in violent crime statistics.