Since the emergence of popular video games depicting extreme violence in the 90s, parents and politicians alike have grown increasingly paranoid of the possible effects they may have on young children. “There was a concern about a possible desensitization to violence if kids are exposed to these video games before they have developed their empathy; it can kind of skew that development a little bit and desensitize them to violent acts that do happen to real people.” Says LHS social worker Mrs. Warren. Games such as Doom or Mortal Kombat were at the center of concern, each depicting acts of gore and execution unrivaled for its time. When the game was first released, Mortal Kombat drew immediate concern from many U.S. government officials such as democratic senator Joe Lieberman, saying that it taught kids to “enjoy inflicting the most gruesome forms of cruelty imaginable.” These concerns climaxed after the 1999 Columbine shooting, where 13 students were deliberately shot and killed by two seniors, and the shooters’ involvement with violent video games was proposed as a possible contributing factor to their motives. The shooting was one of the worst in American history, and many people desperately needed an answer to why someone would commit such a horrific act in a school. Many turned their attention onto video games as a major contributor to the cause. As a result, the U.S. government launched research and a series of studies to root out an answer on whether or not video games posed a threat. When the studies were published, video games were repeatedly cleared of any significant connection to violence. Mrs. Warren says, “If you look at the evidence, countries that have higher rates of gun control and even more prevalent game involvement have lower incidents of mass killings. Japan has a much higher game engagement but much stricter gun control and practically no mass killings. So you can argue that gun control is the stronger factor than exposure to video games and just cultural norms around it.”
Yet today, there are still concerns among families and the government as to the effect of violent video games on youths. In an August 5th press briefing at the White House President Trump said, “We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.” But the facts and many students contend such a statement. Nate Neveu, a student at LHS and an experienced video gamer, adds “I’m no expert, [but video games] don’t cause [violence].” According to Longmeadow High School’s Psychology teacher Mrs. Dillon, “It seems to me that there is no direct evidence that playing violent video games leads to individuals becoming violent (causation). However, it is argued that devoting extreme amounts of time to the virtual world at the expense of time spent in the social world does seem to lead to underdeveloped social skills which may be linked to an increased likelihood of developing antisocial behaviors, which violence is an example.” Mrs Warren says, “Violent video games can increase physiological arousal, experience of anger and they are correlated with being sent to the principal’s office more often and fighting, but not necessarily with criminal acts of violence.”
And as video game sales in the United States have increased in recent years, violent crime has actually decreased. And in the case of school shootings, it was discovered that school shooters actually played less amounts of violent video games than other students according to the Psychology of Popular Media Culture by Prof. Patrick Markey. In countries outside the United States, such as South Korea and Japan, the consumption of violent video games among teenagers are much higher than in the United States and yet have (up to 95x) fewer homicides involving firearms than the United States. But this is not to say that there are no effects from video games on children; studies such as ones conducted by American Psychological Association show that violent video games may cause a momentary period of increased aggression and negative behavior but these changes in behavior are miniscule (1.4%) and the changes in aggression are on par with those corresponding with sports.
In fact, many studies, including ones by the Journal of Neuroscience show that video games may actually have beneficial effects on kids. Video gamers who played games such as Fortnite, Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, and Call of Duty were able to track 3-4 more moving objects than the average human could. Yet the psychological benefits of video games are less evident than the obvious ones. Being able to eliminate strangers and win an “epic victory royale” in Fortnite is usually a more preferred alternative among youths than playing a game of Chess. Avid video gamer and Longmeadow High School freshman Liam Porcello says, “Video games are a great way to reduce stress, it allows you to express yourself in ways you aren’t able to in real life, or create things you wouldn’t even be able to build in the real world.”
To address the issue, multiple theories have been produced. David Prickett, a freshman at LHS and a passionate player of Super Smash Bros, believes that “violent video games should only be played by players who are mature enough. For example, some young children playing violent video games is not a good idea.” John Antonopoulos, another freshman at LHS, says “children shouldn’t be shown such violent video games. They should be allowed to play them eventually but only when they are ready and can understand that the acts of violence displayed is wrong.”
The most effective and humane way to address the issue, according to University of Villanova’s psychology professor Patrick Markey, is to stop wasting tax dollars on even more studies to try and find a connection between videogames and violence. Instead, we should focus more on issues that impact rates of violence such as mental health treatment, education and unemployment disparities, and (especially in the case of school shootings) gun control. Mrs Warren says, “people have blamed video games for violence because I think we’re always looking for an answer for why somebody does the unthinkable. And I think that video games have at times been an easier target than meaningful gun control.”
Patrick Markey et al, Psychology of Popular Media Culture 4.4 (2014) http://interpersonalresearch.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/4/0/10405979/ppmc_-_vvgs_and_real-world_viole
The Journal of Neuroscience, Virtual Environmental Enrichment through Video Games Improves Hippocampal-Associated Memory https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4682779/ , 2015.
United States Secret Service & United States Department of Education, 2004. https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf
Molecular Psychiatry, Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game , 2013. https://www.nature.com/articles/mp2013120
Jason Schreier, Kotaku, 17 Jan 2013. https://kotaku.com/why-most-video-game-aggression-studies-are-nonsense-1724116744
Patrick Markey, PhD, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Villanova University | TruTV, Behind the Myth that Video Games cause Violence.
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Jamie Ducharmie, Time, 8 Mar 2018. https://time.com/5191182/trump-video-games-violence/
Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times, 28 Dec 1976. https://www.nytimes.com/1976/12/28/archives/death-race-game-gains-favor-but-not-with-the-safety-council.html
Maggie Caldwell, Mother Jones, 26 Nov 2013. https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2013/11/what-we-learned-sandy-hook-crime-report/