Over fifty years ago, a nuclear physicist named William Higinbotham sought to better the otherwise rigid and non-interactive science exhibits at the time by adding to the list of activities, his creation of the game ‘Tennis for two’ which was an electronic tennis game with separate controllers. Unaware of his contribution, William Higinotham today is acknowledged as the founding father or the fore-runner of video games that only recently accounted for 9.5 billion dollars in sales in 2006 and 2007 in the United States alone (qtd. in Gettler 1).
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Just as Higinbotham had imagined, video games were meant to simply entertain and elevate ones mood by offering an alternative fictitious ‘reality’ to the player. However, recent statistics indicate that video games have been used for more than entertainment purposes—with a good number of today’s researchers pointing to the negative issues and events that have risen from these videogames.
A good example of the above assertions is the case of Lamar Roberts, age 17 and Heather Trujillo aged 16 who are alleged to having been imitating the fighting moves of the game ‘Mortal Combat’ when they beat a seven year old girl to death in 2007 (Chalk 1). A similar example is that of Kendall Anderson, a 16 year old who bludgeoned his mother to death in her sleep with a claw hammer after she took away his PlayStation in 2010 (Henry 1).
The violence and aggression that stains the youth of today, as a result of these video games, is unquestionably a cancer that ought to be uprooted or at least contained by parents, school leaders, governments and other opinion leaders mandated with the responsibility of taking care of these children and the forms of entertainments present today—especially with regards to video games. This paper goes to highlight violent video games as a contributing factor to youth violence.
According to the General Aggression Model (as reported by Anderson & Bushman) “the enactment of aggression is largely based on the learning, activation, and application of aggression-related knowledge structures stored in memory.” They go on to simplify this model by categorizing it into two stages, namely the situational input such as exposure to violent video games in this case and priming aggressive cognition which reflects the impact on the person’s present internal state as influenced aggressive behavior.
This model supports the claim that aggression can be stimulated and learned from the exposure of various situational variables. They “teach observers how to aggress by creating an aggressive state.” Experimental studies based on meta-analytical procedures found that across the 33 independent tests focused on the relation between video game violence and aggression, there was a definite association of high video game violence and heightened aggression (Anderson and Bushman 357).
Violent video games teach the youth that violence is an acceptable conflict strategy. Anderson and Bushman stipulate that the long term effects of playing these violent games, involve a learning process. Human beings generally learn from their day to day experiences and involvement with other people whether real or imagined (such as the characters in video games).
The exposure to these violent video games influences how we respond. This response after some time is scripted into our actions (356). Every game stage then becomes a learning trial, rehearsed over and over resulting to impulsive actions thereafter. Violent video games are often designed to have two adversarial opponents who deal with their enmity through fighting and killing each other.
A case illustration of this claim would be Alejandro Gracia, 22 years old from Texas now serving a 15 to 30 years sentence after pleading guilty for murder when he shot dead his cousin after arguing over whose turn it was to play the game ‘Scareface: The World is Yours’ in 2007 (Fahey 1).
In addition, video games desensitize players to real life violence thus making violent acts look normal or pardonable when in reality, it is the exact opposite. These games depict people as targets instead of simply human beings. They paint them to be deserving of death. It is possible for this fantasy universe to spill into reality. To support this claim I quote Lieutenant colonel David Grossman, retired from the U.S Army, who said:
Video games give you the skill and will to kill. They teach you to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. They award you for killing….It is extra ordinary difficult for a human being to kill a member of his own species. They have to be manipulated into it….The marine core uses the game ‘Doom’ as a training device…. The marine core uses it to script killing in their soldiers….. We must think very very (sic) carefully about who we provide this operant conditioning to and if we provide it indiscriminately to children in America it is the moral equivalent of putting a military weapon in the hand of every child in America (Huntenman,film).
According to McCauley and Zillmann (qtd. in Goldstein 276) violence can be socially acceptable as long it has a moral story where good wins over evil. Video games industries claim this requirement with pride perhaps inconspicuously elevating their importance in inculcating socially acceptable morals. In the real world however crimes such as assault are morally looked down upon and unacceptable but in video games, assault may be what will result to a winning round.
These conflicting expectations of reality and video games when imposed on young people may result to confusion and in worst cases the pursuit of the wrong goal (such as assault) out side of the fantasy world. Further more, the perception of evil and good despite its moral implications can be relative to individuals thus rendering the promotion of violence to be harmful than it is morally acceptable.
Playing violent video games, just like listening to soothing music or watching a sad movie bears an effect on people. That much researchers and their critics can agree upon. The disclaimer comes in when creators and marketers of the video games industry typically deny any harmful effects on their consumers. The fact is the video game industry is a business like any other seeking to profit from its products thus it is only natural that they should deny all negative allegations.
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However the numerous case scenarios, some already mention earlier in this paper suggest that although video games alone are not enough to cause one to murder or intentionally injure another, they are a significant contributing factor to youth violence (Mc. Carthy). Notably conclusions of ambiguity and inconsistency have been drawn from many violent video game research studies.
For instance the researchers’ measures of aggression have been largely indirect indicators such as hitting a bobo doll (Schutte, Malouff, Post-Gordon and Rodasta, qtd. in Goldstein 4) or listing aggressive thoughts and feelings (Calvert and Tan, qtd. in Goldstein, 4). Admittedly these measures do not bear the complete and definite potential of contributing to the comprehension of the relationship between violent video games and violent behavior.
Other critics have refuted experts idea of violent video games players applying the rules of fictitious worlds to that of reality claiming that “they carry cues to its unreality — music, sound effects, a fantasy story-line, cartoon-like characters” (Goldstein 3). In fact Burke and Burke as cited by Goldstein who wrote about cartoon on television, still in relation to video games characters say:
For us, there has been no greater irritant while researching this book than our repeated encounters with the views of experts…, who argue with great confidence that young children simply cannot understand the fictional rules of conflict in cartoons.
Our contemporaries have insisted repeatedly that as children, they clearly understood that the ‘violence’ involved when Bugs blows up Yosemite Sam or Wile E. Coyote’s latest Acme device launches him off a cliff takes place within a fictional universe with its own very particular rules. Such violence had little or no relationship with what we understood as violence in our own lives (p.206- 207).
In deed there lies some truth in these criticisms; however their claims are not enough to dispel or explain away the numerous tragedies that have involved violent video games as the cause or precursor of the crimes committed. Perhaps violent video games related crimes are not backlogging the courts systems yet. None the less it would be unwise to wait much longer for overwhelming evidence, possibly in form of lost lives, before society starts to pay attention to this growing problem.
Anderson, Craig A., and Bushman, Brad J. “Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytical Review of the Scientific Literature.” Psychological Scientific Literature 12.5 (2001): 353-359.
Chalk, Andy. Teenagers Kill Child in “Mortal Kombat” Murder. The Escapist, 20 Dec. 2007. Web.
Fahey, Mike. Man Pleads Guilty to Killing over Sacrifice: the World is Yours. Kotaku Australia, 7 April 2011. Web.
Gettler, Joe. The First Video Game. Brookhaven History. Web.
Goldstein, Jeffery. Does Playing Violent Video Games Cause Aggressive Behavior?. University Of Chicago: Cultural Policy Center, 2001. Web.
Henry, David. Teenager Charged with Killing Mom. 6abc News, 30 Nov. 2010. Web.
Mc. Carthy, Caroline. Murder Conviction for Teen in ‘Halo’ case. CNET News, 13 Jan. 2009. Web.