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Media violence is considered one of the most controversial topics in modern society. Movies, computer games, the Internet, and other sources, are stated to have brought virtual harassment to the next level (Gentile, 2014). With new technologies such as VR simulators being introduced to the market, violent entertainment is becoming more elaborate and realistic. Personal computers, TV sets, and smartphones are becoming more available to the population.
Individuals face interactive violence every time they turn to modern electronic devices. These devices serve as outlets of exposure to media violence, offering a plethora of games ranging from military simulators like Battlefield and Call of Duty to horror games inspired by Stephen King and Lovecraft. Each game offers its unique modicum of violence.
Media violence has become a widely-accepted norm in our society. While certain groups of concerned parents, teachers, and psychologists show worry over this tendency, it is downplayed as an “attack on the gaming industry” and “unnecessary moralism.” At the same time, these concerned groups represent the stratum that has the most power in influencing the spreading of media violence and mitigating its effects.
Stanhope and Lancaster (2014) claim that parents, teachers, and psychologists have an important role to play when the issue of media violence is taken into consideration. Adults are believed to be more resilient towards the alleged effects that media violence has on the psyche, but children, adolescents, and teenagers have to rely on parental guidance and advice to avoid any lasting impressions on their mental and behavioral patterns.
The government also plays an important role in mitigating the negative effects of media violence. For decades, it has focused on developing measures and regulations to address the issue. According to Grossman & Degaetano (2014), these measures include ratings and bans, unspoken rules, and official statements, as well as government initiatives to reduce the amount of violence shown on the screens.
Although filming and gaming industries are run by private corporations, the government can influence them by promoting laws and regulations, which these companies are expected to follow. They are not alone in this effort, however. Individuals and non-government organizations have embarked on developing measures, which would counter the negative aspects of media violence, but these have become rigid in modern society.
The government can ensure that that rules and regulations are developed and followed, to address the issue of media violence. However, their initiatives have to be assisted and supported by both non-governmental and governmental agencies. Thus, the government and society must address this issue together, for the initiatives to be successful.
With the increasing levels of criminal behavior in the USA and other countries caused by media violence, passing relevant laws and legislation will have a significant potential for reducing the scale of violent conduct among minors and adults.
History of Media Violence Legislation
In the USA, the legislation of media violence was pushed forever since the appearance of motion pictures. The primary concerns were voiced by various religious catholic groups, colloquially known as the Catholic League, which feared that realistic representations of blood, indecency, sexuality, and anti-social behavior would pave the way for the moral collapse of the society (Critcher, 2012). In 1934, these concerns were addressed by the Motion Picture Production Code, which was also referred to as the Hays Code. The code focused on covering the restrictions and limitations of sex scenes, violent scenes, and manslaughter (Critcher, 2012).
Additional concerns were given towards the values promoted by main characters of motion pictures – they were expected to express positive values and achieve them through honorable means. Anti-hero character archetypes were looked at with caution. This code, while technically voluntary and having no official legislative strength, left an imprint on numerous motion pictures of that time. However, the code was abolished in 1968, as it was severely hindering artistic freedom of expression and started to hurt ticket sales (Critcher, 2012). It was replaced with the rating system, which is in use up to this day. In 1996, the Act of Computer Decency and Telecommunications was enacted.
This Act focused on the regulation of the flow of material, which is shared via the Internet and the television network. As such, the act was aimed to censor any indecent content (Creech, 2013). This Act was eventually abolished due to several challenges, which were faced in its implementation. The most important challenge that the act had to face was the impossibility of censoring the Internet, due to its chaotic and all-encompassing nature, which required a great deal of equipment and resources even to attempt to control (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014).
The only country to successfully manage to censor the Internet in China. Its system, colloquially known as “The Great Chinese Firewall” effectively isolates its users from any sort of violent or sexual content deemed inappropriate by the Chinese government (Xu, Mao, & Halderman, 2011). It works as a giant hub, through which all internet requests to the outside sources are processed before the system decides to either grant access to a particular resource or decline it (Xu et al., 2011). While this measure has proven itself to be an effective censorship tool, its success is largely attributed to being developed in a totalitarian country such as China. In the USA or any other country of the third world, this measure would be met with protests and accusations of treading on constitutional and human rights.
European countries implement media violence laws with various degrees of extensiveness. In Germany, these laws are considered to be some of the harshest (Creech, 2013). In many instances, like with ratings for scenes and games, these laws are similar to those implemented in the USA. However, the difference is that while in the US ratings and age requirements are largely considered to be recommendations by both the legislators and the general populace, in Germany these are mandatory to follow.
German censorship laws are notorious for limiting the amount of blood and gore in movies and video games, to the point that game developers have to create different game versions for German markets, where the amount of blood is toned down, and human enemies, in some cases, are replaced with robots or cyborgs (Creech, 2013). This is done with an effort to abstain from the players from associating living humans with targets in the crosshairs. Should certain media products be considered too “obscene,” the government has the authority to disallow entry to the German market and physically remove the products from local shops and official distributors (Creech, 2013).
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Although Germany received criticism for its censorship laws being “too harsh” and “hindering commerce,” the country remained stalwart in its position towards media violence (Creech, 2013). While there is no conclusive evidence to prove that censorship laws successfully reduced violence in Germany, the country’s crime rate remains on the high end of average, if judged by European standards for homicide rates per 100,000 inhabitants (Creech, 2013).
The Social Problem of Media Violence
Human history is full of violence. What is considered the bedrock of modern European civilization was built upon the bloody conquests of the Roman Empire. However, those days are long gone, and modern society has since moved past the medieval attitudes towards violence, and the politically-motivated massacres of the 20th century. The resurfacing of these attitudes in modern society, however, is increasingly becoming a problem (Critcher, 2012).
The situation is escalated by the ability of individuals to access explosives and firearms. Modern weapons readily available to individuals through legal and illegal means enable them to cause much damage and casualties to the unsuspecting victims of assault before the law enforcement gets a chance to arrive at the scene and apprehend the criminal (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014). The young tend to develop violent behavior from watching adults, whether in real life or on the screen. This has resulted in the attainment of a high rate of violence among young people while parents and adults do nothing.
The interactive media, which includes the Internet and video games, tends to have different negative and positive effects on the mental and physical health of the children. As children are exposed to high rates of online material, they tend to develop increased aggressive behavior in society (Critcher, 2012).
Children tend to learn best when they can observe and implement a behavioral pattern in practice. As a result, they take their experiences from video games and movies and extrapolate them to the real world. Violent media can teach specific violent behaviors, which involve the use of weapons and firearms, indiscriminate shooting, dangerous driving, and general disregard for safety and human life (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014). Consequently, these behavioral scripts tend to be learned and stored by children in their memory. Video games offer an ideal environment for learning violence, which can be later implemented in real life (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014).
School shootings, which happen in the US on an alarming basis, can be used as examples of violent media influencing teenagers to take up arms against their alleged oppressors and aggressors. While an argument is made that prime reasons for such events occurring are carelessness of teachers, violence among children, psychological issues, and the availability of guns to the general populace, violent video games can be inadvertently used as tools that help desensitize children towards human suffering (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014).
As a result, they start seeing their classmates as targets rather than people, removing any possible moral and societal inhibitors towards murder and violence. All of the abovementioned problems existed in America for a very long time, but the appearance of school shootings in the US coincides with the rise and promotion of numerous violent movies and video games in the local media market (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014).
Causes of Violence and their Connection to Violent Videogames
Violence among children, teenagers, and young adults is caused by a multitude of issues, which include poverty, exposure to the community and domestic violence, psychiatric disorders, abuse of drugs, child abuse, and family psychopathology (Council on Communications and Media, 2013). However, the exposure of the children to media violence also plays a significant role in the violent behavior etiology among young people.
There is a direct correlation between aggressive behavior and media violence, which states that prolonged uncontrolled exposure to violent media influences violent tendencies within children (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014). This has been scientifically proven by several researchers who have focused on the topic of media violence and aggressive behavior among the youth (Grossman & Degaetano, 2014). Therefore, the evidence suggests that media violence hurts the children’s psyche and is causing violent behavior among young people, which poses a danger to society.
During the early stages of growth and development, children find it complex to make a distinction between fantasy and reality (Gentile, 2014). As such, they consider violence to be an ordinary occurrence. Children are known to be notoriously cruel towards their peers for undeserving reasons, due to their moral compass not fully developed by the standards of modern moralities. Movies and television depict violence as a conflict resolution model. In numerous movies, shows, and video games, violence is presented as an inconsequential, frequently-implemented, and efficient way of getting what the player wants (Gentile, 2014).
Instead of earning an item the hard way, the player can simply kill the shop owner and loot the body. Stealing is enabled and sometimes encouraged. Killing and violence remain unchecked. Heroes tend to be violent, and many games reward them for such behavior (Critcher, 2012). The movie industry is littered with numerous examples of the anti-hero archetypes, who stop at nothing to achieve their arguably justified goals.
This creates a dangerous connotation of the ends justifying the means and violence being an acceptable tool, so long the player’s actions are internally justified. Most of these games and shows do not depict the consequences of such actions, creating the illusion of blamelessness and acceptance (Gentile, 2014). As a result, these heroes become role models for young people in our society.
For example, the youth develop the feeling that it is cool to have an automatic weapon, which can be used to dispose of the bad people in society. Victimized youths with different social issues may resort to the use of violence as a means of solving their problems (Council on Communications and Media, 2013). Therefore, society should focus on addressing the issue of media violence and formulating rules and regulations, which aim at protecting people from its negative impact.
Controversies about Media Violence
Despite a compelling amount of evidence and the “common sense” telling us that violent media should have some detrimental effects on youths, skewering their perceptions of reality and definitions of right and wrong, the society is still engulfed in a debate whether these concerns are legitimate or negligible. While many psychologists, parents, and other concerned parties focus on depicting the negative impact of media violence, some researchers claim that TV and video games have minimal or no detrimental effects on the psychological status of a person (Ferguson, 2015). As such, media violence is assumed by critics as something that should not be demonized by scientists, legislators, and the general public.
These critics also argue that there should be no waste of government resources in formulating rules and regulations that limit the free expression of the media. The proponents of media violence laws retort that these studies are inherently biased and are promulgated by the movie and video game industries, who are lobbying their interests and oppose any laws that would encroach on their freedom to promote violence as means of extracting profit.
Mainstream psychologists and scholars believe that media violence has a significant impact on school-based shootings. As evidence, the perpetrators tend to engage in several violent acts, which are copied from the video games and movies that endorse violence and abuse as primary means of solving any problems (Gentile, 2014). Currently, there is no consensus among different scholars that are studying the issue. There are numerous views and opinions about the impact of media violence on the behavior and activities of young people.
Rules and regulations need to be developed for this specific reason, as they would put down ground rules for the society to function under and would assist in determining what is good or bad in the modern society.
Effectiveness of Media Violence Laws
Governments tend to formulate media laws to protect the customers, who are the end-users of the product. However, other considerations play an important part in any legislative efforts to curb down media violence. The laws are aimed at ensuring that people are not provided with any media content that does not uphold the moral and ethical standards of society (Wulff, 2007). Thus, individuals are offered to enjoy their life and quality media content, which does not have any negative psychological and social effects.
However, this stance has the inherent controversy within itself. Personal moral and ethical standards often do not correspond with the society’s alleged notion of morality, which begets a question of whether the government has the rights and the capabilities to enforce these norms on everyone else. Still, revising the effectiveness of modern media laws can give valuable insights into the process of regulation of media violence.
For example, in Canada, there is a revised Code on the violence of broadcasting (Wulff, 2007). This code has ensured that the region gets media content suitable for society by establishing and defining the kind of content that should be limited and subjected to restrictions. This content involves overly gory and violent scenes, scenes of drug abuse, rape, and terrorism (Wulff, 2007). The same can be done in the United States. The prime requirement for this initiative is to have an inclusive stakeholder discussion on what issues media violence laws should address.
Such a discussion would ensure that there is no resistance among the stakeholders when the media violence laws are formulated and administered in society. The primary stakeholders in this discussion would be the representatives of the general populace, the scientific community, the educational authorities, and, of course, the representatives of media and video gaming industries.
The UK Video Recordings Act of 1984 also gives a good example of how effective media violence laws are in society (Creech, 2013). This is supported by the British Board of Film Classifications, which seeks to ensure that individuals get media content that adheres to ethical and moral standards and requirements in the community. Another successful and effective media violence law is found in the Pan European Game Information System (PEGI) (Creech, 2013).
These laws are aimed at restricting access to violent media to children, adolescents, and teenagers, limit the amount of violence permitted at each age rating and offer mechanisms for enforcing these restrictions and limitations within the society (Creech, 2013). These examples show that Canada, UK, and Europe have formulated media violence laws, which have become successful in society. It is paramount to focus on formulating these laws to ensure that society is safe and protected from any form of attack by the media, which could create a generation of violent individuals.
Nevertheless, Perry (2003) claims that it is impossible to establish effective media laws, due to the ambiguity of standards and terms, which are used in these laws. Furthermore, the availability of heuristic overinflates the actual impact of media-generated violence. This reinforces the opinion of the opponents of media laws, who state that to reduce violence in the society, violent media should not be the main focus and that the campaign against violent media is distracting the government and the general populace from real issues, such as poverty, violence, and the availability of guns. Susca and Proffitt (2011) offer a counter-argument to the ideas presented by Perry.
These authors give a good summary of the media laws regulations and state that in the majority of these laws, the limits and borders are well-defined, thus rendering the argument of the ambiguity of standards to nothing (Susca & Profitt, 2011). The evidence provided above thus indicates that media violence laws can see moderate success, when implemented correctly and when the terminology and the extent of influence of these laws are well-defined. However, these laws have to be formulated in line with the issue of violent behavior and media violence among children in society.
The council on communications and media (2013) offers a different perspective on the issue of media violence. The focus is on the medical perspective. The media regulation laws should be backed up by medical evidence, as while questions of morality and values are inherently subjective, medical data is not. It is something that can be quantified and can give a relatively straightforward answer to how media violence influences the human psyche.
The evidence presented in the document states that violent video games, literature, and motion pictures have profound negative effects on the children and their psychological health and development (Council on communications and media, 2013). However, by formulating laws on media violence, it will be possible to overcome these negative effects and ensure the safety of the children, adolescents, and teenagers (Council on communications and media, 2013).
Addressing media violence
Legislative efforts are not the only tools that society has that could counteract the negative effects of media violence. Child and adolescent pediatricians, psychiatrists, and physicians have a significant influence on the issue (Buckingham, 2013). As such, physicians should focus on having an open conversation with parents on the extent and nature of the patterns within their homesteads. To counteract exposure to violent media, parents need to limit the time that children spend watching television or playing video games (Buckingham, 2013). This includes focusing on addressing the questionable material that children see on the television.
Furthermore, physicians need to ensure that schools and parents are made media literate (Buckingham, 2013). It will ensure everyone has a good understanding of the risks of the exposure of children to violence. The proposed measures include teaching children on how video game and movie content should be interpreted, as well as the intent of different commercials (Buckingham, 2013).
Media violence laws should not exist solely to protect children and adolescents either. While the children are naturally more susceptible to the corrupting influence of violent media, studies show that adults are not excepted from this influence either (Buckingham, 2013). This statement comes from medical studies on the subject, which have discovered that prolonged exposure to media violence can affect even a fully-formed adult psyche in a negative way (Buckingham, 2013).
Additional factors that affect susceptibility towards media violence are education, social status, and personal physic-psychological qualities of a person. The researchers state that different people have different levels of susceptibility to influence and suggestions. These people are in as much danger of being negatively influenced by violent media as children and adolescents are, and media laws should be aimed to protect them as well (Buckingham, 2013).
Families and schools should focus on teaching children about the best ways of resolving interpersonal conflicts that they will be facing in their lives. Physicians, as the promoters of health, need to aim at media education and be able to address the sensitive subject of youth violence in society (Wulff, 2007). There is a need to speak to the cable vendors, networks, federal agencies, local stations, and political officials to ascertain the effective functionality of the proposed legislative decisions.
The media violence arena is a great frontier for the medical community to take a political stance and prove that physicians have the potential of promoting health via public advocacy and education (Buckingham, 2013). Other agents that could prove useful in educating the general populace about the dangers of violent media and of ways to cope and limit its influence on the psyche. More empirical data on the dangers of violent media would help present the argument more convincingly, and convince the listeners that the issue is important and should not be ignored or looked down upon (Buckingham, 2013).
Lastly, it is required to develop effective mechanisms for enforcing these rules and regulations, for them to be effective. In the past, such as with the Hays Code, the rules and regulations were enforced by the motion picture directors voluntarily due to peer pressure and the bigger influence of religion on the moral compass of the society. However, this system worked largely due to the endorsement from Will H. Hays, which is why the MPAA was named the Hays Code in the first place (Critcher, 2012). This system was neither accountable nor offered any longevity, as it hung upon the authority of a single person. Instead, a committee should take its place, and be held accountable for the rules and regulations it will impose on society.
The evidence provided above shows that while the effects of media violence on the crime rates are difficult to discern, the influence on the psychological state of the children and adolescents is obvious. Violent media may catalyze real acts of violence, as it desensitizes the players and gives them a warped perspective on reality. This serves as the main reason for the government to focus on formulating rules and regulations to prevent the development of violence and violent tendencies in society. However, during the development of media violence laws, it is paramount to include all of the important stakeholders in the conversation. Such a measure will ensure that the proposed laws would not be met with opposition and disobedience when introduced into the media sphere.
Most laws on media violence that exist today assume that young people that are 18 or older already possess sound judgment and well-formed psychological resistance and a moral compass not to be swayed by the violence depicted in the media. However, there is strong evidence that prolonged and uncontrolled exposure to a stream of media violence has serious long-term effects on a human’s psyche, causing the person to feel less empathy and become more accepting of violence and murder as a means to an end.
The current legislation in the USA is not adequate to minimize the potential harassment expected from media violence. Therefore, the government should develop strategies, which are aimed at addressing the negative impacts of media violence. This is achieved by having rules and regulations that address media violence. Other countries, such as Canada, Germany, and the UK, have experience in media violence legislation. The experience should be used to develop a set of rules and regulations for the American people.
However, the legislators need to fit these regulations to the situation within the USA and take account of various issues such as the availability of firearms and the general level of violence within the country. If anything, the regulations within the USA should be stricter, as the potential for armed violence is much greater.
Lastly, the government should avoid excessive measures like firewalls and overbearing censorship, which would send the country towards totalitarianism seen in China. The greatest legislative challenge of developing a media censorship code is to safeguard the viewers without treading on their essential human and constitutional rights. At the same time, effective tools for enforcing the regulations must be developed to ensure they are followed, lest they become nothing more than “recommendations” that anyone can and will discard at their leisure.
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