Video games make a big part of the American culture, and this industry constantly keeps growing. According to Taylor, almost half of the U.S. population play video games and twenty-five percent of families possess a game-playing device (Taylor). It implies that the video games industry has a tremendous effect on consumer’s cognitive, social, and psychological behavior. Many legislators have tried to regulate access to video games. California law of 2005 prohibited the sale of violent computer games to children under eighteen. However, in 2011 The Supreme Court of the United States video games were given full protection under the First Amendment because free speech applies to the digital era and new types of media (Gutterman). There are many opinions on whether violent games should be given First Amendment protection or not. Violent games appear to be a legitimate type of media with its right for free expression; however, minors should also be protected from the violent and sexual content of video games because they lack media literacy to make rational decisions and are vulnerable to the violent and sexual content of video games.
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The definition of a video game, along with its target audience, has changed with the progression of modern technologies. In the beginning, the nature of video games was very primitive. Whereas today, video games have a compelling storyline, individual characters with realistic graphics, and professional sound design that provide a very genuine experience. Initially, video games were considered to be only for children. Now an average U.S. player is 35 years old; females also make up almost half of the American players (“Excuse Me Princess – Gender in Video Game Culture”).
Proponents of giving protection to video games, such as Entertainment Software Association base their argument on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which grants freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. It is interesting to note that U.S. courts have ruled thirteen times that video games fall under the category of protected speech. According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, “video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium. And ‘the basic principles of freedom of speech… do not vary’ with a new and different communication medium” (ESA, 1). Indeed, video games are considered a communication medium because they can raise important philosophical or political issues, communicate cultural values, human relationships, and unite communities.
On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore the negative effects of video games. Video games can help stimulate cognitive and personal development, but at the same time, excessively violent games can cause a person to be more aggressive and lack social skills. The American Psychological Association (APA) found a correlation between playing violent video games and aggression: it was expressed in “an increase in negative outcomes such as aggressive behavior, cognition, and affect and as a decrease in positive outcomes such as prosocial behavior, empathy, and sensitivity to aggression” (16). Players watch the scenes of virtual violence constantly, and eventually, they forget that aggression is not acceptable in society. Moreover, APA believes playing violent video games is a “potential causal contributor to act as a mass homicide” (1).
Children and adolescents are certainly under the enormous influence of violent video games. Following the Social Learning Theory of Bandura, children can quickly learn aggressive behavior through observation (McLeod). After seeing and killing people and other characters in games, players perceive it as something natural. Many recent shootings in American schools were done by young people with the unstable psychological condition who frequently played violent video games. Therefore, underage players are most vulnerable to violence and their gaming activities should be guided. Researchers have been investigating the effects of video games for more than 20 years. An explicit link between violent video game exposure and aggressive behavior was found through various methods of studies. However, up to now, courts have found the research regarding the harm of violent computer games to be unpersuasive.
The adverse effects of violent video games have raised parents’ concerns about the safety of their children. Video games also have sexual content and encourage the use of offensive language. However, it should be noted that violence is present in any media. Scenes of violence, blood, fights, and insults in large amounts are depicted on TV screens, and now also in social networks. Even the news regularly shows violent scenes to an unrestricted audience: YouTube videos where people are knocked down by cars, harassed, and beaten pop up here and there. There are federal and private regulations in some fields, but not all media is regulated. For instance, there are certain categories for each movie- for general audiences or restricted. Recently major social networks like YouTube and Facebook have implemented their content policies; public broadcasters cannot stream indecent content. On the positive side, all media is protected from copyright infringement and piracy. Other forms of artistic expression- books, paintings, music with violent content are freely available. Compared to other types of media protected by the First Amendment, video games do not only show aggressive behavior but make players kill using various methods like decapitation, burning to death, and torture. Thus, video games have a serious imprint on a person’s character.
Furthermore, each video game has its community which serves as a perfect stage for sexual harassment, language abuse, and more privacy issues. Male players tend to dominate, and use this medium for aggressive communication and offensive sexual behavior towards females. There are 84 million female players in the U.S., with two-thirds of them hiding their gender to avoid sexual harassment and sex discrimination. For instance, Anita Sarkeesian- a famous feminist media blogger received rape and death threats for raising the issue of women’s portrayal in video games (“Excuse Me, Princess – Gender in Video Game Culture”). This is a clear example of how violent games caused aggressive behavior. Sexual harassment could be reduced by implementing better player behavior policies. However, acceptable behavior in online games does not appear to be demanded in the community as it has become a big part of this culture.
The emergence of new technology allowed artists to tell realistic stories through video games. Along with social networks, video games let players interact with their creators directly. Thus, video games have a direct influence on a player and have become an integral part of the American culture. Video games were found to be associated with aggressive, socially maladaptive behavior; they tend to promote sexual harassment and language abuse. However, these effects can be reformed through the implementation of nicer player behavior policies and developing media literacy skills. Also, video games can be a useful educational resource. Thus, violent video games as a type of digital media certainly have a right to be granted the protection of the First Amendment because video games incorporate many forms of digital art and communicate social and cultural values.
American Psychological Association. Technical Report On The Review Of The Violent Video Game Literature. 2015, Web.
ESA. Essential Facts About Video Games and Court Rulings. 2011, Web.
Gutterman, Roy. “Violent Video Games and The First Amendment.” Huffington Post, 2011, Web.
McLeod, Saul. “Bobo Doll Experiment.” Simply Psychology, 2014, Web.
Taylor, Rich. “Video Games’ Place in American Culture.” Huffington Post. 2015, Web.