Video Games Aren’t to Blame

TIME magazine examined much of the research on video games to determine if there’s a link to violent crime:

As a video game violence researcher and someone who has done scholarship on mass homicides, let me state very emphatically: There is no good evidence that video games or other media contributes, even in a small way, to mass homicides or any other violence among youth. Our research lab recently published new prospective results with teens in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence indicating that exposure to video game violence neither increased aggressive behaviors, nor decreased prosocial behaviors. Whitney Gunter and Kevin Daly recently published a large study of children inComputers in Human Behavior which found video game violence effects to be inconsequential with other factors controlled. And as for the notion of that violent media “desensitizes” users, recent results published by my student Raul Ramos found that exposure to violence on screen had no influence on viewer empathy for victims of real violence. (A study published by Holly Bowen and Julia Spaniol in Applied Cognitive Psychology similarly found no evidence for a desensitization effect for video games.)

I noted another study here that also disproves any linkage. It seems to me (and this is purely speculative) that kids who play violent video games are, in some cases, purging themselves of the need to do real-life violence — they’re getting it out of their systems by blasting away at zombies or whatever.

Print Friendly
This entry was posted in Guns and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • brentblah

    Since I was about 9 or 10 years old, I’ve been ripping people’s heads off in Mortal Kombat, carjacking (and worse) in GTA, engaging in heathenish spell-casting in various RPGs, and so on, and so on.
    Here I am at 28, having never been in a fight in my life, succeeding and excelling in college, and generally being a chill guy.
    The need to stigmatize video games (and, really, any kind of art) in lieu of parental responsibility is basically a pet peeve of mine. Regardless of the studies that Bob and others have cited that prove no causal link between video games and violent behavior, what really gets under my skin is that no one seems to care that the video game industry took it upon themselves to slap a big “M” rating on the cover of violent/vulgar/etc. games. Meaning, if you don’t think a 14-year-old needs to be playing Call of Duty or whatever, then DON’T BUY IT FOR THEM.
    I believe the problem lies in parents just lumping all video games together as “kid stuff.” They don’t know or understand how much the entire industry has evolved and expanded over the last 30 years. If you hear someone ranting about how video games ruin children, ask them if they’ve ever heard of “Shadow of the Colossus,” “Braid,” “Journey,” or, hell, even a (relative) oldy like “Earthbound.” These are games that are minimally violent, if at all, and they are all unique and amazing experiences. I’d bet damn near every cent in my name that their eyes would glaze over and a bead of drool would form at the corners of their mouths before they’d say, “But…but…MURDER SIMULATION!!!”

    Forgive the rant, but as a man with an 8-bit Mega Man proudly tattooed on my right arm, I had to vent in order to un-rustle my jimmies as quickly as possible.

    P.S. – Given Bob’s time as an animator, I’m sure he can relate to a medium being improperly labeled as “kid-stuff.” Animation is another medium, full of artistic potential, that is commonly and unfairly tossed aside in discussions of legitimate “art.”

    • Lazarus Durden

      The only that GTA has done for me is make me a better driver.

      That and Die Hard 3. “Are you aiming for these people?!” “No. Well maybe that mime.”

    • Scopedog

      “P.S. – Given Bob’s time as an animator, I’m sure he can relate to a medium being improperly labeled as “kid-stuff.” Animation is another medium, full of artistic potential, that is commonly and unfairly tossed aside in discussions of legitimate “art.””

      Bingo. Having worked in animation myself, and now trying to break into comics, it pisses me off to see these things labeled as “just for kids”. I mean, in Europe and Japan they are looked as mediums with a lot of potential (and if anyone has seen some of the best anime or manga or European comics, you can see what can happen when that potential is tapped), but in the US….it’s been a long, hard road.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/LeShan-Jones/100000478051440 LeShan Jones

    I keep remembering that guy from a few years ago who started calling video games “murder simulators.” He claimed that the military used similar games to condition soldiers to kill, he was apparently a Major in either the Army or the Marines.
    He was discredited by Rockstar games which set him up with their game ‘Bully’ which was set in a school. Because they make the GTA games this guy was sure the game would feature lots of killing and sex in the school so he set up lawsuits. Bully came out and had none of that and the guy disappeared.

    • brentblah

      You’re thinking of Jack Thompson. He didn’t just disappear, he was disbarred in 2008. And no, he was never actually in the armed forces himself.

      • bphoon

        What Jack didn’t understand about military combat simulation training is that its purpose is not to “condition soldiers to kill” or desensitize them to the violence inherent in combat operations. It is to familiarize soldiers with certain tactical situations so they know better what to expect and how to operate in the field. It is also used to refine their teamwork.

        The military has been doing this kind of training in various ways for years: field training exercises, live fire exercises, force-on-force exercises, sand table exercises, to name a few. Computer simulation reduces training costs and, as the technology develops, can present more and more realistic scenarios to trainees with greater safety.

        If you think this kind of training desensitizes soldiers to the violence they encounter on the battlefield, just ask any soldier who has been through such training before going into combat what effect the real thing had on them. That is, if you can get them to talk about it at all.

  • Lazarus Durden

    I can’t remember the exact study, or game but a few years there was a game, a war game, a company was working on that included real-life human responses to violence. Like when you tossed a grenade into a squad of people they’d scatter, or when shot they’d cry and whimper. The game designers were going for realism. What they found when they play tested it was that people hated it. They could not bring themselves to kill AI that had real life responses. It refuted the notion that violent video games turned you violent.

    That’s the reason AI in video games today constantly attack in a suicidal fashion. They have to so you can psychological defend yourself. Without that it becomes too real and the game is unplayable.

    Psychopaths aren’t made that way through violent video games. They play violent video games because they enjoy violence in a different way then normal folks do. I understand the difference between make believe and real life. As Chez pointed out in the podcast last week there is a huge difference between firing an assault rifle in a video game, then firing one in real life. Killing Super Mutants with an assault rifle in a shattered wasteland hellscape is badass. The notion of firing a weapon at a real person terrifies me. It’s something I hope I never have to do.

    • Scopedog

      “Killing Super Mutants with an assault rifle in a shattered wasteland hellscape is badass. The notion of firing a weapon at a real person terrifies me. It’s something I hope I never have to do.”

      Exactly. I’ve played those FPS, but I’ve also fired real weapons at a shooting range. There is a helluva difference. And even though I’ve shot at paper targets, I honestly do not want to point a gun at a real living human being. It is terrifying to think about. Monsters, aliens, enemy soldiers in a videogame–sure, I can do that, because at the end of the day, no matter how real the game looks, I know that it is _still a game_. I can shut it off and walk away, because all I’ve done was wipe out pixels.

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    Video game violence has always bothered me. It has always seemed to me that when someone is shooting up (or whatever) actual/pretend humans in a game, and those humans then die in the game, that the person playing those games could become inured to the violence or the impact of human death. Just a thought.

    I always banned violent video games, toy guns, etc., in our home. My son did occasionally play them in a friend’s home, but never in ours. He has no desire to own a gun now.

    I just don’t think that even pretend killing is something that kids should be exposed to, and while I know that many of these games are rated for adults, I also know that many parents buy them for their children.

    • Scopedog

      “I always banned violent video games, toy guns, etc., in our home. My son did occasionally play them in a friend’s home, but never in ours.”

      Then you did the right thing. I do not believe that video games cause violence–I take the view that they work as a much needed “steam control” mechanism (and the sad truth is, we humans are a violent species. But we can control that urge…). In Japan, where there are much more violent games, there is little gun violence.

      However, as you stated, many video games are NOT for children. Getting a ten year-old CALL OF DUTY is insane. I wonder why parents simply do not check the game’s rating–“M” does not mean “For Everyone”.

      You were a responsible parent, and you did the right thing.

      • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

        Thanks, Scopedog.

        You’d be surprised how many parents of young children do buy them the most violent video games, and do so while being fully aware of the game’s rating.

        “I take the view that they work as a much needed “steam control” mechanism (and the sad truth is, we humans are a violent species. But we can control that urge…)”

        I am coming around to that POV.

  • http://JCohenMusic.com Justin Cohen

    Thanks, Bob. I think it is important to debunk the idea that violent games play a role in warping the minds that commit violent crimes so that we can focus on the real causes, whatever those may be.

    As a society, why haven’t we figured out what is causing our gun violence problem and why haven’t we dedicated resources to address it?

    • Scopedog

      To see Wayne laPeirre (sic) blame videogames for the gun violence…Christ. He truly is an @$$hole.

      “As a society, why haven’t we figured out what is causing our gun violence problem and why haven’t we dedicated resources to address it?”

      That’s certainly a valid question–unfortunately, I don’t see a single, shining answer to it. It may take different approaches. And also, it is the gun lobby that has thrown the most monkey wrenches into the gears.

      • bphoon

        …I don’t see a single, shining answer to it.

        Precisely. I believe there isn’t one single answer to this issue. Like most issues that combine cultural, societal, economic and political factors, no one single answer will suffice. Instead, it will take a holistic approach and a willingness for us to take a deep and honest look at ourselves.

        Unfortunately, that’s hard, it can be expensive and doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. Therefore, most people won’t take the time or devote the necessary resources to drill down to the root causes of our social ills so we can patch together viable solutions. Rather, they prefer to put some kind of band-aid on it so they can dust off their hands, forget about it and move on.

        It’s not that I’ve lost hope that we can make such an examination; I just haven’t seen much that makes me believe it will happen any time soon.

  • trgahan

    And studies on the effects of raising children to believe the world is barreling toward Armageddon, we are a fallen nation infested with undesirables, everyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is the part of an inhuman enemy, that enemy is currently in control and plotting to enslave you, and your last hope is the free and open access to military grade fire arms? What would those studies conclude?

  • Victor_the_Crab

    My brother and I played video games on an old Atari 2600 when we were kids. We’d spend hours trying to beat eath other on games with primative graphics.

    I’ve never really gotten into today video game culture because it all looks so… complicated.

    I’m old! <:(