Video games have been around for decades in a variety of forms. Since their beginning in the late 1970’s, video games have been becoming a world phenomenon (Egli & Meyers 1984). Million’s of people spend hours on end playing video games and it is not going unnoticed. There have been multiple studies done to show that video games can have positive and negative effects on people. These effects can range anywhere from improving strategically thinking to an increase in addiction. Over the last few decades, there has been a swarming controversy over certain violent video games and their effects on behavior and aggression levels.
In previous studies about aggressive behavior and media, there was enough evidence to prove that media violence exposure was positively linked to aggressive behaviors (Bushman & Anderson 2002). Since then, there have been several more studies to show the effect that violent media has on people. The most recent effect that is being closely studied is the effect of video game media violence. There have been children who reported that playing violent video games has caused them to have more aggressive behaviors than their peers who did not play the violent video game (Violent Video Games Promote Violence, Harding). A former United States surgeon went as far as to declare video games to be one of the top three causes for violence (Sherry 2001). More than 90% of children in the United States play some sort of video game. Of those video games, 85% or more of them contain some form of violence (“Do Video Games Lead to Violence”). With that being said, if most children are playing violent video games and there is statistical data to show that violent video games have an effect on aggressive behaviors, then there are many children whose behaviors are effected all due to a simple video game.
In recent years, violent video games were to blame for school shootings, violence towards women, and bullying. These accusations have been going on long before today. In 1976, a game called, “Death Race” was released in which the object of the game was to run over “gremlins” with a car. The YouTube video below shows the game and how it was played:
This game caused a lot more controversy than expected. The argument was that the gremlins represented stick figure humans (Do Violent Video Games Contribute to Youth Violence). At the time, this game was one of few adult video games that the conservative media of the 70’s did not appreciate. After controversy erupted, the game was quickly put to rest (“Do Video Games Lead to Violence”).
Since then, the controversy over violent video games was never silenced. School shootings such as the Columbine High School shooting were said to be the result of violent video games. The two teenage shooters in Columbine were both avid players of the game Woldenstein 3D, a weapon-based combat game. In this YouTube video, you can see a clip of what the video game entailed:
This devastating event caused people to question the mental state of students especially those who are playing violent video games (Do Video Games Cause Violence?). Although there is a lot of evidence behind the accusation that the video games caused this turn of events, it is not to say that there were not other contributing factors to the shooting. The violent forms of media, like their use of video games, were just a smaller part of the bigger issue. The true cause of Columbine High School Shooting may never be discovered.
Prior to the Columbine shooting, in 1992, the video game “Mortal Kombat” was released in arcades. Although the game was very successful, there were many people who were appalled by the games’ violence. The game allowed the players to rip the heart out of their opponent or even hold up the appendage as a trophy. In this YouTube video, you can see the violence of this video game:
Acclaim’s chief executive, Gregory Fischbach, one of the creators of the video game, offered solutions to make the game less violent. This included the switch from red blood to green blood, and decapitation of characters being removed from the game completely. Fischbach stated, “…Mortal Kombat was comic-book violence that some people got upset about. People looked at it as though we were selling it to nine-year-old children” (Mortal Kombat: A Violent Game That Changed the Video Gaming Industry). At one point in time, video games were meant for just children, but after the release of Mortal Kombat, it was a transition of the gaming industry from video games just being made for children, to being made for certain age groups. The glorification of violence that was shown in this video game was so controversial at the time it led to the ESRB Rating system.
On September 16, 1994, the ESRB Rating System (Entertainment Software Rating Board), assigned its first rating certification to the video game, “Doom.” This video game, was given the rating M for mature so that players would know that the game contained violence (20 Years, 2o Questionable Game Ratings). Since the first rating in 1994, the ESRB has given video games an accurate rating based on their content. According to the ESRB, “86% of parents are aware of the ESRB rating system” and “74% of the parents check the game’s rating before making a purchase” (ESRB Survey). You can see in this chart below, the awareness that parents have of the ESRB Rating System:
When video game stores were widely popular, there were stores that refused to sell M-rated video games to minors. This rating system was designed so there would not be as much controversy surrounding a game. With the new era that certain games were designed for a targeted age group instead of just children, the rating system helped make sure that people were aware of what the game consisted of before making a purchase. Fischbach believes that the ratings were “the right thing to do” and “allowed video game creators to focus on what they do” without worrying about the consequences of the content (Mortal Kombat: A Violent Game That Changed the Video Gaming Industry). The rating system was a step in the right direction to tame the controversy over violent video games and aggressive behavior.
Although there are many studies that show that video games and aggression are definitely correlated, there are few studies that show just the opposite. Whitney DeCamp conducted his own study to see if violent video games truly cause a person to act violently. He studied over 6,000 students and came to the conclusion that playing video games, regardless of how violent, did not result in violent behavior. A professor at Stetson University not only supported DeCamp’s conclusions, but also went to say that violent video games may actually reduce aggressive behaviors rather than increase it. He claims, “by keeping young adolescents busy with things like video games or sports it will keep them off the streets and out of trouble” (Do Video Games Lead to Violence?).
Another study looked at the violent offenses that were during the weeks following the release of a popular video game. This study showed that not only did the number of crimes not increase; they actually decreased after the release of the game. The conductor of the experiment stated, there are millions of teenage boys playing violent video games and a “majority of them are not committing any crimes” (Do Video Games Lead to Violence?). Although these children may not be committing crimes, it does not conclude that they don’t have aggressive thoughts or feelings.
A popular study done by Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson studied a group of boys and the effects of video games in which they based their results off of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The participants of the experiment, randomly chosen third and fourth graders, were asked to play two video games, Mortal Kombat (a violent video game) and NBA Jam (a nonviolent video game). After the experiment concluded, the researchers found that there were increases in aggressive content of the boys thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. (Bushman Anderson 2002).
There have been several studies done on the effects of media and violence and aggression but a majority of the participants of the studies were boys. Researchers, Jeroen Lemmens, Patti Valkenberg, and Jochan Peter’s, realized that it was due to the fact that a majority of girls did not show signs of excessive gaming; therefore not many girls were chosen for focus groups. (Lemmons, Valkenburg, Peter 2011).
Since the first video game was released, there has been a focus on the effects that video games have on behavior.There have been dozens of controversies surrounding specific video games and their violent content. These video games led to the creation of a world-wide rating system. It is clear that violent video games do have an effect on people, but there is no exact answer on which way they are correlated. From the first controversy in 1976 surrounding the video game, “Death Race,” to recent studies showing the aggressive behaviors of children after playing violent video games, the truth behind the matter, may never be determined.
Bushman, B. J., & Anderson, C. A., (2002). Violent Video Games and Hostile Expectations: A Test of the General Aggression Model. PSPB 28 (12). 1679-1686
Consumer Research. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.esrb.org/about/awareness.aspx
Crossley, R. (2014, June 2). Mortal Kombat: Violent game that changed video games industry. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27620071
Egli, E. A., & Meyers, L. S. (1984), The Role of vVideo Game Playing in Adolescent Life: Is There Reason to be Concerned? Psychonomic Society, 22 (4), 309-312
Harding, A. (2008, November 3). Violent Video Games Promote Violence. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://education-curriculum-reform-government-schools.org/w/2012/12/violent-video-games-promote-violence/
Lemmens, J. S., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2011) The Effects of Pathological Gaming on Aggressive Behavior. Youth Adolescence, 40, 38-47
Orland, K. (2014, September 16). 20 years, 20 questionable game ratings: A timeline of ESRB oddities. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/09/20-years-20-questionable-game-ratings-a-timeline-of-esrb-oddities/
Scutti, S. (2016, July 26). Do video games lead to violence? Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/25/health/video-games-and-violence/index.html
Sherry, J. L., (2001). The Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression. Human Communication Research, 27 (3), 409-431
Violent Video Games – ProCon.org. Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://videogames.procon.org/