“Sandy Hook”. Just saying the words conjures up gruesome memories of the footage of crying children and hopeless parents.
For this week’s blog, I am going to focus on one major media effect of video games. Some may say violence in modern video games is the main concern among such effects. In this day in age violence is more prevalent than ever in video games. From very popular console games like the Grand Theft Auto franchise, to overwhelmingly popular games like the Call of Duty series, astounding degrees of violence are imposed on the individuals, more often adolescents, who pay good money to play the game.
As the video game industry has progressed, more and more attention is being paid to the real world effects these “toys” or “tools”, whatever you refer to them as; may have on someone who is frequently exposed to such content. With violence, it is a whole different story, because the effects may take place in not only the player, but subsequently innocent individuals. In order to elaborate, and this is an extreme example, take Adam Lanza, or as he is now know “The Sandy Hook Shooter”. Adam, who is now dead, along with the 20 first graders and 6 adults he brutally murdered, was a frequent player of first person shooter games. In fact it was known that he would be in his room for hours on end playing violent computer games.(Morgan, 2013)
One of the scariest things I read came from an article posted on Foxnews.com. A man named Evan Ramsey brought a gun in to school and killed a fellow student and the principle. In an interview 10 years later he explained that playing video games has warped his sense of reality. He made the comments “I did not understand that if I…pull out a gun and shoot you, there’s a good chance you’re not getting back up,”.
It doesn’t stop there. The Columbine Shooters were constantly immersed with their violent video games for hours a day. They felt bullied at school and this was a way for them to relinquish such built up aggression. “Both Eric Harris and Dylan Kleboid enjoyed playing the bloody, shoot-’em-up video game Doom, a game licensed by the U.S. military to train soldiers to effectively kill.”(Korach 2012)
Dr. David Moore, a licensed psychologist and Chemical Dependency Professor, argues that violent video games are deliberately programmed to make you the “first person shooter”.(Manville, 2009) Thus, you are no longer controlling a character, you ARE the character. This can ultimately bring about such a disconnect that can actually “warp” one’s sense of reality.
Look, we need not look far for this kind of news. In fact, if you type in “shootings tie” on google the very first thing that comes up is “shootings tied to video game violence”. Now maybe that seems obvious to some people who paid closer attention to the situation and the story, but in my opinion, as someone who sees the positive influence of gaming, that is actually shocking. I was actually surprised when the first thing that came up was NOT “video games tied to mental illness”, and that is where the awe persists. Is that so crazy of a thought process? Shouldn’t mental instability be the most common thing studied when it comes to these mass murders?
It is important to identify any variables that may have also contributed to this demonic act. Too often with this type of occurrence, we as the media, are too quick to jump to conclusions. We hear things like, “o well he was an antisocial video game nerd, he was basically a ticking time bomb”. For the most part this simply is not the case; rather it is a combination of many flaws that we as imperfect beings have, it just so happens that these individuals either do not possess the mental capacity to deal with, or the severity of the effects are more persistant. As it happens, it ends up leaving the rest of us with an antisocial/aggressive stigma.
Following the Seung-Hui Cho shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007, news pundits and anti-game activists such as Dr. Phil McGraw(Dr. Phil), raised the question of whether or not video game violence was playing more than just a casual role in the mass shootings. However “suggesting that a young male school shooter may have played violent games is hardly as prescient as it may seem on the surface.” (Ferguson, 2008) Interestingly enough, earlier in that same year, Sulejman Talovic, who killed five people in a mall shooting in Utah, was not found to be in possession of any video games or even a computer. So perhaps there is not as much substance to the theory that violent video games lead to violent individuals.
One study put this theory to the test. Survey data were collected from 1,254 7th and 8th grade students in two states. A “dose” of exposure to Mature-rated games was calculated using Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings of titles children reported playing “a lot in the past six months,” and average days per week of video game play. Ill spare you the boring details but the study found that M-rated gaming posed a greater risk for bullying and physical fights, but not for delinquent behaviors or being a victim of bullies. When analyzed separately, these associations became weaker for boys and stronger for girls.(Olson, 2008)
Until more recently, studies around the effects media have on us have been mainly reserved to women, and rightfully so. Women are victims of the media and are constantly held to a standard of what they see. But in a video made by Jackson Katz, titled “tough guise”, he focuses on how masculinity and violence in the media “intertwine in deadly ways”.(Consalvo, 2003)
Now, the video itself is obviously outdated, and it may be unclear at first the correlation between young men being violent and video games. Since the video is as outdated as it is, they don’t bring about the role violence in video games plays in the development of the adolescent mind. However it is easy to conclude, considering it is the fastest growing form of media, that had the video been made more recently such a topic would have played an important role in the discussion. The point is that the media presents this tough, courageous, assertive, dominant image that is thought to be the ideal “man’s man”. Naturally, guns and violence are obvious symbols or assertiveness and aggression. When our youth, in particular young boys with first person shooter games, is exposed to this content prior to developing a layer of media literacy, they are left susceptible to these influential ideas.
It is unfortunate, and it sounds like a scape-goat, but these individuals are victims as well. It is the video game industries job to properly warn players/parents of players where violence is prevalent, in addition to “how prevalent” it is in the case of game ratings. For example, putting “M” at the top of the games case is not going to stop me or anyone I know from purchasing a game. In fact I would guess that a good number of parents and grandparents(a good population of the people purchasing these games) are not even familiar with the scale of game ratings. In my own opinion if my grandmother(who bought me my first xbox) saw “mature” as the rating for the game, she would probably assume the age at which it is safe to be exposed to such content would be about 14. This is simply because the older generations have no idea the amount of violent content a “video game” could contain.
As gamers, we need to make sure certain content is kept out of the hands of those who might interpret it wrong. It is a shame because this means having to deprive certain individuals of the fun of playing the game. Until we can make it clear the amount of media literacy involved in the industry, we must be extremely cautious with regard to what is available to just anyone.
Morgan, J. 2013, July, 3. “Failure to Demonstrate That Playing Violent Video Games Dimishes Prosocial Behavior” Retrieved by http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0068382
Olson, Cheryl. K. 2009, November, 23. “M-rated Games and Aggressive or Problem Behavior Among Young Adolescents” Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10888690903288748
Consalvo, Mia. 2010, October, 26. “The Monsters Next Door: Media Constructions of Boys and Masculinity” Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1468077032000080112?journalCode=rfms20
Ferguson, Christopher, J. 2008. “The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Casual Relationship or Moral Panic” Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jip.76/epdf
Manville, Bill. 2009, April, 23. “What role might video game addiction have played in the columbine shooting?” Retrieve from http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/role-video-game-addiction-played-columbine-shootings-article-1.361104
Korach, Bill. 2012, December, 26. “Violent Video Games Promote Violence” Retrieve from http://education-curriculum-reform-government-schools.org/w/2012/12/violent-video-games-promote-violence/