Are Video Games Bad for You?

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In recent decades, attention has been placed on the influence of violent videogames on the aggressive behaviour of individuals. While some scholars believe that videogames increase aggression amongst children in particular, others claim evidence on the catharsis hypothesis where videogames are argued to be a safe outlet to express aggression (Berger 2002). Although many theories have emerged regarding the influence of violent videogames, the debate continues to be divided between those who claim its destructive nature and others who claim that videogames cannot be solely blamed for the aggressive behaviour expressed by young people. This essay therefore aims to examine different arguments raised in the literature regarding the moral and social issues that are associated with violent videogames.

The Debate about the Influence of Violent Video Games

In recent times, the nature of video games have become an important topic of debate as politicians in the UK and America argue that videogame playing increases aggression, particularly in children (Freedman 2001; Berger 2002). Despite the absence of scientific consensus, there seems to be a rising concern that videogames can in fact lead to ‘real life’ violence. In 1993 the British Parliament showed concern over the dangers of games such as Mortal Kombat, in 1997 similar questions were raised about Grand Theft Auto, where the aim of the game is to steal cars, shoot people and engage in criminal activities. Videogames have also been blamed directly for the school massacres in the United States, where teenage murderers were reported to be avid players of violent videogames such as Doom and Duke Nukem. As a result, parents of the children murdered filed a $130 million lawsuit against 24 videogame and Internet companies. Although the suit was dismissed in May 2000, the debate of the dangers of videogames continues (Poole 2000).

It is in fact true that most videogames are violent in nature or have violent elements. But whether or not they lead to players becoming violent is difficult to answer (Poole 2000; Berger 2002). In particular the concern lies mainly in the effects of these games on children as it is argued by psychologists and paediatrics that children are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality. In fact, by becoming regular players they become desensitised because it becomes so much a part of their lives (Jenkins 2006). The question therefore arises whether children should be allowed to play violent and sadistic games. Berger (2002) argues that although there is a significant difference between mediate violence, where the individual sees hundreds of killings, it has a different status from real violence, where the majority of us have never seen anyone get killed. Thus, the fact that violence in videogames is mediated gives it the status of ‘just’ play (see also Poole 2000).

However, although a game may not be real, does not mean that it does not have a profound affect on us. As Berger (2002) argues that it may affect us in ways that we are not aware of. Particularly in videogames, people become active participants. Videogames are an active medium that requires constant physical input by the player. Accordingly the player is deeply involved with the game and therefore is significantly more than a mere audience member (Galloway 2004). As violent videogames are more interactive they may also be more harmful than violent television for the player is forced to identify with the aggressor (Anderson 2000; 2003). In addition, many become addicted to the high levels of excitement of videogames and as a result this can lead to the individual trying to find the same levels of excitement in the use of drugs (Berger 2002). The addictive quality of videogame playing has also been reported to lead to personality problems where the individual loses his/her ability to interact in the real world (see Anderson 2000). As such they immerse themselves into...
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