Western Governors University
Student ID #000283042
Violent Video Games and Criminal Behavior
The controversy surrounding violence in video games stretches back to 1976 and involved violence against stick figures. Over the years, violent imagery has increased in the frequency it appears in games and in the graphic depictions of violence against people and animals. Concerned parents, activists and researchers have long suggested that viewing such material is inherently harmful to children and adolescents and encourages criminal behavior. When people looked for reasons why two teenage boys would murder their classmates at Columbine High School, violent video games were blamed in the press (McKibben, 1999). However, the question has persisted about whether or not this is a reasonable assumption or just a misplaced correlation. Researchers have searched for links between virtual violence and aggression in the real world and while some research does point to some tentative links, other findings do not show the same results. Despite historical and contemporary public opinion and the findings of some researchers, it cannot be concluded that video game violence leads to criminal behavior because data available today does not support this finding and because previous studies showing connections between video games and crime had severe short comings. Background
Violence has been a part of human expression for a very long time and continues to be represented in our media today. Researchers need only look at works such as the Bible, Grimm fairy tales, or Hans Christian Andersen for examples. Children have always been drawn to depictions of violence at a young age (Parks, 2009). Despite the fact that an enormous number of children consume some amount of violent media in their youth, few go on to commit violent or aggressive crimes. Many who study violence in video games argue this is because children are able to differentiate between virtual violence and reality.
In more recent times Tamborini (2004, p. 355) found that nearly 68% of popular video games contained violent imagery. All the way back in 1976 a video game called Death Race 2000 ignited a controversy when it was revealed that players could run over and kill pedestrians. The pedestrians in question were nothing more than computer animated stick figures (Thompson, 2001) as this was the limit of technology at the dawn of the video game era. Since then, video game developers have published more gruesome titles and some activists and researchers have voiced more and more strident opposition to such material, even launching legal challenges to censor video game titles. The Grand Theft Auto series has been the target of a number of critics due to its graphic and realistic depictions of violence and theft and strong sexual themes (Carey, n.d.). However, the games are also incredibly popular with game enthusiasts. Likewise the Call of Duty series of games have been criticized due to an optional level in one game where the player assumes the role of a terrorist in a Russian airport. The player cannot kill any terrorists and is able to kill any or all of the civilians (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, 2009). Other installments of the series have featured controversial levels as well in a similar vein with similar discussions from critics.
Jack Thompson (2006) is a vocal opponent of violent video games. Though he holds no formal training in psychology, he believes that violent video games train young people to be effective and efficient killers. In his letter to The Shreveport Times, he specifically cites the game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as having an apparent effect on young people by employing B.F. Skinner style operant conditioning because the game ‘rewards’ players when they kill someone (Thompson, 2006). At one point he was quoted as calling the Grand Theft Auto series of games “murder simulators,” (Gillet,...