Video Games: An Analysis of Violence in the Medium
Violence in the media has always been a hotly debated topic, but with the rise in the popularity of video games in recent years it has become a nationwide debate. The unfortunate string of school shootings in the 1990’s only fueled the fire as news slowly leaked of the attackers’ frequency of video game use. Suddenly psychologists and scientists everywhere were searching for answers to the questions of outraged parents: why are video games so violent, why do these games make my child violent? Many theories were spouted and continue to be the basis of the argument today. However, frequent video game users were at a loss to defend their love of the medium. Players everywhere were suddenly judged harshly for their love of supposedly violent video games. They had been playing them for years and felt no urges toward aggressive behavior, so what made them different? Video games as a medium are continually being targeted for violence and other inappropriate content. However, what most people don’t realize is that video games can be used for good. They can aide in both mental and physical education, and help to develop skills necessary in adults. Even games that are labeled inappropriate or violent help players hone fine motor skills. This paper explores both sides of the argument, focusing specifically on the pros and cons of video games and how to solve the issues opponents have with content.
Method to the “Madness”
The video games that opponents are most concerned with contain sexual imagery, violence, and strong language. Such games usually involve the player controlling a character in the virtual world and making real decisions for their character to behave aggressively. One theory about why this style of play is popular is summed up nicely by Dill (1998), who says, “Aggression catharsis is the idea that engaging in aggressive behavior can actually lead to a reduction in subsequent aggressive behavior due to a “venting off” of aggressive energy or desires,” (p. 411). So, it would only make sense that players are drawn to these games to vent their aggression in a harmless way. After all, killing fictional characters doesn’t hurt anyone. K.E. Dill and J.C. Dill (1998) agree with this sentiment and explain that, “...video game violence is often portrayed as ‘justified’,” (p. 410). This is an important distinction because it shows that more often than not, players are not simply arbitrarily killing other characters. Instead, the game presents a moral dilemma in which the player must decide their characters motives and actions. For instance, the world could be threatened by a deadly virus that infects humans, or a thousand people could die if one person is not sacrificed.
Not Appropriate for All Ages
Another issue that opponents have to the content featured in these games is that they are so easily accessible to children and teens. While this issue is widespread and could never be eradicated, steps can be and are being taken to minimize it. First, video games are given a rating much like the ratings films are given and this information is printed on each package clearly and obviously; it is also mentioned in the advertisements for all games - just as movie trailers give the rating of the film. It is the purchaser’s responsibility to check this information and make an informed decision on the game’s content and its suitability for the player. So, in most cases where children are playing these games, it is the parent’s job to ensure the content is appropriate. Unfortunately many children, and teens especially, will procure these games from friends and family who are unaware of the inappropriate content, or simply do not care. This is where social learning theory comes into play. K.E. Dill and J.C. Dill (1998) define it thus: “Social learning theory states that children learn what behaviors are appropriate and rewarding in a given situation through observation and reinforcement,” (p. 410). So, children and teens see their friends playing these games and want to be a part of that, because it is popular and seems like fun. But social learning theory goes deeper than this. Opponents use this theory to justify their reasoning that violent video games corrupt the players. K.E. Dill and J.C. Dill (1998) summarize the argument succinctly by saying, “One theory about why exposure to television and movie violence increases aggressive behavior is that increased exposure to media violence weakens inhibitions against engaging in aggressive behavior,” (p.410). But this theory is easily swayed, which proves problematic because social learning theory can also be used in defense of video games. Children and teens learn through seeing what others do and imitating this behavior, which means that their morals and values are learned in their environment - typically from their parents or guardians. So, by the time teens are of an age to play the violent video games in question they have already established a set of values that influences their every decision. This means that what they have learned makes them less susceptible to being indoctrinated by the violence in their games.
A New Light
Despite the controversy surrounding the medium, video games continue to be popular. So much so that educators have begun to use games in their lessons, which in turn created a need for educational video games. Annetta (2008) explains this need by saying, “The United States has benefited greatly from being the global innovation leader in the development and use of advanced technologies, and video games and game play can facilitate the development of 21st century skills,” (p.231). Such skills are immediately evident to anyone who has experience with video games or can imagine what types of games could be used in education. For instance, simulation games can be used to teach biology by having a player control an antibody fighting viruses in the immune system, or simple life skills such as money management with a simulation of budgeting money for a virtual business or town. These mental skills are vital to adult life, but so are the physical benefits offered by video games. For instance, a common video game controller requires a player to react quickly and press a button to have their character perform an action. This hones motor skills and hand-eye coordination. However, game developers have taken this idea a step further by creating games that require the player to use their full body in play. Games like dancing simulators and the popular camera sensor for many consoles that picks up physical movement and uses that to control the character (in which, when you move your arm, the character also moves their arm) are such examples. The benefits to these games are endless in an age in which obesity is an all too common problem.
Video games, and arguably their content, is not the problem. The real problem in this debate is that violence in the media is perceived as a threat as a way to explain the psychological problems of those who have committed atrocious acts - such as those committed by the school shooters of the 1990’s. Video games are an amazing medium and continue to offer benefits to players, which are not only mental and emotional, but physical. Parents should take care to review the content of games their children play, but they should encourage them to take part in such a popular and beneficial pass time. References
Annetta, L. A. (2008). Video Games in Education: Why They Should Be Used and How They Are Being Used. Theory Into Practice, 47(3), 229-239. doi:10.1080/00405840802153940 Dill, K. E., & Dill, J. C. (1998). Video game violence: A review of the empirical literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 3(4), 407-428. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1359-1789(97)00001-3.