|Final Revised Conversation||Revision Annotation|
Professor Natalie Tomlin
28 February 2013
Carbines and Controllers:
An In-Depth Look at Violent Video Games and their Effects on Children
Recent events in Colorado and Connecticut have reignited the debate on the influences of the media. This time, the spotlight shines on a newer form of entertainment: video games, specifically violent ones. Politicians, psychologists, and parents have all clashed swords on the argument that violent video games negatively affect children, with some favoring this concept while others opposing it. Politically there are no clear set sides, with Democrats and Republicans arguing for both. Everyone is split on the issue and a resolution seems somewhat far off. Before delving into the depths of this controversial issue, let us take a look at its history.
The debate on violent video games dates back quite several decades, before the turn of the century. “Good looking” video games began emerging in the early 1990’s; good looking referring to games that featured well developed graphics that somewhat accurately portrayed real life images. It was when these “good looking” games started to emerge that people began to question their effects on children. Games like Mortal Kombat, Doom, and Duke Nukem, all of which featured unheard of amounts of blood, gore, and intense violence, quickly came under fire for being too violent. In 1994, the German Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons placed Mortal Kombat on its list of games that caused mental harm to children. All copies of the game were removed from store shelves in Germany on the grounds that the game vividly portrayed “gruesome violence against humans” (Wikipedia). This was the first major move against violent video games, and while video games have not yet been banned for sale in America, the debate on a solution still rages on.
One side of the issue that has been receiving more press lately is the side that claims that violent video games negatively influence children. This side consists of Democrats, Republicans, and psychologists that all believe that violent video games are harmful to America’s youth. They believe that these games heighten the aggression levels in children, causing them to exhibit more violent behavior, such as shouting, fighting, or bullying. Craig Anderson, Douglas Gentile, and Katherine Buckley’s 2007 book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy, encompasses the aforementioned argument. In their book, Anderson, Buckley, and Gentile look at the issue of violent videogames affecting children in its entirety. They first provide a general overview of the research conducted on the topic. They then discuss the validity of certain studies and they “identify gaps in the violent video game research literature”. They essentially look for gaps in the data, such as obscure results and missing information. To address these gaps, they introduce and analyze three recently conducted studies to fill in the gaps. All three studies conclude that any form of violence, even cartoon violence, in video games can cause increased aggressive behavior and hostility. Going off of the established issue, Anderson, Buckley, and Gentile look at public policy bills that have been proposed to resolve the issue. They address the effectiveness of some while dismissing others as misguided. The book is concluded with a plea for the acknowledgement of facts, specifically that violent video games actually affect children. They believe that if the Government accepts the issue as truth, it can then move into a more productive debate on how to resolve the issue (Anderson). The politicians and scientists believing that violent video games negatively affect children are firm in their beliefs, but how exactly do these games instill violence and aggression in youth? Psychologists believe they have found the answer, and it lies in the very core of their scientific field.
Psychologist Brad Bushman investigated how exactly violent video games affect children by analyzing the fundamentals of psychology. He recognized that any behavior can be reinforced through repetition and reward. You teach your dog to sit by repeating the word “sit”, pushing its bottom down, and giving it a treat. Eventually the dog will sit when you say “sit” and give it a reward. In the end, it will sit solely on “sit”. Bushman believes that video games affect children in a similar way. In most violent shooting games, the player receives extra points or in game rewards for headshots, gruesome kills, explosions, and other violent acts. The player is encouraged to commit these acts again and again in order to progress faster or unlock additional content, and while a child who is taught to aim for the head may not actually go out and shoot people in the head, Bushman argues that the reinforcement of violent behavior will remain in their brain for future games and for their future life. He believes that the conditioned behavior will eventually become a reflex in any violent game with a gun and, because the children are becoming conditioned to act in a certain violent way, the exposure to violence affects how they think. Bushman also believes that children relate to the characters that they play. They see the character they play as up close, over their shoulder, or even through their character’s eyes. Players often witness violence up close, with first person cinematics depicting the player’s character stabbing, neck snapping, and executing other in-game characters. Bushman claims that having the same visual perspective of a killer allows the player to relate more to the killer and that people, particularly impressionable children, are more likely to act out violently if they can relate to a violent character. Proven psychological concepts that apply to any experiential or behavioral situation certainly apply to video games, according to those who are against violent video games, but how do these politicians and psychologists want to resolve the issue?
There have been several proposed solutions to the violent video game issue, one of which was proposed in Southington, Connecticut. The city created a Violent Video games Return Program in which parents could turn in their children’s violent video games in exchange for a $25 gift certificate that could be spent in a variety of places, such as a local water park. The collected video games would then be broken and incinerated (IGN). The program was accepted by a majority of its community members, and while it was criticized by certain groups of the country, it appears to be a successful solution to the issue. Children no longer have access to violent video games, so they are less likely to be violent, and they can still have fun through alternative means of entertainment.
Another, more extreme approach to this issue was taken by California in 2005. A certain California law “prohibited the sale or rental of a "violent" video game to anyone under 18. It defined a violent video game as one that depicts "killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" in a way that appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors” (USA Today). This law was in place until 2011, when it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court claimed that the government has no right to censor violent media on the grounds of it being violent. Whatever the effects of exposure to the media may be, the media cannot be restricted or censored in any way, shape, or form. Defenders of the law argued that “this is a sanity issue, not a censorship issue”. The content, they claimed, has been proven to cause mental harm to children, and therefore it should be restricted in order in order to preserve the youth of America. Despite active defense of the law, the Supreme Court maintained its ruling, and the law is no longer in effect. California’s government highly valued the safety of its citizens. They wanted to protect the minds of their children, but their desire to protect their youth conflicted with the rights granted in the Constitution, and according to their opposition, that is not acceptable.
The opposing side of the issue claims that video games have little to no effect on the mental state of those who consume them, and therefore should not be restricted in any way. There are also Republicans, Democrats, and psychologists that believe that video games do not cause children to act out violently. The politicians favoring this viewpoint believe that media is just a scape goat, distracting people from other potential culprits, such as mental health standards and firearm availability. In addition, the psychologists believe that video games simply do not affect the minds of children, and they have conducted research to support their claim. Psychologist Christopher Ferguson conducted a longitudinal study to explore the alleged effects of video games on various age groups of children. In his study, Ferguson exposed 165 children, ages ranging from 10 to 14 years old, to violent video games over a three year period, and, through intervals throughout the study, evaluated them in fields such as aggression, dating violence (when applicable), depression, family issues, antisocial tendencies, and delinquency. Throughout and at the end of the three year period, Ferguson was able to conclude, through test results, that there was no discernible connection between violent video games and the children that played them. There were no increases in violent and antisocial tendencies that were caused by video games (Journal of Psychiatric Research). A large group of psychologists acknowledge this and other studies as proof that video games do not cause increased aggression in children. But then what is causing children to be more violent?
Christopher Ferguson, again, has the answer. In 2009, Ferguson conducted a study for the Journal of Pediatrics that analyzed the potential causes for child aggression. Ferguson evaluated 603 children, ages 10 to 14, on their experiences with many potential causes of youth violence, such as depression levels, family conflicts, delinquent peer association, and exposure to domestic violence. Ferguson evaluated the children using approved questionnaires and rating scales, which examined their exposure to the corresponding issues. Ferguson also looked at the children’s criminal activity and bullying behavior. He then analyzed the different test results and looked for connections between the different areas of investigation. Ferguson found that delinquent peer association and criminal activity corresponded frequently with physical and psychological abuse from parents and guardians, as well as antisocial personality traits. Ferguson also found no significant correlation between child aggression and criminal activity and neighborhood quality, domestic violence between parents, and violent media. Since evidence stating that violent video games have no relationship with aggression and criminal activity has been obtained, there is now a direct conflict between the two sides. Each side has its group of reputable psychologists that have conducted research on whether or not video games instill aggressive tendencies in children. So who is in the right? Roanna Cooper and Marc Zimmerman, Director of the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center, may be on to something.
Cooper and Zimmerman may know how to resolve the dispute over the link between video games and child aggression. They have analyzed various studies that support both sides of the argument. They have found nothing questionable about any of the studies that may discredit one side or the other, and they recognized that both sides of the issue may be correct. Cooper and Zimmerman believe that there is no definitive answer to the issue at this current time. They claim that there are far too many factors to be able to make a clear cut decision about what to do with violent video games. They believe that attempting to ban the sale of violent games to minors is an oversimplification of the problem, but on the other hand, so is doing nothing. Cooper and Zimmerman believe that more time is needed to develop an effective solution, saying that “A more in-depth and critical analysis of the issue from multiple perspectives may both help more completely understand the causes and correlates of youth violence”.
President Barack Obama feels the same way. In a recent public address, Obama asked Congress for $10 million in order to fund a CDC investigation of the effects of violent media on America’s youth. Obama believes that we currently don’t have enough information on the issue to make a proper decision, saying that "I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it -- and Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds…We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence." Obama claims that we simply need to conduct more research. He is convinced that, despite the multitude of studies conducted so far, we have been unable to gain a large enough understanding of this epidemic, and that we are unable to find, let alone agree upon, a proper solution. Obama believes that a federally conducted study may uncover new information regarding children and video game violence, and perhaps in several years we’ll be able to effectively address this problem.
The debate on the correlation between violent video games and child aggression has been going on for many years and will likely continue for many more. Both sides have studies that confirm their beliefs, and both sides have proposed solutions to the issue. From video game return programs to banning children’s access to violent games to simply doing nothing, many solutions have been proposed, but none of them have be agreed upon. Most of them aren’t popular on a national level, as the two sides split are rather evenly in terms of numbers, so they wouldn’t be able to be democratically implemented. This deadlock gave way to a third point of view: we need more time. Researchers and our president alike, certain people believe that we don’t have enough knowledge to make an educated decision regarding violent video games and children. They believe our evidence is inconclusive, and that more research needs to be conducted before progress can be made. All of these solutions have their arguable pros and cons, and because of this, the issue will most likely remain at a standstill for the foreseeable future.
Anderson, Craig Alan, Douglas A. Gentile, and Katherine E. Buckley. Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.
Biskupic, Joan, and Mike Snider. "USA TODAY." USATODAY.COM. USA TODAY, 28 June 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Bushman, Brad J. "Get Psyched!" Do Violent Video Games Increase Aggression? Psychology Today, 27 Jan. 2012. Web. 21 Jan. 2013
"Controversy of Mortal Kombat." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Cooper, Roanna, and Marc Zimmerman. "Do Video Games Influence Violent Behavior?" Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center. Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center, Autumn 2011. Web. 26 Jan. 2013
Ferguson, Christopher J., Claudia San Miguel, Adolfo Garza, and Jessica M. Jerabeck. A Longitudinal Test of Video Game Violence Influences on Dating and Aggression: A 3-year Longitudinal Study of Adolescents. Journal of Psychiatric Research 46(2) (2012): 141-46. Print.
Ferguson, Christopher J., Claudia San Miguel, and Richard D. Hartley. "A Multivariate Analysis of Youth Violence and Aggression: The Inﬂuence of Family, Peers, Depression, and Media Violence." The Journal of Pediatrics 155.6 (2009): 904-08.Texas A&M International University. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.
Ferguson, Christopher J. "Sandy Hook Shooting: Video Games Blamed, Again." Ideas Sandy Hook Shooting Video Games Blamed Again Comments. Time Inc., 20 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.
Goldfarb, Andrew. "Connecticut Town Will Collect, Destroy Violent Games." IGN. IGN Entertainment, Inc, 2 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Molina, Brett. "Obama Seeks Research into Violent Video Games." USA Today. Gannett, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
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