Ever since their invention in the early 1950s, violent video games have been frequently decried for violent content. Many politicians, parents, and various civil rights activists have argued that violence in video game content is tied to increased aggressive behavior, especially in children, and has sought ways to regulate the sales of video game consoles. In recent years, violent video games such as Halo and Street Fighter II have gained increasing attention as cause cues for increased aggressive behavior. What exactly is behind the increased violence in these types of games? Are people getting more aggressive because they are repeatedly exposed to violent video games?
There is no consensus on the causes of why people play violent video games, but there is some evidence that suggests a possible biological factor. Playing violent games has been linked to an increased chance of aggressive behavior in young children. The evidence comes from a study of identical twins that were invited to play a violent video game either with a real player or a computer game. Those who played the games significantly increased their aggression when compared to those who did not play.
One could interpret this as indicating that individuals who are frequently exposed to violent video games will be more aggressive than those who rarely encounter such content. It is also possible that people who are exposed to violent video games are taking greater risks when playing these games, and this could account for the increased aggression among gamers. One problem with this line of thinking is that it may simply be the case that people who are exposed to more aggressive content tend to be more aggressive themselves. What is not known is whether people’s aggressive behaviors are truly associated with their video game playing or if it is something else that causes that aggressive behavior.
Another area of controversy surrounds the link between violent video games and violent crime rates. Several researchers have reported that there does not appear to be a significant relationship between violent game exposure and criminal violence. One reason for this is that the link between violent video games and aggressive behavior may simply be a coincidence. Other researchers have pointed out that it is often difficult to draw conclusions about causality in studies of this kind. There is no way to control for varying influences.
For some researchers, the greatest fear is the effect of violent video games on young minds. Negative effects on children’s emotions have long been linked to exposure to violence. Negative emotions like anger or hostility can cause children to act more aggressively or negatively. Researchers have suggested that these negative effects of violent video games are more the result of negative attitudes towards authority figures, rather than violent actions.
One other area of concern regarding violent video games and aggression centers on teenagers. A number of studies over the years have indicated that teenagers have negative attitudes towards authority figures, as well as intolerance for others who are considered different from themselves. These same teenagers also exhibit an increased hostility and display more aggressive behaviors when compared with their non-playing peers. A variety of studies in general psychology suggest that it may be common for individuals to use media violence to shore up their feelings of anger and powerlessness, so that they feel capable of controlling their environment. In some cases, these same adolescents may use media violence to “pass” messages about societal issues onto those they consider authoritative figures.
While most of the research on violent video games and children is still in the early stages, a number of these issues raise troubling concerns. Aggression and attitudes towards authority figures do appear to be associated with violent video games and children. However, it is unclear whether or not children actually pick up these ideas from watching their parents play these violent games. Aggression toward other youths is also evident in their everyday lives. For instance, youths are commonly observed fighting among family members and friends.
If this type of media was truly detrimental to a normal development stage, there would be an increase in reports of crimes committed against adolescents and adults. Unfortunately, there is no clear indication that violent video games contribute to violence in society today. There does seem to be an increase in the rate of depression and substance abuse, however these problems are found in individuals of all ages, not just those suffering from mental problems. There are many factors involved in why there might be an association between violent video games and a number of disturbed youths. However, it is clearly important for parents to monitor the activities of their children to ensure that they do not unintentionally promote violence.