Video games have become huge over the past few years with games such as Fortnite appearing and appealing to a large audience of kids. With popularity, however, comes controversy and there has been a lot of debate on whether or not video games can lead to violence in the form of shootings and other violent acts. While at times there are some fair points, for the most part, it seems as if many people do not understand what video games can truly do for a person. The perception that video games lead to violence is incorrect due to a misunderstanding of what aggression entails, the fallacies that mainstream media creates about video games, and the actual benefits that playing video games can give people.
When discussing aggression, it is clear that many people do not fully understand what aggression means and what can come from aggression. As agreed upon by psychologists, violence or aggression is defined as ‘the intentional injury of another person’ (Lowenstein). For many scientists, as they are doing these experiments and studies, it is clear that aggression becomes hard to define. There have been many studies trying to find a correlation between videogames and violence. In one of the studies, thirty-two undergraduate students were asked to two different games for fifteen minutes. The two games were Wolfenstein 3D, which is known to be the first first-person shooter, and Myst, which is a puzzle game. After each of these games was played, players could then send a noise blast to one of their opponents. Another study, done by Dr. Patrick Mackley, studied a person’s aggression level before playing video games had on the effect of aggression. Dr. Mackley used games such as Doom 3, a first-person shooter, and Project Gotham Racing, a racing game. He had given a survey to 167 students beforehand which questioned them about their aggression levels. He found that test subjects with an even-keel personality (characterized by emotions that are under control and a balanced temperament) are less aggressive. Additionally, Those that already exhibit aggressive behaviors are more susceptible to being aggressive.
When referencing the first experiment, it is clear that from the start that this research already seems unreliable in two ways: the genre both of these games are completely different from one another and the amount of time each of these games is being played is not enough. As Dr. Dmitri Williams states, ‘You can’t study people for twenty minutes and know what’s going to happen to them ten years later’ (Kushner). This statement is a spot-on analysis of the issue of this study. Fifteen to twenty minutes only show short-term effects rather than long-term, and to see if there are any long-term effects, there has to be a longer playtime to definitively determine if there is a correlation to violence and media violence. Different genres can also have different effects on aggression. An action game, such as Wolfenstein 3D, is going to cause more aggression than a puzzle game such as Myst. This is like comparing apples to oranges. They are fruits, but their taste, texture, and color are completely different. Similar to this analogy, they are both games, but one is a game with action that has guns in it meanwhile the other is a puzzle game that does not have guns. They do not match. To make this experiment more reliable, scientists need to compare two games in the same genre, such as two action games, and also increase the playtime.
There are many fallacies that mainstream media creates when talking about video games and violence. Many times media outlets take studies out of context and use it to their advantage when trying to argue that video games cause violence. Many mainstream media platforms look into the history of these shooters and once they see video games, they will automatically assume that video games are the cause of why they perform these violent acts. However, according to Patrick Markey, who is the director of The Interpersonal Research Laboratory and professor of Psychology at Villanova University, he states that ‘The research is not there to suggest that there is a link between violent video games and these horrific acts of violence’ and then further states ‘When we look at when people play video games, we actually see a dip in violent crimes… and we don’t see an uptick later on’ (Whitten). While there is some increase in aggression, it is minimal and not large enough to the point where it can make a person want to commit an act of violence.
It is also important to understand that the United States is not the largest consumer of video games, yet it still has one of the highest violent gun-death rates (Whitten). Seventy percent of kids who are in high school play video games and only twenty percent of school shooters have been a part of this population (Whitten). ‘School shooters have less interest in violent video games,’ Markey goes on to say (Whitten). It goes to show that there are bigger issues to gun violence and school shootings than just video games.
Another fallacy that mainstream media produces is that video games train people to be killers. People who are training for the military play video games as part of their training and because of this, many media outlets use this as a way of saying video games cause violence because the military uses it. However, media outlets do not fully understand what video games are and their actual purpose. For example, when someone is playing a shooting game, they are not learning the essentials of the gun: the safeties, the gun’s weight, the recoil, and other mechanics of the gun. In short, they do not learn the reality of the gun, they “learn its simulation” (Grace). The idea that because games have become more realistic they can elicit violence out of kids is also a claim with little factual evidence. No matter how realistic a game is, players can realize the difference between a virtual world and the real world (Grace). For example, in her article “Video Games do not teach people to become shooters in real life”, Lindsay Grace talks about how when she is playing a racing game, she is fine with hitting walls and having scratches on her car; however, whenever she is in reality, she knows the potential dangers that it could cause if she were to hit something with her car. Also, no matter how realistic a game is, it cannot substitute for genuine experience and ability (Grace).
It is also key to understand that there are many positives to playing video games. For example, it can offer a learning experience to players. In a game such as Minecraft, which is a “sandbox” game in which it is the player’s playground to do what they want with it, they learn the idea of cause and effect. For example, in her article, Elissa Strauss talks about how she interacts with her child as he makes decisions in Minecraft (Strauss). Whenever he killed a creeper, which is a monster within the game, or something else she is always asking why. Her kid replies with the idea that he gets something after he kills a monster or animal such as a creeper or a cow. It is not about violence and killing something just because it is fun. There is a genuine learning experience to games such as Minecraft that allows players to learn things that they do not learn in other places such as school.
There are also many important life skills that kids learn when playing these games such as “self-regulation, focus and a willingness to learn, and then play by, the rules” (Strauss). These types of life skills are so important and kids are learning these skills from an early age without even knowing they are by playing video games. Video games also teach the idea of collaboration. Collaboration becomes ever more so important in this world where people can call one another and work together on projects and other things. Many games such as Minecraft, allow players to collaborate and work together in online servers. These skills are so important in not only video games but in life in general and video games offer a platform where kids can learn these things. To say that a game such as Call of Duty teaches kids how to kill is a huge leap as, once again, these games are “simulations” and are not a representation of real-life (Lowenstein). While the goal is to kill other people, these characters are not real and therefore it is hard to argue for the fact that video games can cause violence if they are killing fictional characters.
Video games also allow kids to control their emotions too and gives them a feeling of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy in this case ‘refers to a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed’ (Grace). In a survey, players were asked to give their feeling about what they feel when playing video games (Lowenstein). The majority of these kids put in positive emotion and “young players report that violence is not the central attraction to games” (Lowenstein). Video games do not cause violence as it is a simulation; rather, what it does is it allows for the opportunity for players to change what is possible and to succeed at it. For example, when someone is playing a first-person shooter such as Call of Duty, it may increase their confidence in their ability to shoot a gun, but not their actual ability to shoot a gun in real life (Grace).
Play is also very important to social development as well as psychological development. “Years of research indicates that depriving children of play is more likely to produce the kind of person who commits a school shooting than it is to prevent one” (Grace). Kids need to have an environment where they can have fun and playing video games allows these people to develop their social skills. Many social developments are happening as well when people play video games. People can interact with other people from across the country or even the world for that matter from their screen. Playing games offers players a chance to be a part of a community that if they were not able to play, would not be a part of it. These communities allow people to feel included in a bigger part of something rather than feeling alone. A study in 2016 shows that people who play violent video games decrease real-world aggression as it allows people to channel their emotions into a console rather than letting out their emotions to the real world (Azad). Players have control over what happens in a video game and because of this, they have more control over their emotions. “A substantial body of research demonstrates that perceived control over events reduces their emotional or stressful impact” (Lowenstein). When people have control over what they can do, they can control themselves and allow their emotions to go into the game rather than the world. “The players to worry about are the ones who disconnect themselves from their play communities, not the ones who are active in it” (Grace).
The perception that video games cause violence is incorrect with the trouble of defining aggression and what it entails, the fallacies that media outlets create, and the positives of playing video games can bring to a person’s life. It is unfortunate that whenever a mass shooting occurs, people are always turning to video games as the scapegoat because they do not want to look at anything else. Once people read the background and see the person plays video games, it immediately gets disliked for putting too much violence which influences people. There are other issues other than video games that could cause these people to commit these shootings such as mental state, drugs, issues at home, and other issues. However, how are gun violence and mass shootings going to be solved when people are not seeing the real issues that are causing these people to commit these acts instead of playing video games?