Video games can be defined as interactive electronic games that aim to entertain players. According to Quwaider et al. (2019), video games allow players to access virtual 2D or 3D environments within specific rules and conditions. There are different categories of video games ranging from action to sports games, strategy, shooting, racing or adventure. Recent years have shown an increase in what are termed violent video games. Quwaider et al. state that fighting games such as Tekken or Mortal Combat risk hostile and aggressive behavior, as do shooting games like Counterstrike or Hallo. Is this the case do violent video games make those who play them more violent?
Historically, children have always played violent games: Cowboys vs. Indians, Superheroes vs. Villains, war games, and Star Wars to name a few. However, violence in children's games has reached a whole new level in recent years as video games have come to the fore. Boys no longer wanted a new plastic gun for their birthday or Christmas, they asked for a new video game that involved killing X amount of virtual characters; the rougher the game, the more fun it would be. A selection of such games includes Bulletstorm, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Postal, Splatterhouse and Soldier of Fortune.
A video game is an abstraction where a player gets abstract tasks and acts according to abstract rules. According to John Riccitiello, the head of Electronic Arts, research has shown that video gaming can have positive effects upon the development of the brain and it can Improve eye-hand co-ordination, multi-tasking skills, focus and decision-making processes. Video games are a form of escapism whereby the player can escape momentarily from the outside world. A psychologically healthy person will never confuse this virtual world with the real world.
Video games are created with various themes some of which promote the killing of people and animals, use of drugs, disrespect for authority, racial, sexual and gender discrimination and the use of vulgar language and obscenities, all of which have a negative impact on the player. Some studies conducted recently show that children and adolescents who play violent video games excessively tend to lose their sensitivity to violence. Such children start to feel that violence solves many problems and may result to it to handle or settle their issues. If the child or adolescent has emotional or behavioral problems or they are slow learners, they are very quickly impacted by the violence depicted in the video games. In addition, playing video games for excessive periods of time means that gamers, no matter their age, are losing out on other activities - there’s a real world outside the screens and other ways to spend time and be entertained socializing with friends, keeping fit by taking part in varied outdoor activities or discovering new places to visit.
Computer games are, first and foremost, entertainment and are enjoyed by children and adults alike. Parents should ‘police’ carefully which games their children and teenagers play to prevent them being exposed to violent images. We are all influenced by the environment that surrounds us and children’s minds can take all impressions for granted. It is the parents’ responsibility to control which video games their children watch by making sure that they check the rating of violence before purchasing. In addition, video game equipment should not be installed in children’s bedrooms. But, what type of adult would choose to play violent video games for entertainment? Adults prone to aggressive behavior may enjoy playing such games but the inclination to these games is a result, not the cause, of the problem.
Violent video games have been blamed for school shootings, juvenile crime and sexist violence. In recent times the causal connection between video games and violence has been accepted by parents and the media. But is it true? There have been many studies claiming to find a link between violence in video games and real-world aggression but other studies have found no persuasive link. Although video games have spread throughout the world the only country which seems to prove this link is in the USA, where there have been mass shootings in recent years. Concern about video game violence rose after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting when it was learned that the teen shooters played the first-person shooting computer game ‘Doom’. Former President, Donald Trump, held a Video Game Summit after the February 2018 Parkland, Florida shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and blamed video games as a potential factor in shootings by decrying 'the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace'. However, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, took to Twitter to dispel the video game-violence conceit by stating: 'People suffer from mental illness in every other country on earth; people play video games in virtually every other country on earth. The difference is the guns'.
The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on many traditional outdoor activities. This gave more opportunity for children to socialize with friends virtually through online gaming. This extra screen time worried parents, especially in view of a report published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2015 linking violent video games with aggressive behavior in children. However, a recent reanalysis of these findings published in the journal ‘Perspectives on Psychological Science’ 2020 came to a very different conclusion, finding no clear link between video game violence and aggression in children. Christopher J. Ferguson, lead author on this new paper, stated, “Our new meta-analysis found that the evidence base was not sufficient to make the conclusions outlined in the 2015 report. We found that violent video games do not appear to be linked to aggression”. In addition, Patrick Kierkegaard, a PhD student at Nottingham University, researched the subject of video games and violence and published his findings in the magazine International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry. He stated that there was no proof to show that there was a relationship between juvenile violence and the increasing sales of violent video games.
In conclusion, it is evident that violent video games do not make those who play them more violent. While I believe that parents should supervise what video games their children watch, the majority of gamers who play violent video games are of an age where they know the difference between make believe and real life. They are not likely to copy the actions of the game characters by robbing banks, killing etc. As Eric Kain noted in Forbes in 2013, “some studies have shown that video games increase aggression, others show the opposite. No study has ever shown that violent video games result directly in actual violence, let alone mass shootings. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, though the numbers suggest it’s very unlikely”.