The year was 1976. The video game company Exidy released an arcade video game known as Death Race. In this game, the player takes control of a car and is tasked to run over fleeing stick figures, known as gremlins. Running a gremlin over would result in a screaming sound effect, and the gremlin would turn into a cross-shaped gravestone. This is the first video game to be the center of the still-running controversy, revolving around a single question; do video games cause violence?
Death Race is not the only game to be the cause of public outcry. Games such as the driving game Carmaggedon, the open-world sandbox Grand Theft Auto, and the fighting game Mortal Kombat have all been brought to the attention of the public for their violent content. Lawmakers, worried about the effects of the depictions of gore seen in these games began to act. Threats of legal action would give way to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, which was founded to give an official age rating to video games. News aggregates release stories about school shooters being gamers, whether it was true or not. Politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are weighing in on the argument. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have expressed their distaste for violent video games. This is a debate that people are passionate about, for better or worse.
The bases of both arguments are simple. Violent video games contain graphic depictions of stabbings, shootings, and worse. Repeated exposure to these scenes could get a person used to the idea of killing and want to recreate these violent acts in real life. On the other hand, all the gore is limited to the other side of the screen. If a mature brain can tell the difference between what is real and what is fake, it should also know what is right and wrong. Both sides have their points.
As a fan of video games and a student of criminology, I find this to be a fascinating subject. I have seen firsthand how graphic video games can get, and I know what can inspire people to do horrible things. I have performed background research on some of the most well-known moments in the “Games Causing Violence” debate, the shootings blamed on games, the games released to poke fun at the controversy, and the laws made to inhibit the creation of these games.
However, this argument is not an easy one to cover. Arguments on both sides often devolve into name-calling and unfair generalizations. There is also plenty of misinformation surrounding the subject as well. The Sandy Hook shooting, for example, was initially correlated with the first-person shooter video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. However, the perpetrator’s roommate revealed that he never played this game. This will also be a problem for me on a personal level. As somebody who enjoys video games, it is hard for me to read headlines linking my favorite form of media to acts of violence without getting mad. In order to come to a decisive conclusion, I have to determine what is fact and what is opinion.
The best ways to find whether there is a link between video games and violence are previous data, interviews with gamers, and looking at the history of criminals connected to video games. If violent crimes have gone up along with the increased sales of M-rated video games, there may be a correlation. However, it is not as simple as that. There are many factors that can lead to crime, so a more personal approach may be another route to take. Interviewing players of both violent and non-violent video games may lead to some insight into the inner workings of the mind while immersed in a game. Finally, it might be fruitful to look at people incarcerated for violent crimes who play video games. I might be able to find other common trends that may be more likely to be the inspiration for their acts. With these research methods, I feel like I can find a conclusion to this investigation.
In order to fully grasp this subject, there are still things I need to learn. First, there is the mental reaction that accompanies playing a violent video game. Second, I want to know what makes violent video games popular. Third, it will help to know how accurate video game portrayals of violence are, and if said accuracy matters. Finally, I want to investigate the people who create these violent video games. If playing these games make people more aggressive, then that must also be true for the people who develop them. With these questions answered, I will have a firmer idea of where to go with my research.
This is an argument that is long and drawn out, as well as one I am well familiarized with. I am interested in it both as a gamer and as a person who studies the criminal mind. I have a clear plan to continue my research. I am aware of what I do and do not know about the subject. I am ready to answer the question; “Do video games cause violence?”