Videogame Violence: From the Screen to Real Life

An argument as old as video games themselves and one that will continue until we are naught but dust. It’s my firm belief that so long as their are at least 2 people on the planet there will be arguments about 2 things. The portrayal of violence in video games and the real life implications this brings about and who gets to eat the last Rolo. For a blog first I have actually done some research into this and haven’t just assumed I was right and proceeded to spew words to that effect.

DISCLAIMER: Before I start in earnest I would like to make it known that I am not an expert in this field (or in any field for that matter), therefore anything of my beliefs or opinions on this matter are not to be taken as fact.

The subject on whether violent video games make people violent or not is no way near a new topic. It’s one that has been going on continuously, popping in and out of public interest with each school shooting, act of terrorism as well as other types of horrible tragedy. In fact if you expand the subject matter out to entertainment and literature the argument stretches back even further. In fact the US government passed The Federal Anti-Obscenity Act (Comstock Law) all the way back in 1873 to ban literature that contained “obscene,” “filthy,” or “inappropriate” material, so by the time video games came along the idea of banning things you didn’t like was well established.

Having looked into the subject I can’t help but be staggered by the number of acts of violence and horrific tragedies that have been blamed by violent video games in one way or another. I also can’t help but think that for every one of these incidents there are hundreds if not thousands more incidents that will never see print. Most of them going along the lines of person X liked doing activity Y before committing tragedy Z so Y must be the cause. There is a simplistic crooked logic behind this way of thinking and it scares me that people gravitate to it without question. I mean we could probably find a specific breakfast cereal that is preferred by murderers but that doesn’t mean Coco Pops make a person want to kill another person.

So why point the finger at video games? Personally I think it’s because they are an easy target. People enjoying a medium where you control a violent person committing violent acts then going out and committing violent acts themselves, simple right? However, like the rest of the world we live in the answer is never this simple. To say that stopping violent video games with stop these incidents is both short sighted and naive. There are too many variable to be able to point at one thing and go “There’s your problem” like a plumber fixing your pipes.

One incident that came up a lot in my research was that of the Columbine High School massacre. I’m sure you are all aware but to those that are not, the Columbine High School massacre was a school shooting in Colorado in April 1999 in which 2 student killed 13 students and staff as well as themselves and injured 24 others. It was well documented that the 2 students were fans of the video games Doom & Duke Nukem 3D, both of these games fall into the class of violent video games. So as you’d expect calls for banning these games and their ilk we made. In fact there was a lawsuit against the developers for causing the massacre as were the makers and distributors of the films Natural Born Killers & The Basketball Diaries, Marilyn Manson and 2 pornographic websites. All the suits were unsuccessful and the calls for banning violent video games were denied mainly because video games are protected under The First Amendment (right to freedom of speech).

On looking into the matter, there is certainly an argument to be made that video games in some way had a role in these events (It was believed by journals that the 2 Columbine shooters gained inspiration from Duke Nukem 3D to use pipe bombs during the massacre) but I do not believe that they were in any way, shape or form the cause of these incidents. I personally find video games to be a refuge, a port in the storm for when life gets hectic or when I’m not feeling all that great about things. They act as an escapism for me and I can imagine a lot of people too. A lot of the perpetrators I’ve looking into when researching this topic felt betrayed and let down by life and society so it only makes sense for them to find an escape from these feelings. Elements from these games will get woven into their acts and from that the blame is cast against them.*

These are some very extreme cases but what about everyday acts of aggression, can video games be blamed for lesser everyday violence? I personally think sometimes they can, however I also believe that the violence portrayed in violent video games is not the main culprit either. Looking back to when I was younger there were more than a few moments that I would become violent during playing video games (these acts never escalated beyond me punching pillows for throwing controllers at inanimate objects). This was because I would be frustrated at not being able to get past a certain point of a game. I’d be upset over my own inability to do something and being too immature to accept my own short comings I’d lash out.

To clarify, there is no one video game out there that can flick a so-called “Hulk switch” in any person that plays it and suddenly makes them more aggressive. Then again, I can’t say that it will never happen to someone. Yes, there will be people that will be influenced by violent games and think that copying them is cool. This tends to be seen in children and people who have lower levels of mental maturity. To prevent these influences and protect them is the reason why games have age classifications, it’s a flawed system (as it assumes people of the same age are all as mentally mature as each other) but they do act as guidelines at the very least.

Banning violent video games will never stop acts of violence, we are not suddenly going to ascend to a utopian society by banning violent video games. The only true cures are education, reform, understanding, tolerance and acceptance. Then again as flawed beings I don’t think we will ever reach such a high moral plain as a species so I guess we are doomed to suffer until the end of our days. I do hope that I am wrong about this but I suppose only time will tell.

*I would like to make it clear that I certainly DO NOT sympathise with the perpetrators of these acts. It is my view that the reasons I mentioned are never justification for acts of violence, cruelty, injury or death. I also do not condone any actions undertaken or any actions similar in relation to this.

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