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Stop stressing over violent video games!

Parent Zone’s resident teenage blogger explains why he thinks parents shouldn’t be worried by young people’s love of on-screen shoot ‘em ups

In the last few weeks, a host of new games have been released in the run up to Christmas. These include Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and, in case the titles don't make it abundantly clear, both of these games are going to be extremely violent.

This will no doubt once again raise the question of whether violent games create violent people.

It isn’t a recent debate. In 1976, publisher Exidy released a game called Death Race. The aim of the game was to drive around and run over little gremlins.

Of course, this level of violence sparked some serious controversy about whether or not young kids playing this game would be influenced by it to the point of re-enacting what they saw in the arcade.

For any readers of a sensitive disposition, now is perhaps a good time to let you know that given the extremely poor quality, these ‘gremlins’ were nothing more than a jumble of white pixels on a black background, with graphics much like you might have seen on Pong [the basic tennis game from the dawn of computer graphics]. 

It's easy to look back and think that it's ridiculous to assume that moving a few white blocks around on the screen would create next generation’s criminals, but with graphics becoming better and better, it is easier to understand the worries that many parents have.

‘Kids everywhere are playing these games at a much younger age’

One of the most controversial scenes in video game history occurred in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. You are instructed to enter a busy airport with a group of soldiers and open fire on a crowd of innocent civilians. It’s not hard to see why lots of adults think it’s a bad idea for young people to play such a violent game – it’s why Call of Duty has an 18 age rating.

The reality is, though, that kids everywhere are playing these games at a much younger age and as a teenager who started playing Call of Duty well before the age rating suggested I should, I am fascinated by the evidence that is used to suggest that violent games beget violent children.

Some research carried out after the Columbine High School massacre to see the influence of violent games on young people found that playing games did seem to make people more aggressive. But this, and similar studies, don’t seem to take into account that maybe violent people are attracted to violent video games, and not that violent video games make non-violent people aggressive.

Other tests took another approach. These tests would have groups of people playing games, some violent, some not, and then would test how aggressive they were. An example of these aggression tests involved someone ‘accidentally’ dropping a pen and seeing if the participant picked it up. (It has to be pointed out that a more recent study wasn’t able to replicate these findings.)

I have to admit, at this point I’m already slightly dubious about the efficacy of this test. There is a pretty big reality gap between not picking up a pen and grand theft auto (the crime, as opposed to the game of the same name).

A lot of these tests showed no correlation between violent games and actions, however a few showed positive results – and that makes a lot of sense to me.

If I think about the last time I watched a tragically sad movie, I definitely felt a little less jolly than before I watched Kate Winslet floating on a door near the Titanic. And not just because my mum had forced me to ‘keep her company’ watching it.

It stands to reason to me that after playing a violent game, you could feel a little more aggressive. Indeed, in tests, immediately after playing a violent game, some people DID feel a little more aggressive. However, other tests seem to show that, in the long run, there are no behavioural changes to the participants.

‘I hope the next time adults think about this subject they do so with an open mind’

I understand it’s a complex debate and I am not nearly qualified enough to tell you which way to lean – my only qualification comes from being a teenager who, despite playing my fair share of these games, has yet to mug an old lady.

However, I hope the next time adults think about this subject they do so with an open mind and proper respect for the evidence.

My rights as a young person often seem to be curtailed or shaped by guesswork and public panic. As the comedian Marcus Brigstocke once said, ‘If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.’


Further reading:

Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life, by Anderson and Dill

Failure to Demonstrate That Playing Violent Video Games Diminishes Prosocial Behavior, by Tier and Nielsen

Violent Video Games and Real-World Violence: Rhetoric Versus Data, by Markey, Marky and French

Thanks to Patrick M Markey, department of psychology, Villanova University.