The Song That Never Ends, Violence in Video Games Makes Kids Violent


A group of young adults playing video games.

Ever since Jack Thompson’s crusade against violent video games, we’ve been facing a constant song and dance from pseudo-science and agenda-driven media constantly trying to convince us that virtual violence translates to actual violence in the real world.  Thankfully for us gamers, the people who make the real decisions on this have kept those decisions on the side of logic, for the most part.  While video game popularity continues to rise, more gamers are gaming than ever before, and more games are available at the touch of a button than any other time, violent crime, especially among young people, continues to fall.  It doesn’t take a scientist to look at that comparison and realize something doesn’t add up every time a self-righteous NeoPuritan comes out to tell us that games are making kids do terrible things.

In 2001, after the Thompson controversy, and a push by local governments to restrict or ban games, the U.S. Surgeon General said, “findings suggest that media violence has a relatively small impact on violence.”  This was after an extensive study by the nation’s chief doctor.  As recently as 2010 the Supreme Court ruled, in Brown vs. Entertainment that video games are art and subject to the same benefits and protections as books, movies, and television.  Over the years before, and after the ruling, they deemed many state laws as unconstitutional when it came to the banning of distribution and sale of video games.

So, why do we still do this dance?  Well, because despite all the studies, legal rulings, and general common sense, people keep bringing it up.  Most recently the U.N. did a report on violence online and quoted an article that was printed in 2000 on 21st Century Science Tech which made the emotional, and not so scientific, assertion that video games teach kids to kill.  One of the most laughable being that Pokemon is just a killing game for toddlers.  This entire section is really just an example that some people wear their tinfoil hats too tight.

10. Hasbro Interactive: Official U.S. distributor of Pokémon (abbreviation for “Pocket Monsters”), the killing game designed for toddlers beginning at 2 and 3 years old; Dungeons and Dragons, the medieval satanic and magic fantasy game; Risk II, a “ruthless quest for world domination”. One of the Hasbro Board members is Paul Wolfowitz, the co-head of George W. Bush’s team of foreign policy advisors.

Despite the piece having a section called “No Isolated Case” the article above really is just a group of isolated cases linked together to make the assertion that video games cause kids to do violent things.  Ignoring all other factors, they use violent events perpetrated by people who happened to play video games to paint the picture of a trend.  How can we have an honest discussion about violence online, when even the U.N. uses a discredited study from sixteen years ago?

More recently, in Scientific American, several studies were looked at and the writer found, in brief:

  • Children who observe an adult acting violently tend to follow suit when they are frustrated.
  • Violent games appear to be effective teachers of aggressive attitudes.
  • Research has failed to show a causal relation between playing violent games and perpetrating violent acts.
  • The fighting that kids engage in with video games is more akin to play than violence.

While games can make children aggressive, it seems to be limited to their play and children have a good sense of what is real and what isn’t.  As many have noted, if it were true that violent video games caused violent behavior like shootings, stabbings, and murder, then why don’t these acts increase in parallel to the number of video games released, and the increase in people consuming them?  The number of violent games available to gamers is higher than ever yet violent crime rate continues to fall dramatically.

Like any gamer knows, even gamers who have been at it since they were kids, we can separate the real from the virtual.  We play violent FPS games, get competitive, talk smack to each other, and shout obscenities at each other.  Our adrenaline gets going, our heart rate goes up, and our mind is hyper-stimulated, but as soon as we log off and get back to real life things we leave all that behind.

If the myth of video games turning kids into violent killers wasn’t bad enough we’re also starting to see a trend of stories in the clickbait media claiming that video games make people (usually men) sexist.  Articles that ask the question, without actually making any statements or outright say that sexism in video games causes real world violence against women (combination of these two themes).  The second article is especially insidious, making a lot of unsubstantiated claims to link two completely separate issues together with absolutely no evidence or research.  Just like the violent gamer stereotype and the sexualized fake girl gamer stereotype, the sexist gamer stereotype is something we can’t seem to get away from, and often it’s perpetuated by the very media outlets that are supposed to be our source for news, reviews, and support of our hobby!

In April of 2015 a longitudinal study was done on the relation between sexism in games, and sexist behavior in gamers.  The importance of the study is in the way it was done.  They didn’t just ask some general questions in a survey of a thousand school students and post the results.  They did a lengthy study, over time, going back to the same subjects at different points during the study to measure changes in attitudes.  In short they found:

Controlling for age and education, it was found that sexist attitudes—measured with a brief scale assessing beliefs about gender roles in society—were not related to the amount of daily video game use or preference for specific genres for both female and male players.

Basically games had no measurable effect on sexist attitudes for both female and male players.  That’s also an important key in this study is it isn’t just male gamers they looked at, because one of the commonly repeated complaints is that the depiction of women in games can also have a negative effect on how women view themselves.  If they had sexist attitudes before the study, or didn’t have any at all, the exposure to games did not change them.  While games have themes that some people find sexist (a subjective debate for a completely different article), there doesn’t seem to be any effect on gamers and how they view the world, just like violent games do not turn people into killers.  Our art, games in this case, have an obligation to show us the best and worst our culture has to offer.  Violence and sexism happen, they exist in different degrees depending on where you are and what you do.  What one person views as too violent or too sexual, may not be the same to another.  A male gamer might think the chainmail bikini on the heroine is completely uncalled for, while a female gamer might see that same heroine as a way for her to escape and be someone else for awhile.  Some people, like the writer in 21st Century Tech, think that Pokemon is so violent they have to call it a killing game for toddlers, while others think the ultra-violent Hatred is just a silly game.

Will we ever put these subjects to bed?  Not for a long time I don’t think.  Gamers have always been the whipping-boys and girls of the media.  If we aren’t being portrayed as whiny, acne infected, socially inept dorks we’re being shown as raging, hyper-aggressive fiends who hate women, minorities, and puppies.  Fact of the matter is, it’s easy to use gamers to promote clicks, until recently we never fought back, we let the bullies push us around, and the general public just doesn’t care enough to want to know any better.  Who cares if the media lies, or makes up ‘evidence’ to link video games to the latest shooting in the news…well, we do, but no one’s listening to us when every time we speak up the media just writes another article about how we hate (insert marginalized group here).



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