The jury has been out on this question ever since it was constituted; do video games make people more violent? The answer seems to have quite a few intricacies that are crucial to consider, and that is the defense used to justify the involvement with guns on behalf of several parties, be it the gun lobby, video game makers, the movie industry, writers, artists and even parents who own guns. But what is the truth?
What is Violence?
The question is fairly simple. Hitting someone, killing them or causing injury is violence. But is that all there is to it?
Perhaps a better tone to take is to talk of aggression instead of injury. Can we perhaps replace aggression in our question and remove violence? We can’t. Violence and aggression can be pretty different things. Both harm and are not ideal in a civilised society, but they’re there anyway and they are distinguishable.
Violence limits itself to causing physical injury. It can be through a direct physical assault, like a bunch on schoolkids breaking into fisticuffs. It can be an act of killing or injuring through a weapon, be it a gun or a stick. But can it also be a wanton neglect of someone’s safety, like deliberately driving forward as someone crosses the road ahead?
If someone drives forward with the aim to kill or hurt, it is violent. But what if the driver stops just an inch away from you after deliberately driving forward? It is not exactly violent, but it does display an aggressive tendency. Aggression is hard to report and recognise. It shows up in places where often, only the one aggressed upon can know it was there, be it through the person’s body language, tone of voice or actions in context of their situations.
How Violence Permeates our Collective Culture?
Violence is nothing new to our culture. Killing and maiming has been a part of civilisation ever since our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. Our legends have heroes killing villains, be it David fighting and killing Goliath or Hercules killing the Hydra, or the killing fest that happened at the battle of Troy. Yet somehow, we’ve woken up to a realisation that there is too much violence in our culture now. And that observation is not necessarily wrong.
A month after the popular game Call of Duty Black Ops was released, its developer Activision reported the game had been played for an equivalent of 68,000 years. If 68 millennia worth of activity can be crammed into a month, surely the effect this must have as mental conditioning has to be salient, right?
There are lobbies like the gun aficionados who find this as a personal affront, and you will often hear the right to bear arms being brandished to defend guns. But the problem is not restricted to guns alone.
There are violent games which don’t include as many guns as well. The extremely popular Mortal Kombat game series comes to mind, along with games like Legend of Zelda or Prince of Persia, which feature violence, blood and gore to varying degrees.
How does Exposure to Violence Affect Children?
The issue of violence in our virtual spaces always seems to revolve around kids and how good or bad it is for them. A startling fact, however, is that the mean age of a gamer is not 10 or 15, but 33, meaning a startling number of consumers of this content are adults.
That fact, however, does not change that children are the most vulnerable part of the audience of these games. An adult can be conscientious and careful, and check their aggression most of the time. Children often can’t, being more driven by simplistic ideas of what is OK and what isn’t based on prior conditioning.
One popular psychological experiment becomes notable here. The Bobo Doll experiment carried out in 1967 broke all myths that learning a behavior only dealt with rewards and punishments. Here is a video examining the experiment, containing a clip from the researcher who conducted it, Albert Bandura himself.
One conclusion is easy to arrive at from this evaluation. Children who observe violent behavior are more likely to participate in it and even go a step or two further. On the other hand, children who don’t observe violence, or see it being chastised are less likely to indulge in it.
This is further reinforced and verified through a few studies which explore similar or otherwise related topics and arrive at conclusions that tally with our suspicion borne from this experiment. Also, check out the link below that deals with a similar issue.
Holding The Conclusion Up To Scrutiny
There are quite a few who disagree with these conclusions, however. And it doesn’t necessarily happen to be the stereotypical gun-worshipping crowd. An article by Allpsych collects some studies that show that the statistics they obtained while evaluating similar variables led them to no obvious conclusion which keeps the question still open. Still more data of possibly dubious origin is cited to argue that guns and violence in media is okay. But at the end of the day, is it?
Here is another video that gives a different perspective to video games and how they impact our brains, with a different premise but with some significant bits and pieces that can be pretty important to evaluate in the discussion we’re dealing with here.
The Way Forward To Sorting The Issue
The debate over presence of violence in media and peoples’ daily lives is fraught with personal egos and vendettas that are sought to be preserved by anyone. You don’t need to be a master psychologist to identify this.
The gun lobby is all about guns, and so it sees any affront on gun culture as an affront on itself, especially since the rhetoric coming from the no-gun movement seeks to demonise them as death worshipers proclaiming the coming of the rapture like the four horsemen. The movie makers are stung at being hinted to being responsible, even though unknowingly, that their activities might be responsible for the increased aggression and violent tendencies that we see all across the world and most notably in a few countries.
The question that begs to be asked is not whether guns are an absolute good or an absolute bad entity, but why we have warnings for alcohol and drug abuse scenes and age restrictions for movies with sexual content, but no such mandatory warnings for guns and violence. If the mere sight of a gun can trigger aggressive behavior in people (Turner, C. W., Layton, J. F., & Simons, L. S. (1975).
Naturalistic studies of aggressive behavior: Aggressive stimuli, victim visibility, and horn honking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 1098–1107), what will move us to prevent unrestricted and uncounseled exposure to such sights in commercial settings?