Violent Videogames, Mass Shootings, and the Blame Game

A Research Synthesis essay.

My topic is on videogames and why violent videogames cannot be blamed for causing real-world acts of violence such as the school shootings of the recent past. It is known that most young people in this generation one way or another play videogames, whether that be a big budget AAA game or Solitaire on their smartphones. Moreover, most of these games contain some sort of violence one way or another; the game Whac-A-Mole is an arcade cabinet that involves bashing a hammer into the head of a small burrowing mammal with tiny eyes. The point is that I have to first acknowledge that violent videogames and violence in these games do exist, however, violent videogames have never been the cause of violence (Ferguson Christopher J., a., 2014) and have shown little to no proven research that videogames cause acts of violence (Calvert, S. L., et al, 2017).

The main reason I chose this topic for my Research Synthesis Assignment is that in the past month (March 2018) President Donald Trump said, “I’m hearing more and more people saying the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” said Trump. “And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies. You see these movies — they’re so violent, and yet a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved but killing is involved.” Now as a person with a deep passion and love for videogames I tend to hear these arguments a lot, and so I dug to find the truth in this “blame game.” In the great words of Michael Che, one of the hosts of SNL’s Weekend Update, “I grew up playing ‘Mario Brothers.’ But I never had the urge to curb stomp a turtle. Though I did grow up with a kid that played ‘Pac Man’ all day. And now he’s addicted to pills and sees ghosts everywhere [Che said sarcastically].”

I noticed that I needed five scholarly articles but a minimum of eight sources for my Research Synthesis Assignment and I was a little scared that I would not find anything, but I was determined to find papers on the subject because there was bound to be a professor that played Tetris at some point in their lives enough to write about it. I went straight to the McConnell Library database and searched “videogames” in the hope that something would come up while already knowing that there would be a ton of articles from magazines, specifically 51,824 results, but that, of course, was not what I was looking for. I refined the search of the publication date to 1985 to 2018 mostly in part of the Nintendo Entertainment System released in 1985, but more precisely this is when the public eye started to talk about violence in videogames more rapidly. Then going to the “Limit To” section and checking the “Scholarly Journals” box. There were 16,298 results, so I was feeling good about my chances of finding something. Now I took the last step in refining my search, looking up “Videogames and violence” which appeared as the second most recommended search result showing 1,364. I eventually figured out the three points about this topic I want to prove or make clear, which are—1) I am not saying that violent videogames do not have any effect on violent behaviors, thoughts, or actions but they might be a factor. 2) The time we spend playing videogames may have cause for bad health or emotional problems but little real-world violence, such as school shootings. Lastly 3) parents research in videogames rating and playability while also research in their children’s health and needs may help determine if or what videogames are right for their children to play because videogames have shown to help the developmental process of kids (Hughes, E. 2014). In other words, too much of anything can be bad; water is the best thing in the world, but too much water can cause sickness or even death which is known as ‘water intoxication.’

I first read “Rage Against the Machines: The real danger of videogames isn’t violence; it’s swindling” it wasn’t what I was looking for in terms of explicitly discussing violence in videogames but went on to discuss why videogames are used to swindle people into giving in to the machine with free-to-play and pay-to-win games, to even the 1970’s coin-op arcade cabinets, such as the Whac-A-Mole I previously mentioned. It also went into how someone would keep paying even if the games primary goal is to get the player out of the game as soon and fast as possible so he or she can put more money back into the machine (Bogost, I., 2014). Although interesting, it did not help my case. Then I got a little closer to what I was looking for but not fully there yet as the journal “Revisiting violent videogames research: Game Studies perspectives on aggression, violence, immersion, interaction, and textual analysis” states it’s looking for better research methods into researching about violence in videogames but doesn’t state it’s stance saying “whether this will ever be attempted, whether it is possible, and whether the results would be anything other than a dog’s breakfast, is of course something that remains to be seen. However, it seems prudent to attempt to move the conversation on violent digital games forward in a way that will be of benefit to researchers in both camps, and toward policy that takes into account the broader complexity of gaming as it has come to be,” (Kyle, K., 2009). So far, I can only find “predictors” of playing violent videogames, but there is no definite or even guessed answer yet. I searched further. I then narrowed my search from 2010 to 2018.

Now as this Research Synthesis dives deeper into the research of videogame violence dates become more important in determining how far the research has come in discovering if violent videogames cause acts of violence. Instead of starting with the release of the ESRB rating system of 1994 (Kohler, C., 2009) I want to jump ahead in the research to the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association of 2010. Former-California Senator Lealand Yee and Former-California Gov. Schwarzenegger, yes that Schwarzenegger, made a bill that would further allow the government control over the distribution of violent videogames to minors by banning the sale altogether (Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn., 08-1448). While each state has the decision to not sell games to children who do not follow the ESRB guidelines the Supreme Court found that “Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection,” said Antonin Scalia, late Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The reason I bring this up is that it is a significant win for the videogame industry proving that videogames are an art form and that the “violent speech” in videogames just like books and other mediums cannot be censored in accordance to the First Amendment.

My second source titled “Violent video games and young people,” said that “a 2001 report of the U.S. Surgeon General on the topic of youth violence found an association between violent video games and increased aggressive thinking and behavior in youths” and because of this report people during the time of 2001 and after were “assuming that tragic school shootings prove a link between such games and real-world aggression,” (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2010).  Even though this source does not help my argument about violent videogames, it does show why people could be quick to believe what they hear to justify or give reason to the events that happened in Columbine and Heath High School. My next source goes on to mention a report by Christopher J. Ferguson,  a psychology professor at Texas A&M International University, titled “Violent Video Games and the Supreme Court: Lessons for the Scientific Community in the Wake of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association,” where the reports on violent videogames to real-world violence “were unable to demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between video game violence and aggression in youth,” (Ferguson, C. J. 2013). This source helps analyze the court case I mentioned before and counters the 2001 report in my favor.

Now it seems that I am at square one again still with no definite answer that violent videogames cause real-world acts of violence. The next source I found was on the right track for what I was looking for, “Violence, Crime, and Violent Video Games: Is There a Correlation?” It takes apart arguments stating that “The concerns about the effects of violent video games on aggressive thought patterns, emotions, and behavior are justified. Until now, no study has been able to show that exposure to violent digital games is associated with an increase in criminality, aggressiveness, or violent behavior. Nevertheless, these paradoxical results are not incompatible.” It goes on to state that violent videogames maybe a factor with violent behaviors, but it is no way the cause of these behaviors including that “the research is inconsistent, and thus psychiatrists may wish to be more careful in their public statements linking violent digital games to harm. There is indeed a lack of scientific data dealing with the relationship between violent video games … more research is needed before we can fully understand the influence of violent video games on real life,” (Fournis, G., et al, 2014). It was interesting that this article was not available on the McConnell Library databases but was listed, does Radford have a bias towards videogames? Anyways, I later found Whitney Decamp, WMU associate professor of sociology and associate director of the Kercher Center for Social Research, who researched the matter of younger kids who play violent videogames titled “Who plays violent video games? An exploratory analysis of predictors of playing violent games,” (2017).

Decamp said that “the young males in my research were in grades eight and 11. I found that just by themselves, even without any controls, violent video games were a poor predictor of violent behavior,” said DeCamp. “Even in the best model, it only explained about 3 percent of the variation in violent behavior” and “after controlling for other factors,” he says, “I found that not only were the effects very weak in comparison with other ones, they were mostly non-significant after you included those other controls.” Decamp found out that there was a better predictor of violent behavior at home rather than blaming videogames. Another interesting research that DeCamp and Ferguson got together for was called “The Impact of Degree of Exposure to Violent Video Games, Family Background, and Other Factors on Youth Violence,” and it said that “a meta-analysis consolidating these effects indicated that increased time playing violent video games does not significantly affect the risk of violent behavior. Rather, it is the social and familial background that seems to play a larger role in determining risk of violent behavior instead of video games,” (2017). In a funny way “the present study identified a curious effect: the more time males spent playing violent games, the less likely they were to engage in a group fight,” which he admits that it could be just a statistical anomaly or it could be when a release of a popular violent videogame comes out, and that research seems to suggest that crime rates actually decrease during that time.

Lastly, going back and commenting on what Trump said and referring back to the many sources and research papers that have repeated themselves multiple times Mark Appelbaum, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California San Diego and the chair of a 2015 American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media, puts it together nicely, saying that, “The short answer is there is virtually no research” on whether or not videogames cause violent acts like school shootings. Also, that “there is no scientific evidence that confirms or disconfirms that speculation.” But with the research of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media in the “Technical Report on the Review of the Violent Video Game Literature” it states that “the APA Task Force on Violent Media has determined that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that these effects appear in older children, adolescents and young adults; however, there remains a dearth [a lack] of studies that examine these effects in children younger than age 10 or that attempt to examine the developmental course of the effects.” Essentially, there is “no single risk factor [that] consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently. Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior,” (Calvert, S. L., et al, 2017).

In conclusion, even after 48 years we still don’t have an answer to whether violent videogames are the cause of real-world acts of violence such as school shootings but from what we do have the evidence seems to put out that the positives of videogames out way the negatives. Ferguson says he supports DeCamp’s view, and those violent videogames may help reduce societal violence rather than increase it.” Basically, by keeping young males busy with things they like, you keep them off the streets and out of trouble,” said Ferguson, but the bottom line is that parents and people, in general, need to know that “we need to take a lot of caution before we place the blame on any one particular thing,” said DeCamp (Scutti, S. 2018). While, Ferguson noted that “almost all young males play violent video games,” and yet the majority are not committing crimes. The goal of videogames is to be as inspirational as the cinema, as imaginative as a book, and as abstract as music and sound. It is important to realize that videogames are art which we saw from Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association and that art has many interpretations, but it is never to harm anyone, instead to share with others and have ideas that keep us thinking, not hurting.

Photo Credit: (Jamakassi on Unsplash)

References

Bogost, I. (2014). Rage Against the Machines: The real danger of videogames isn’t violence; it’s swindling. The Baffler, (24), 96-103. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.lib-proxy.radford.edu/stable/43306893

Bourgonjon, J., Vandermeersche, G., & Rutten, K. (2017). Perspectives on Video Games as Art. Clcweb: Comparative Literature And Culture, (4), https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f574/efd7cfef6814a7caaa7a5209819626a3595a.pdf

Calvert, S. L., Appelbaum, M., Dodge, K. A., Graham, S., Nagayama Hall, G. C., Hamby, S., & … Hedges, L. V. (2017). The American Psychological Association Task Force assessment of violent video games: Science in the service of public interest. The American Psychologist, 72(2), 126-143. doi:10.1037/a0040413 http://psycnet.apa.org.lib-proxy.radford.edu/fulltext/2017-07146-003.pdf

DeCamp, W., & Ferguson, C. (2017). The Impact of Degree of Exposure to Violent Video Games, Family Background, and Other Factors on Youth Violence. Journal Of Youth & Adolescence, 46(2), 388-400. doi:10.1007/s10964-016-0561-8 https://ee46fd3b-a-62cb3a1a-s-sites.googlegroups.com/site/tbdresearch0/2017idevvg.pdf?attachauth=ANoY7cr0_nWSNJ9lFRCYdHQ51r5geSObKqevHNkvQaRI6krcaMcY3ItHyDj_sd584nORu92VcJiCDVLYilp2TZdS2AnYImMNDZYLAiqHyy20oRK3IYWUafsnYdOv6duN7X_ufy31LQGBnDORP4d0kRC6A6FdcxzThPwzGKgRKTN6CUviA9Ahoc7Vs03mmb045gRkEAlsKqjEYGY0QsteKpUAJoosx0xsXg%3D%3D&attredirects=0

Ferguson Christopher J., a. (2014). Violent Video Games, Mass Shootings, and the Supreme Court : Lessons for the Legal Community in the Wake of Recent Free Speech Cases and Mass Shootings. New Criminal Law Review, (4), 553. doi:10.1525/nclr.2014.17.4.553 http://nclr.ucpress.edu/content/17/4/553.full.pdf+html

Ferguson, C. J. (2013). Violent video games and the Supreme Court: lessons for the scientific community in the wake of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. The American Psychologist, 68(2), 57-74. doi:10.1037/a0030597 http://psycnet.apa.org.lib-proxy.radford.edu/fulltext/2013-04752-001.pdf

Fournis, G., & Abou, N. N. (2014). Violence, Crime, and Violent Video Games: Is There a Correlation?. Psychiatric Times, 31(9), 1-4. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/cultural-psychiatry/violence-crime-and-violent-video-games-there-correlation

Hughes, E. (2014, April 24). Effect of Video Games on Child Development. https://my.vanderbilt.edu/developmentalpsychologyblog/2014/04/effect-of-video-games-on-child-development/

Kohler, C. (2009, July 29). July 29, 1994: Videogame Makers Propose Ratings Board to Congress. https://www.wired.com/2009/07/dayintech_0729/

Kyle, K. (2009). Revisiting violent videogames research: Game studies perspectives on aggression, violence, immersion, interaction, and textual analysis. Digital Culture & Education , Vol 1, Iss 1, Pp 6-30 (2009), (1), 6. https://doaj.org/article/f41d5b3b300344549f754026c469d36b

Scutti, S. (2018, February 22). Do video games lead to violence? https://www.cnn.com/2016/07/25/health/video-games-and-violence/index.html

Violent video games and young people. (2010). Harvard Mental Health Letter, 27(4), 1-3. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.lib-proxy.radford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=f82c1a5d-0812-4ca5-a9d0-3a286759fa77%40sessionmgr4009

 

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