Thesis: Effects on Violent Video Games on Children

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¶ … Video Game Violence

During the 20th century, American culture changed tremendously. Communications media began playing a larger and larger role in many human societies and helped shape major national and international events. In the last few decades of the century, the "computer revolution" changed the way we communicate professionally and store and retrieve large volumes of data, beginning in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1990, most large modern business and government functions were highly computerized; a decade later, online Internet and personal home computer use were quickly becoming the norm for personal communications and social networking for adults and teenagers alike. At the turn of the century, a so-called "dot com" online business bubble had inflated artificially and come down much the same way a real estate bubble developed (and burst) more recently.

Each major technological advance in communications media and computer processing and availability was accompanied by social concerns associated with specific related conduct, particularly among juveniles. Some were more logical than others. In the 1940s and 1950s, adults worried about "race music" in the form of jazz and rhythm and blues. Many other equally ridiculous concerns developed throughout the second half of the century. However, more reasonable concerns also developed in connection with juvenile social and interpersonal issues, especially in relation to the possible consequences of juvenile exposure to depictions of violence in mass media. Nationwide laws began restricting access to movies of certain types because their content was considered harmful to children. In addition to the movie rating system based on language, sexuality, and violence, the television programming industry also adopted comprehensive rules similar in type, for the same reasons.

For a period of time in the 1960s and 1970s, children were exposed to depictions of violence that would be restricted to late night or subscription cable today because it took a while for legislation and industry self-regulation to catch up to the situation. Even Saturday morning cartoons depict forms of conduct that would be criminally violent (even deadly) if done by a real person. Pediatricians, educators, child psychologists, and parents worried that so much visual exposure to violence contributed to violence and aggressiveness among children and adolescents. The eventual explosion of home computer use and processing power in the last decade also produced a tremendous industry for home computer video games. Primitive early arcade-type video games had been popular since the late 1970s, except now they have become affordable and conveniently available to the general public. Likewise, unrestricted access to cable television and graphic material on the Internet has become the norm in many communities today.

Like many of the earliest video games, modern computer games feature themes of purposeful violence and even callous murder and assassination. However, instead of shooting two-dimensional birds out of the sky or submarines and ships from below, today's games depict extremely realistic video graphics combined with themes such as driving vehicles over human beings, blowing the heads of police officers in uniform, as well as every imaginable way of killing through explosions, beheadings, stabbing, and shooting.

Anecdotal evidence began suggesting a connection between exposure to depictions of violence on television, computer, and especially violent video games and very serious real-life violent incidents. Numerous studies have been carried out to determine the degree to which exposing children to violent images contributes to measurable increase in violence and aggression in personal development. There is significant disagreement between some of those studies, with some suggesting specific correlation while others resulted in opposite conclusions. Some experts believe there is a direct causal relationship between violence in video games and violence among children. Others discount any connection and liken concerns about it to those of parents who worried about music and dancing in the 1950s.

Theoretical Concerns:

In principle, the specific concern about video game violence is that increased exposure of children to depictions of violence at a time when they are the most impressionable will cause a corresponding increase in violence. As that theory goes, children are so impressionable because they are still learning the difference between what is real and what happens in a make-believe world. Ever since the original 1950s Superman television series, children have been warned by generation of parents never to try to fly out the window of their bedroom just because their super heroes do that on television.

According to some estimates, children are now exposed to as many as a quarter of a million individual visual depictions of violence in entertainment media. Even though certain restrictions exist in connection with minors' purchasing video games or movies, it is not hard for most early adolescent children from getting around those restrictions. There is no debate either that children who are exposed (even just as passive witnesses) to domestic violence are much more prone to become violent themselves (Gentile & Gentile, 2005).

For those reasons, many child psychologists and other experts worry about the effects that today's graphically violent video games are having on behavior among children. If watching Superman or (more recently) Spiderman fly could potentially cause children to emulate those acts, it seems very reasonable to worry that constant exposure to violence on various screens could trigger increased actual violence.

The other meaningful thing about modern video games in particular relates to the active participation of the user. Whereas most of the exposure to depictions of violence that children saw until relatively recently involved just watching it passively, today's video games are intensely interactive and involve active participation. The specific concern in that respect is that if just watching behavior on television or movie screens could influence actual behavior in children, then interactive participation could very likely be even worse (Sherman, 2002).

Psychologists have known for a long time that individuals who become serial killers typically engaged in violence throughout what could be considered, in many cases, a period of "training" or psychological desensitization (Gentile & Gentile, 2005). Of course, that is not to suggest any correlation between serial killers and video game violence. On the other hand, some of those who become killers in real life do often practice their techniques and build up confidence and courage by killing insects, then small mammals, then household dogs and cats on the way to their first human kill the way that Jeffrey Dahmer and others like him have. It is certainly conceivable that repeatedly acting out violence on screens could perform some of the same role and allow disturbed individuals to explore their sadistic tendencies.

However, some of the research intended to identify direct relationships between violence among children and adolescents related to video games and other similar types of exposure to depictions of violence has resulted in confusing conclusions. In some cases, researchers were unable to establish such a link despite initial assumptions that they probably would (Olson, 2004). Other similar studies suggested different conclusions and many child health and welfare specialists are still very concerned.

In many respects, those contradictory results may be equally valid without necessarily conflicting in their actual findings. Studies into a direct causal connection between video games and acute instances of actual violence have not necessarily confirmed that concern at all (Olson, 2004). On the other hand, studies that measured more general variables than a narrowly definition of "violence" have provided very different results that suggest there is legitimate reason to worry about violent video game use in children and adolescents (AAP, 2001; Olson, 2004).

Concerns about Violence:

After both the killing spree at Columbine, Colorado and the Virginia Tech massacre, much more recently, there were initial reports that the killers responsible had been avid violent computer game players. However, those early reports were not supported by the more thorough forensic analyses (ExtremeTech.com, 2008). Still, the fact that some empirical studies and anecdotal events have not produced a direct causal relationship between violent video games and actual violence does not necessarily mean that there are not various more general behavioral issues that are of legitimate concern.

Concerns about Aggression:

Aggression is a legitimate problem among children even when it does not escalate to actual physical violence. Within the last few years, news reports have included schools that eliminated several games like dodge ball, in particular, that have been part of American physical education for generations of students.

Specifically, there is significant evidence to suggest that repeated exposure to visual depictions of violence and participation in active imitations of violence in general (and in video game play) do promote increased aggression (Cook, Kestenbaum, Honaker, et al., 2000).

The reasoning is very similar: certainly, there have always been physical injuries in games like dodge ball; but specific physical injuries were not the reasoning behind the change. Rather, games like dodge ball have begun to be phased out of schools because they promote aggression, abusive interactions, persecution of weaker students by stronger and more aggressive students, and because they can play a role in systematic bullying among students (ExtremeTech.com, 2008).

Desensitization to Violence:

Even some of the studies that have concluded that violence in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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