Asking Big Questions #006: “Do video games cause violence?”

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“Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock n’ roll.”
-Shigeru Miyamoto

 

 

So this old complaint against games has reared its ugly head again in the wake of yet another horrific and evil mass shooting, and it seems to have caught the attention of the general public coming off the lips of some talking heads and political talking heads. I am of course referring to the suggestion by some that violence in video games has some part in leading to inflicting violence in real life by those who consume those video games. Despite the fact that one of the express purposes of this site is to encourage discussion, even through civil disagreement where necessary, I originally thought I’d avoid writing about the return of this complaint against video games as this time it’s become politically charged in the extreme. I eventually realized that this could be a good opportunity for a variety of people to share their thoughts, weigh in on why they believe what they believe.

I imagine that many of you reading this will have strong feelings toward the assertion that video games lead to violent actions, and you may have reasons formulated as to why that is or why that isn’t (though I’m guessing the majority of our readers lean toward denying the assertion). My interest then is why? Why do you believe that video games either cause or do not cause violence, whatever that relationship may or may not be?

I’m inviting you to share your thoughts, your studies, your polls, your statistics, your data, and your voices in this discussion as gaming has suddenly come under unexpected attack. There’s no push for identifying with some political ideology of any kind here. Rather, I’m interested in hearing why it is that you’ve reached your conclusion in this matter. The result of a collaboration of so many voices means that eventually we’ll have a community-wide body of resources in the form of blog posts, links, and comments, so while you might believe that this is a settled issue, the risk remains that there may be some out there who are not convinced on the matter either way and could benefit from such a broader, multi-faceted, collective take on the question at hand. If not, then at least we’ve attempted to have a decent discussion on a controversial issue, which in today’s day and age is something to be greatly valued.

You can participate in answering this big, cultural question either in a comment below or in a completely separate blog post where you have the space to compile all the data and research you wish to substantiate your conclusions! Just ensure you link back here so we can see you answer. Sounds at least more exciting than saying “yes” or “no”, right? I’ll only suggest that you formulate your answer in a clear and polite way since nobody is convinced by name-calling (however eloquent or accurate) or shouting matches and condescension. You’re free of course to reply however you like, though. Even in CAPS LOCK.

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For my own part, and I’ll be brief here because I especially don’t want to color potential answers to this question with my own opinion, but I’ll also be serious. I think that people may have real concerns but be really misguided at the same time (if not flat out incorrect); I avoided picking a caricature for a header image for this post because I’m not interested in sullying the clarity of the conversation with maligning personalities or demonizing those I disagree with. There’s quite enough of that in our social interactions without having to invite that into talk about games.

That said, I don’t believe that there is a tangible connection between playing violent video games and inflicting real world violence. A couple things I’d like to unpack in that statement.

One, I stress the significance of the phrase “violent video games”. Certainly we should be able to demonstrate that not all video games are violent or even depict violence in the same sense. Some video games are as violent as WWII, some are as violent as a Scorcese movie, some video games are as violent as your typical anime fight scene, some are as violent as Looney Tunes cartoons, and some are as violent as a stroll through a meadow or putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I mean it’d be silly to call Tetris any more violent than solving a Rubik’s Cube. The importance of this emphasis is in demonstrating that not all video games depict the same levels of violence, and some aren’t violent at all. Many players avoid the more violent stuff anyways and parents and ratings play a large role in limiting the amount of extreme or gratuitous violence that children witness (a separate issue from adult gaming).

Two, many video games do more than depict, they glamorize violence. While I don’t see a connection with these games causing people to be violent, I don’t think I could let some games “get off the hook” in the sense of depicting violence in such a way as to make it “hyper-cool”. Applauding and parading the attributes and attitudes of violence, indulging in it, to me is a negative attribute but it doesn’t make these games culpable in mass shootings, neither is the glamorization of violence unique to games as an art form. That’s been present throughout our creative works since paintings of war, to poetry championing great heroes of old, to the ancients carving stone into the figures of warriors.

Three, the direct causal element of the argument which posits that a person plays a violent video game and then goes out and copies that action in real life may be a kind of strawman. I don’t know whether people really believe that happens or not, but I would hope that at least the more sensible ones who believe that such a connection exists don’t believe in a direct causal relationship but an indirect, influential one.

Four, finally, there’s my own personal impression of violence, which I somewhat already touched on with the above point on glamorization. Personally, I dislike hyper-violent games. They’re a turn off to me. This is not me grandstanding or doing some kind of quasi-moral, self-righteous gesturing in the wake of a tragedy and a controversial complaint arising. Look back at the games I’ve reviewed in the course of two full years and you’ll see what sort of games I typically play. I approach games as symbols of joy and fun, which a lot of them are, and for some reason I like to reserve the more violent, self-serious depictions for film where I have a chance to passively experience it in a shorter duration of time than it takes to finish a game, then think about it and move on, rather than interact with it.

One of my main personal… “complaints” isn’t the right word but I can’t think of another one… one of the reasons I disliked The Last of Us was that a lot of it wasn’t and couldn’t be entertainment to me. I’m not entertained by the deaths of children. I’m repulsed by it. While that occurs in a film I like such as Grave of the Fireflies, the tonality of those two works are different and again there is the matter of time-spent and interactivity (note, again, I am not singling out The Last of Us as being complicit in real world crimes). So while that game is in many ways very well presented and put together, of high quality, it’s that subjective preference for not thinking about horrible things for hours and hours and hours which turned me off of it.

I hope you can appreciate that distinction I’m trying to make. Especially as a father, I don’t want to think about dead kids or the molestation of minors in my entertainment (which games are; no amount of latching onto the medium as an art form eradicates that). I’m not entertained by extreme violence, nor do I personally want my thoughts to be dominated by so much hopelessness and bleakness for great lengths of time, which does not equate to me not wanting to think about the ugly side of life. I’ve already explained my personal approach to games as distinct from film, and I could say as distinct from literature as well.

You may have noticed how far beyond the actual question that this all goes, but I felt it was something worth mentioning, at least. And besides, nobody can take away my preferences. Similarly, I’m not incriminating anyone who enjoyed that game (but I’m guessing you didn’t enjoy it primarily or solely on the basis of dead children or molestation, anyhow).

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So that’s that! Respond as you like, in comments or posts, I welcome you! Don’t forget to link back to this post so we all can benefit from your voice.

Again I think a lot of people may have some very strong opinions on this. I’m anticipating getting the response at least once “Why are we even talking about this?!”, just as we did when we asked if games are art, but I think I’ve made it clear that the value isn’t just in answering the question itself, but compiling those answers for the curious. Most importantly… the value is in having the discussion itself.

I repeat: The value is in having the discussion itself. If there’s one attribute and attitude I am willing to champion, it’s free, civil, decent discussion between people with a diverse range of thoughts and opinions. In other words, the spine of Western civilization.

In your service,
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-The Well-Red Mage

 

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42 thoughts on “Asking Big Questions #006: “Do video games cause violence?”

  1. Alright, I’ll be the one…why are we even talking about this?!

    🙂

    I disliked this question when it first arose with Mortal Kombat, and I dislike it even more now. So while I’m normally prone to garrulousness, my only response here is “no, video games do not cause violence.” The end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If were being frank, I dislike the question as well. As I mentioned somewhere (not sure if it was in this post), I originally declined on commenting on the question even though it was a current, cultural concern having to do with a hobby I spend a lot of my time enjoying. Eventually, I opted to turn it into one of these invitations because while the question itself is distasteful, something which our societies seem to have lost the ability to do is discuss without having a shouting match or demonizing opponents. This is especially true in politics and this is a case where games and politics were overlapping. Therefore, take a question which many have strong opinions over and see if people can be invited to talk rather than shout. So in that spirit, why is your response that games do not cause violence? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The best I can offer in fundamentalist response of “because they just don’t.”

        🙂

        Okay, look, I just don’t believe people are that inherently cruel. I will concede that being exposed to excessive violence from a young age (and I’m talking about anything from growing up in a bad neighborhood to the local news to video games) could warp one’s sense of right and wrong. But I don’t think that even in the worst circumstances, we are “born to be bad” — you have to be taught to hate.

        Alright. So then…could unchecked exposure to violence in video games be a teacher for some? If one’s perception of reality is so far gone, then…okay, maybe. (Look at me unraveling my own argument!) But, again, nothing — and, I’m sorry, but not even science — leads me to believe that’s directly the fault of the games or media in general. There are larger, more deeply-seated issues at play that could concern family, mental health, self-awareness, self-doubt, heck, these days even fearmongering. If blame has to be placed, I’d look a lot of other places before pointing the finger at games.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s a nuanced answer, right? So it’s like we can both see the possible influences of any form of portrayed violence on the very young or the depraved but that’s a far cry from “leads to violence” that you hear thrown around a lot. I don’t think you were unraveling your own argument, then! 🙂 Thanks for elaborating! I think that talking about these larger issues and recognizing them at play is valuable.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t really think video games cause violence. If anything, I’ve always thought they were a great outlet for letting your frustrations out. If you’ve had a really bad day at work, then it’s fun to go home and quickly pop in Street Fighter or another really action packed game. That’s why I’ve supported the theories that video games can help decrease violence. At most, I guess video games/movies can help people think of more viable ways to hurt others but that only applies to people who are already going to commit such acts either. They’re only given more knowledge on it, but they could and would get the same knowledge online anyway. I definitely do think people should be more careful about allowing kids to play M rated games though.

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  3. Without going into a long debate, parents should just keep an eye on their kids. Young kids should not be exposed to “violent” (which I know is subjective) media of any kind. There’s a ton of good stuff for all ages out there, so keep kids kids for as long as possible. Look at ratings and read reviews.

    /soapbox

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Parenting keeps popping up as a theme in this debate and I definitely see why. Parenting is a lot of essential responsibility and a lot of what parents allow their kids to do and do to their kids influences those kids, but when was the last time their was a cultural outcry against poor parenting the same way there has been over violent video games? Keep kids kids. I like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Having done a fair deal of research on this subject, I found it rather strange that all the research studies I read that claimed they found evidence of video games leading to increased aggression in children actually took a lot of shortcuts and glossed over some really important details.

    Typically they would take a group of children, expose them to some M rated game (that children of that age aren’t supposed to be playing anyway, but this isn’t addressed at all), and then say that they saw signs of aggression in them afterwards and call it a win for their theory. They don’t even follow the most basic principles of having separate test and control groups or even bother to look into what the kids’ behavior was like BEFORE these “experiments”. Often they wouldn’t even share the details of what exactly these “signs of increased aggression” that they claimed to witness even were. It’s only anecdotal evidence at best. You don’t have to be a scientist to see the bias at work there.

    Meanwhile you can find much more thorough studies that look into factors like the quality of the home life of the kid being monitored, any pre-existing histories of aggression, and even checking in on the same kids again at much later dates to see if anything has changed, and no actual evidence has ever been found to support any connection between video games and actual violence. I guess if you’re a politician you can’t use studies like this to protect your stock in your favorite weapons manufacturer though, can you? (but if anyone else is interested in such studies, see the research of clinical/forensic psychologist Christopher Ferguson for some of the best I’ve seen)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re first paragraph is the one I really wanted to see, as that speaks to some of my skepticism. Saying “studies show” is not enough. Studies and polls and stats can be misread or skewed, or be undertaken in the first place from faulty foundations. “Peer reviewed” to me simply sounds like a bunch of people with the same ideas patting each other on the back. Studies are important but framing them within a logical argument and presentation is key, as is being aware of and open about one’s natural biases. Thanks for exposing that.

      Do you have some helpful links to that research by Ferguson?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Looks like these are the best free copies of the ones I read that are available

        http://christopherjferguson.com/videometa2.pdf

        http://www.christopherjferguson.com/Video%20Games%201%20Year.pdf

        From his own site, which unfortunately is a nightmare to navigate for some reason.

        Yeah, this takes me back to a story from a Statistics class. You know how people always say “don’t buy a red car because red cars are involved in the most wrecks according to the statistics!” You know why that is though? Simply because the majority of cars on the road are red.

        People really need to stop and think about the validity and context of things they instantly accept as facts, but hell, people these days don’t seem to even want to bother reading past the headline, so what can you do? I sure don’t know.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. The thing I find curious is why it’s coming back.

    I mean, we danced this dance before, and in the end Gaming won, at least in America. Not only that but in the few years that passed since that 2011 supreme court ruling things have changed considerably. Gaming is bigger than ever, we’ve come a long way form being “that newfangled thing all the kids like that parent’s don’t understand.” Heck, most of said “kids” are in fact the parents now. honestly the last time this came up gaming was in a much much worse position to defend itself back then and managed to win out anyway.

    Now people want to do the same old argument again, only this time against a gaming industry and consumer base that’s now very much hardened against such attacks? Why? I mean, anything people were hoping to do to gaming via the violence debate – regulations, banning, censorship, you name it – they had a much better chance of doing back then when the industry was so much weaker and they failed so taking another swing now just strikes me as futile.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it’s down to the simple fact that there hasn’t been any major new form of media to pass the buck down to since video games came onto the scene. First people tried to make books the scapegoat, then when that didn’t work it was music, then comic books, then movies, and now they’re stuck on video games with nothing new to try to shift the blame to. Maybe someday in the future when people are getting cybernetic implants they’ll finally move on to that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I imagine they could certainly put ideas into people’s heads, but nothing more than that. Lifestyle and upbringing and all that have a vastly more superior influence, and some people are just born with such bad tendencies.
    I find the more violent games to be therapeutic. As long as you can kill a bunch of people in a game, why do it in real life, am I right?
    But bottom line is, video games have only been around between 40-50 years. Humans have shown unbelievable violence as far back as the earliest documented forms of civilization. So yeah, I think video games don’t influence such things.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I can appreciate the diversity of the gaming industry for that reason. Violence in games doesn’t appeal to me but I’m glad to hear it’s got a kind of utility for others. Personally, I need to do something calm to unwind 🙂

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    1. Interesting point, there’s a matter of degrees of influence. I think this question comes up because of a shirking of the influence of parenthood in the digital age where the tv becomes the nanny. Not only possible but all too easy; I know that as a parent. Surely parenting has much more of an influence than entertainment, and also you’re right on violence being a part of our history, like I pointed out with our art forms as a species. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Decent shmecent! Let’s all arguuuuuue! Just kidding 😛 I think video games make you a bad person, but we can counter this by arming all gamers with guns so nobody gets violent. Okay, I’m kidding again 😛 Somebody stop me! I’ll shaddap now 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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