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Cara Dore

Dr. Jan Babcock: English 137H

Violence in Video Games: Do Guns on a Screen Cause Guns in Real Life?
Click. There goes another cop. In the world of Grand Theft Auto V, no law enforcement
can stand in the way of stealing cars and collecting money. Click. Twelve kills in two minutes.
The protagonist of GTA5 is an ex-criminal who reunites with his old partner to accumulate cash
while avoiding the FBI. Click. Another virtual cop bites the dust. The points multiply for each
policeman killed. Grand Theft Auto, although one of the first video games to include explicit
violence as a main theme, is by no means the only one to do this. Video game companies have
produced thousands of games where the players success depends on his or her ability to kill. In
2010, 5 out of 10 of the top-selling games were rated M for mature (Funk). Although Grand
Theft Auto and the majority of top-selling video games today feature sex, theft, and murder as
recreational habits, there was a time when all video games were family-friendly. Before the
1980s, video games mainly consisted of games such as Pong and Pac-Man, where the goal was
to hit a Ping-Pong ball back and forth or to eat all the white dots in a maze while dodging
cartoon ghosts (Kudler). To our chagrin, as the number of video games featuring violence as a
main facet mushroomed, so did the frequency of violent incidents in schools. Since 1980,
America has experienced 137 school shootings, resulting in 297 deaths and many more
wounded (Kirk). The correlation caused many people to question whether these games held
morbid implications for their users. To understand the effect of increased violence in video
games over our society, we must examine what kinds of violence exist in video games, how it
causes aggressive behaviors in its users, who is at risk, and what our society can do to
counteract its effects.
Violent video games usually involve some degree of gun violence. There are First Person
Shooter games where the player sees the action from his characters perspective. First Person
Shooter games emphasize killing an enemy or other targets and collecting high-power weapons
(Robb, Whitney). Examples include the popular Halo series as well as Doom, which is the video
game that Columbine perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played most often (Thiel).
Another form of violent video games is Third Person Shooter games, where the same emphasis
on amassing weapons and shooting targets exists, but the player sees the game from outside
the characters eyes, in third person (Robb, Whitney). Examples include Metal Gear Solid and
the Tomb Raider series. A third common type of violent video game is Fighter games like Mortal
Kombat and Street Fighter. This type of video game involves engaging a computer- or human-
controlled opponent in one-on-one combat.
Some critics believe video game violence to be a more potent factor in promoting
aggression because of the level of interactivity involved. Unlike television or movies,
where viewers are passive and unable to direct the content of what they are viewing,
video game play allows for a level of controllability not seen in other media. Players are
given control over where their characters move, what actions they choose to engage in,
and even what their goals are. As a result, game play requires active concentration and
physical and mental activity. (Robb, Whitney)
This quote from Michael Robb and D. Charles Whitneys Encyclopedia on Interpersonal
Violence explains the main criticism people have of violent video games: interactivity.
Americans were watching violence on TV for many more years than they were playing video
games. School violence did not start to boom until the 1980salmost four decades since
broadcast television became a hit in the United Statesso the influence of television on
aggressive behaviors seems negligible. The difference between violence on TV and violence in
video games is the users role. In video games, the player is active. He or she controls the
character. Within games like Grand Theft Auto, where killing and stealing are necessary to
advance to higher levels, the player can choose what kind of violence to inflict and on whom. As
technology developed over the last few decades, video games became more realistic and fully
interactive. Players can now interact with non-central characters and perform side tasks that
have nothing to do with the mission, but involve some comedic relief (In Grand Theft Auto:
San Andreas, players [can] punch, shoot, and run-over bystander characters in pursuit of their
goals (Robb, Whitney)).
There are several theories that could explain how active involvement in virtual violence
ends up instilling similar behaviors in video game users. The first follows the Social-Cognitive
Theory of Learning, which maintains that people can learn by observing models. Players can
learn vicariously through their characters who are continuously rewarded for aggressive and
violent acts that violence accomplishes tasks for people and is an efficient way to get what they
want. Another theory that demonstrates violent video games influence on users is the
Cognitive Neoassociation Theory. This theory states that aggressive thoughts and feelings form
an associative network of emotion in peoples brains. While playing violent video games, this
network could become activated and thus prime people with aggressive ideas and emotions.
When faced with a real-world aggressive situation, this priming could transfer aggressive
cognitions into real-world aggression (Robb, Whitney). The last theory of violent video game
influence is called the General Aggression Model (GAM).
Proponents of the general aggression model (GAM) argue that exposure to violent video
games impacts individuals' internal states, as reflected by cognitive, affective, and arousal
variables. In a single-episode GAM, exposure to violent video games may increase
aggression by priming aggressive cognitions such as aggressive scripts, by increasing
arousal level, or by facilitating an aggressive affective state. In turn, this increased
exposure can affect an individual's abilities to appraise situations and to make decisions.
The single-episode model surmises that violent video game exposure could impact
impulsive or thoughtful actions so that the likelihood of aggressive behaviors is
A multi-episode GAM accounts for long-term effects by specifying that knowledge
structures develop over time from daily observations and interactions in the real and
imaginary (i.e., media, including video games) worlds. Repeated exposure to violent
video games functions as additional learning trials where knowledge structures are
rehearsed, differentiated, and made more complex. Frequent players of violent video
games may experience changes in aggressive personality and aggressive behaviors in
immediate situations through the learning, rehearsal, and reinforcement of these
aggression-related knowledge structures. (Robb, Whitney)
The General Aggression Model argues that excessive exposure to interactive virtual violence
actually alters players thinking. After enough exposure, individuals have difficulty making
thoughtful decisions without relying on violence as a mode of achievement. The more people
play video games where violence is rewarded, the more primed their brains are to think
violently. The GAM is a combination of Social-Cognitive and Cognitive Neoassociation theories
because it involves both vicarious reinforcement and a change in brain networking. Personality
does play a larger role in the GAM than the other models, though. The GAM maintains that
people with already hostile personalities are already predisposed to respond more
aggressively to violent video games (Video Game Addiction).
Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the influence of aggressive video game content.
At seventeen, adolescents can legally purchase M-rated video games wherein they can fight,
steal, and murder as much as desired. Once players reach seventeen, the world assumes they
are old enough to make their virtual characters ask for sexual favors from strippers and drive
cars through buildings. But at seventeen, adolescents minds are still very malleable. Human
minds have a left and right side: the left side for reasoning and logic, the right side for emotion.
It takes until about twenty-one years for the left side to catch up with the right side. This means
that regular emotional stimuli will cause a stronger reaction in adolescents than in other age
groups because teens lack the logical functions to reign in their feelings and impulses. Why
does this matter? Teenagers play video games more than any other age group; 97% of
American teens report that they play video games on a regular basis (MarketingCharts). One
estimate states that approximately 80% of all U.S. households have a game console. Time spent
on the computer and playing interactive video games supposedly hits an average of over an
hour per day (Robb, Whitney). Teenagers play more than other ages, and so they expose
themselves to arousing stimuli much more often. Violence is one form of a stimulus. It arouses
the brain and sets off chemical reactions. Adolescents who experience violent stimuli on a
regular basis become accustomed to that level of arousal and eventually crave it. When placed
in whereby an aggressive response is possible, an aroused individual may be more likely to be
aggressive (Linz). Although there are other ways to arouse brain function, violence and
aggression are readily available options, so teenagers often turn to it.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the implications of teens reliance on violence in
video games are younger children playing the same games. Many children are no older than 10
or 11, but play the same violent games either because they have parents who do not censor
well or they have older siblings that allow them to play their games. The way most of society
grew up with The Partridge Family or PBS Kids, todays children are growing up with Mortal
Kombat and Call of Duty. People accept their childhood surroundings as the norm. If society and
families treat violence casually and accept its presence in the media, children will accept that as
the way the world works. After the Sandy Hook massacre this past year, Neal Conan hosted a
radio talk show for people to voice their opinions on why atrocities like Sandy Hook keep
occurring. One caller had this to say: I had someone close to me whose daughter, 12 years old,
very normal little girl, drowned a character in a video game, a nationally played video game,
and didn't see a problem with that. She said, well, it's just virtual. But I think that's a problem,
that we're - that there's a loss of connection with what death actually becomes (Talk of the
Nation). Tolerance and amusement of violence are becoming natural simply because children
are more familiar with it. As we have already seen with older video game users, many people
repeatedly return to the comfort of violent video games to blow off steam. People actually
turn to mindless and gratuitous virtual violence as a way to relieve stress. This highlights a
broad desensitization towards violence throughout our society. Seeing a virtual gang rob and
beat a man hardly causes anyone to bat an eyelash. Not only do people tolerate high levels of
violence, but they actually enjoy it. Some people argue that we should celebrate video games
for the cathartic outlet they provide. For example, years after the Columbine High School
massacre, some psychiatrists claimed that the violent video games Harris and Klebold played
helped release their aggression, rather than aggravating it further: According to this view,
when the youths were not allowed to play video games as frequently as a form of punishment,
they had to instead get their aggression out in the real world (Thiel). Although this it is a valid
point that releasing aggressive behaviors virtually is superior to releasing it physically, it fails to
explain the why the number of incidents of school violence skyrocketed with the advent of
violent video games.
Now that the connection between violent video games and aggressive behaviors
appears stronger, what can society do to combat it? One existing system to prevent children
from playing violent video games is the rating system, done by the Electronic Software Rating
Board (ESRB). The ESRB takes many criteria into consideration when deciding a rating for video
games (graphical realism, human versus fantasy violence, inclusion of blood and gore, sexual
content, strong language) (Robb, Whitney). Ratings indicate games suitability for an age
range, such as everyone, indicating content suitable for children 6 years and older, or mature,
indicating content suitable for players 17 years and older (Robb, Whitney). As I expressed
earlier, though, there are several flaws with the rating system. Some seventeen year-olds are
not mature enough to handle the content of those games. And far too often, children and
adolescents under the appropriate age range get their hands on violent video games anyway.
Perhaps if parents realize the implications these games could have for their child and the
community, they would be more cautious of what their child is doing. Some studies indicate
that parents viewing video games with their children discourages over-arousal from the
violence and thus decreases aggressive behavior overall (Linz). In addition, several states have
tried to pass laws restricting the sale of violent video games or banning them altogether. Very
few have passed, but any legislation working towards protecting our youth and communities is
a step in the right direction.
Technology transformed the way we live our lives. Forty or so years ago, violence was
seen in the traditional sense: a horror, an atrocity, something to be avoided. Now, through the
spread of violent media like video games, people brush it off far more easily. Although school
shootings still break peoples hearts, many people do not see the connection between active
violence in video games and active aggression in real life. Hopefully in the future, our society
will strengthen and popularize the connection. Hopefully we will be able to stop people from
enjoying violence and looking up to perpetrators of violence as models. The safety of our
communities depends on that.

Works Cited
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2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. <M-Rated Games Only Make up 5% of All US Releases>.
Kirk, Chris. " A Chart of the 137 Fatal School Shootings in the U.S. Since 1980." Slate Magazine. The
Slate Group, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. Linz, Daniel. "Media Violence and
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