Video games have gone from being spoken of in the same breath as pocket protectors and thick glasses to becoming a pastime enjoyed shamelessly by much of the modern world. However, they still face a lot of vocal opposition, primarily on the topic of violence. So, do violent video games cause real-world aggression and teach gunplay to children?
No. They don’t.
One concern is that violent video games will cause players to confuse the video game world with reality, due to how realistic games now look. Applying this argument to, for example, driving a car, reveals its absurdity. Both have you sitting, holding a controller, viewing through a screen displaying numbers and data, and being much more capable and powerful than you otherwise would be. Plus, when you’re driving a car, the world you see looks really, really lifelike. Yet there is no widespread concern of people sprinting down the highway after confusing the realistic ‘graphics’ of driving a car with the real pedestrian world.
I imagine those likely to truly confuse video games and reality are generally those who have existing mental conditions or face other external factors that might lead them to confuse reality with any number of other things anyways.
The other major concern is that violent video games train children to kill. This is contradicted by the 2012 independent game Receiver. Rather than the standard point-and-click to shoot, and pressing ‘R’ to reload, the game tasks the player with manually pressing one button to eject the magazine, another button to load a bullet, another to turn the safety on or off, and so on.
Many players, upon facing the difficulty involved in actually performing the steps required to reload a gun (something most other games do automatically), were immediately turned off by the game and chose to play something else. Games don’t train children to kill. They train children to click.
Playing Call of Duty does not transform someone into a dangerous super-soldier, any more than Sonic Adventure 2 makes me good at track and field. A recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) sought to research the validity of previous tests on violent video games and the believed increase in aggressive behaviour.
Institute researchers found that earlier studies used complex, twitchy, tactical games for the ‘violent game’ test, while the games used for the control group were short, two-dimensional games with a slower pace and simple controls. Due to the multiple differences between the games played by the test group and control group, the tests were found by researchers to be unequal and more or less invalid.
In their own tests, the APA had each group play identical games with only the level of violence and gore throttled up or down. They found that it was not the level of violence in the games that was creating the greater aggression found in the early experiments, but rather the level of frustration caused by the games.
In the early experiments, it was found in both the test and control groups that those who were familiar with complex video games were found to be calmer, while those less familiar with video games were found to be more frustrated and aggressive.
The level of fear and anger directed at video games is the same fear and anger that, in the past, was directed at other dangers to society, such as television, movies, rock and roll music, Shakespeare, Beethoven, books, and the printing press, before each were vindicated by the passing of time.
I don’t know what we’ll be angry and afraid of next, but I’m sure all the cool kids will be super into it.