Video Game Violence and Youth

Shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and Columbine High School could have had nothing in common, if not for the fact that, in both incidents, the shooters were obsessed with violent video games (Carey, 2013). Their actions looked as if they were part of the game fantasy, a violent digital reality that fueled their aggressive intentions. The relationship between exposure to violent video games and aggression has been an object of continuous research for more than 50 years. Today, an emerging consensus is that violent video games increase the likelihood of violence and aggression in video gamers. The seriousness of the problem is justified by the growing availability, affordability, and realism of video games. In the U.S. alone, more than 40 million copies of Call of Duty were sold (Yenigun, 2013). Despite certain methodological differences and concerns, contemporary scholars are almost unanimous in that playing violent video games has detrimental impacts on youths' behaviors. Video games are harmful to youth; therefore, their access to violent video games should be limited in a manner that it similar to the age restrictions imposed on alcohol and tobacco.

Background of the Problem

The history of video games began in the 1970s. However, it is not before the 1990s that video games became so realistic and fascinating (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2006). Since the end of the 1980s, producers started to experiment with their video game products to make them more attractive and profitable. Almost at the same time, it became obvious that violence could become a major factor of video games' attractiveness and profitability (Anderson et al., 2006). Mortal Combat and Double Dragon quickly became historical bestsellers (Anderson et al., 2006). When Sega and Nintendo created their digital versions of mortal combat, the enormous financial profits became a reality, turning violence into the major driver of competitiveness and revenues in the video games market (Anderson et al., 2006). Today, under the influence of dramatic technology advances, violence in video games has become much more realistic and engaging. Increased graphic capability and the unparalleled increase in speed have allowed for more fascinating violent video games (Anderson et al., 2006). Violent video games are available to anyone, regardless of their age and social status. For millions of children, playing violent video games has become part of their everyday realities.

The problem of violence in video games is exacerbated by the fact that children and adolescents spend more time in front of their computer screens. In the middle of the 1980s, children spent on average 4 hours a week playing arcades and video games (Anderson et al., 2006). By the middle of the 1990s, the amount of time spent by children and adolescents playing arcade games significantly decreased, giving place to violent game playing. Instead of the previous 4 hours a week, boys started to spend 7-8 hours a week playing violent games (Anderson et al., 2006). Nowadays, boys can spend up to 13 hours per week playing violent video games (Anderson et al., 2006). Adults favor these trends, by setting an example of violent game playing. At work and at home, adults engage in violent video games, because they seek to create a conflict and apply to violence to resolve it (Yenigun, 2013). Adults use violent games because they have the "need for adrenaline rush" (Yenigun, 2013). They know that, in a video game, they are safe and nothing threatens their lives. They can punch one another, causing a cocktail of stress hormones to rush into their bloodstream (Yenigun, 2013). Unfortunately, few of them ever think of what can happen to their children, if they keep playing violent video games. Apart from wasted time, this sort of activity can have profoundly negative impacts on their psychological, cognitive, and socioemotional development. 

Video Games Are Harmful to Youth: Position and Sources

Video games are harmful to youth. Contemporary researchers and practitioners are certain that playing violent video games has detrimental impacts on youths' behaviors. The growing body of empirical literature supports this position. Compared to those, who do not play violent games, children and adolescents engaged in digital violence display higher levels of aggressiveness in their daily interactions with peers (Bartholow & Anderson, 2002). Suffice it to say, numerous crimes and shootings were linked to playing violent games:

the problem of game violence first emerged with school shootings by avid players of such games at West Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon, and Littleton, Colorado. More recent violent crimes that have been linked to violent video games include a school shooting spree in Santee California; a violent crime spree in Oakland, California; five homicides in Long Prairie and Minneapolis, Minnesota; beating deaths in Medina, Ohio; school shootings in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania; and Beltway sniper shootings (Anderson, 2004, p.113)

The problem is too serious to be ignored. Peer-reviewed journal articles and the published results of empirical studies confirm this link, making this position even more compelling.

The impacts of violent video games on youth are long-standing and pervasive. They are not limited to occasional bursts of aggression and violence following participation in a video game. In their empirical study, Anderson and Dill (2000) showed that exposure to violent video games stretched far beyond the laboratory settings, and aggressive behaviors in the youth exposed to violent video games persisted in long-term periods. The amount of time spent playing violent video games is the strongest predictor of aggressiveness and even delinquency in youth (Anderson & Dill, 2000). The more time young people spend playing violent games, the more aggressive their personality becomes. Total time spent by youth in video game playing also has very detrimental impacts on their achievement and grades (Anderson & Dill, 2000). This causal relationship is easy to explain: on the one hand, students spend less time on their academic obligations; on the other hand, the aggressiveness boosted by video games disrupts their academic progress at school. In other words, aggressive youths who spend most of their time playing violent games simply have no time to pursue their major academic objectives (Anderson & Gill, 2000).

Violent video games are much more dangerous that violent movies or TV programs. First, in violent video games, young players identify themselves with the aggressor (Anderson & Gill, 2000). As a result, the boundary between their true personality and that of the digital aggressor becomes increasingly blurred. This is also what Yenigun (2013) writes in his article: players want to punch one another, and they associate themselves with the digital character. Second, violent games teach young players to choose aggressive behaviors over non-aggressive ones. Anderson and Dill (2000) showed that being exposed to violent games over a prolonged period of time led to the development of more aggressive psychological scripts. Put simply, in real-life situations, such players are more willing to follow an aggressive scenario than to solve their problem in a peaceful and non-violent manner. Third, unlike television and movies, video games are well-known for their addictive characteristics (Anderson & Dill, 2000). In other words, young people quickly get used to playing violence in the digital environment. Statistically, every fifth adolescent displays the features of video game addictions (Griffiths & Hunt, 1998).

All these experimental results are quite persuasive and strongly support the position that violent video games cause detrimental behavioral changes in youth. The researchers managed to create large sample of participants to avoid serious methodological limitations. Anderson and Gill (2000) used more than one research design (correlational and experimental) to create a persuasive picture of violence in the context of video games. The results of this study replicate and reaffirm the results of the earlier empirical studies, including Calvert and Tan (1994), Kirsch (1998), and Ballard and Weist (1996).

Violence, Video Games, and Aggressiveness: Is the Link Perfect?

Not all researchers confirm the causal link between youths' exposure to violence and aggressiveness. For example, Ferguson (2011) did not find any prospective relationship between playing video games and the risks of developing violent behaviors in the future. However, the sample created by Ferguson (2011) was non-random and predominantly Hispanic, while the measures of aggression were different from those used by the earlier researchers. This is why Ferguson (2011) could have arrived at misleading results. The problem is further complicated by the fact that the problem cannot be easily tested in laboratory settings. For instance, psychologists can hardly trace a long-term association between playing violent video games and committing a crime later in life (Carey, 2013). Researchers claim that even occasional accounts of exposure to violent video games and real-life violence are not sufficient to prove that video games lead to violence (Anderson, 2004; Anderson et al., 2006). Finally, the body of research into violent games and their impacts on aggression is much smaller than the current knowledge of televised aggression and its implications for violence (Anderson 2004; Anderson et al., 2006). Yet, the studies and results, which deny the causal link between playing video games and aggressive behaviors, are much fewer than those, which show the detrimental impacts of video gaming on youth.

Anderson et al. (2006) are correct: despite certain methodological variations, the debate on whether violent video games are harmful for youth is over. Until present, researchers have studied various populations and all possible violent games to conclude that exposure to violent video games had detrimental impacts on youth. Cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies, correlational studies and field experiments were carried out to confirm the causal relationship between violent games and aggressiveness (Anderson et al., 2006). Professor Rowell Huesmann performed the most extensive meta-analytical review of the data on video games and violence in youth and found that the relationship between video gaming and real-life violence was unquestionable (Anderson et al., 2006). Experimental studies yield stronger results than the studies with serious methodological flaws (Anderson, 2004). This is why the position that violent video games are harmful for youth is so strong.

Apparently, many questions related to the development of aggressive behaviors in youth remain without a definite answer. First, it is not clear how individual character and predisposition to violence mediate the relationship between violent games and aggressiveness in youth (Anderson & Dill, 2000). Ferguson (2011) suggested that depressive symptoms were a strong predictor of aggression in the young people, who were playing violent video games. Second, researchers need to clarify whether violent video games can lead to stronger aggressive reactions in children than in adolescents and adults (Anderson et al., 2006). Still, even in the presence of these controversies, the magnitude of video games' deleterious effects on youths' cognition and behavior should not be underestimated. This is why it is essential that the availability of video games to youth is regulated in a manner that is similar to the age restrictions imposed on tobacco and alcohol.

Conclusion

Violent video games are harmful to youth. Empirical evidence confirms that playing violent games leads to the development of aggressive behaviors in young people. Certainly, not all researchers support this position. The body of evidence into video games and their impacts on youth is much smaller than the existing knowledge of televised violence and its implications for youths' behaviors. Nevertheless, the results of empirical studies are valid and compelling. Their benefits outweigh the methodological and design limitations of the earlier studies. The debate on whether violent games are harmful for youth should be over, because the relationship between video gaming and violence is unequivocal. Consequently, the availability of video games to youth should be limited in ways that are similar to the age restrictions imposed on tobacco and alcohol. 

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