Virtual Violence and Video Games

Virtual violence in video games has become more and more realistic in recent years which has created an area of concern regarding whether the aggression and violent actions experienced during play have an impact on real-life situations. Over the past 15 years many studies have been conducted and significant research has been done that focus on the relationship between interactive, realistic, violent video games and violent behavior. This relationship is questioned in many of the studies, and the ultimate results of many studies show minimal negative effects of violent play; however, because video games have transitioned into virtual reality experiences over the past several years as technology has advanced and there has been significant progress made in using virtual reality to effectively change behavior, the possibility that video games can also change or affect behavior has resulted in some contradictions to earlier studies. Another point to be considered is the player’s predisposition to aggressive behavior. Do violent video games affect behavior or are they a vehicle for channeling aggressive tendencies? Because there are many contradictions regarding violent video games and violent behavior, it is difficult to state definitively that there is a direct correlation between them.

As a result, both sides of the issue have published findings that support their positions. One side of the issue supports the position that playing violent games can be linked to learned aggression. For several decades psychological research has been conducted which supports this point of view. Of course, there has also been some credible research that disproves this. As a result, and both sides agree, that more research needs to be done in order to prove without a doubt that there is a concrete link between playing violent video games and learned aggression. This research needs to address several related issues (most of which have already been explored), such as: Is aggressive behavior the same as violent behavior? Do violent people look for violent video games to play or do violent video games create violent people? Is virtual violence being blamed for society’s problems without giving adequate consideration to other potential causes or the data that is available regarding violence in society? What role does the media play in the perception that virtual violence is responsible for increased violence in society? Should the government play a role in monitoring/censoring virtual mass media violence? Focused research on these issues may clarify and elucidate our knowledge and understanding of the role that virtual violence plays in society as a whole.

Virtual violence in video games is the most recent focal point for discussion regarding violence in society. When video games first made their debut in the 1970’s, there was no real concern; however, this has changed since the debut of Mortal Combat in 1992. Increased virtual violence that is extremely realistic and addictive is responsible for this change of heart. One of the reasons that video games have come under fire is because of several mass shootings. One of the first was the Heath High School shooting that took place on December 1, 1997. Although the shooter, Michael Carneal, had several other worrisome habits and traits, he spent a great deal of time playing video games and visiting questionable websites. “His taste for violence – including sites that included how-to instructions for making weapons or rehearsals of violent attacks – fell outside mainstream norms. Certainly his own writings – composed for himself and for classroom assignments – began to reflect a fixation with violence (Harding, et al, 137). The 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, is another incident where violent video game playing has been considered a factor. Although no one knows exactly why Harris and Klebold attacked their classmates and teachers, the boys were avid players of Doom, “a game licensed by the U.S. Army to train soldiers to effectively to kill (Olson, 144). In addition, it was discovered that they had designed their own version of the game and had enacted it during their shooting spree. Some of the research also refers to the “Beltway sniper incident where the 17-year old was a fairly good shot, but Mr. Muhammad, the police tell us, got him to practice on an ultra-violent video game in sniper mode to break down his hesitancy to kill (Olson, 144). This occurred in Washington, D. C., during October 2002.

As a result of these and other mass shootings that took place between 1974 and 2002, a study by the U. S. Secret Service and the U. S. Department of Education was conducted that focused on targeted school violence in an attempt to develop a profile for potential shooters so that future tragedies might be avoided. Ultimately, it was determined that a specific profile was not possible because there were too many variables. As far as considering violent media as a potential catalyst, according to the Secret Service review, only “… one in eight perpetrators showed interest in violent video games, one-fourth in violent movies, and one-fourth in violent books, but there was no obvious pattern (Olson, 146). As a result, the data from this study disproves the theory that violent video games are responsible for an increase in youth violence; in fact, statistics demonstrate that youth violence has actually been decreasing.

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