Violencein media is a concept that has continued to increase with increasedtechnological development and digital media in particular. Peopleincluding children usually cite violent movies, television series,and more significantly video games as their most favorite form ofentertainment. Over the years, social scientists in particularpsychologists have studied the effect of violent media on humanbehavior with special interest on violent video games. Over the lastdecade, increasing incidences of violence especially involvingchildren has raised the concern of violence in video games. TheEntertainment Software rating Board, which in itself was introducedto protect children from playing violent video games, has notachieved much. Studies continue to prove that, children are highlyengaged in violent video games, which has significantly affectedtheir behavior. Though the debate on whether or not violent videogames continue there is increasing body of evidence that there is acausal link between the two. This research paper will focus on theeffects of violent video games on aggressive behavior on children.Ultimately, violent video games influence violent behavior in thesociety.
WhyViolent Video Games are More Harmful than Any other Media
Therationale for choosing violent video games in this research ismotivated by the fact that violent video games engage theparticipant. According Bushman (Para 3) video games have a moreharmful effect on behavior than any other media for three mainreasons.
First,playing video game is active while watching television or movie ispassive. Social scientists through social learning theory argue thatpeople learn better when actively engaged. For instance, a person whowishes to learn how to fly an aircraft may learn better by using aflight simulator as opposed to reading a book or watching televisionprograms.
Secondly,one is likely to identify with a certain character in the game whileplaying a certain video game. For instance, if the character is ashooter or a killer, the player will have similar visual perceptionas the character. Even if the game is third person, the personplaying it controls character’s actions from a distant visualperspective.
Lastly,while playing violent video games, one is instantly rewarded withpoints and also allowed to move to the next stage. In some games,verbal praises, are common even after maiming or killing an enemy. Inpsychology, behavior that is rewarded is reinforced hence this isthe case in video games. While watching television, reward is notlinked to the behavior of the viewer.
TheExtent of Video Games in the U.S
In2008, 97 percent of children aged between 12 and 17 years in theUnited States alone played video games. This translated to $11.7billion in domestic video game industry. During this time, 50 percentof the 20 top-selling video games in the country were violent (Proconpara 1).Concern regarding violent video games came into place in 1976 withthe introduction of the Death Race, a game that the public perceivedto be too violent. Over the years, video games have continued to bemore violent and graphic as technology evolves. This is because thegames are more realistic and bloodier than before (Proconpara 7).When Mortal Kombat was released, it raised a public outcry. Theargument was that, the video games had a desensitizing effect on theplayer especially in children. The state threatened to create aregulatory commission of video games, prompting industry players tovoluntarily introduce Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The board rates video games on basis of their violent level of sexualcontent. The rating of video games starts with “Early Childhood”meant for small children, “Everyone” for everyone, “Everyone+10” for everyone above 10 years, “teen” for teenagers and“Adults Only” or Mature for individuals of majority age (Proconpara 8).
However,the problem has not been solved. Children and adults alike areinterested in playing video games that are violent. In a study donein 2008 by Pew research Center, it was found that, 50 percent of boysand 14 percent of girls between 12-17 years who played video gamesplayed games rated “Mature” or “Adults Only” of their topthree favorite games (Procornpara 8).This shows that, even with the regulation from the ESRB, violentvideo games are played by children, a thing that is linked toincreased antisocial and aggressive behavior among children.
HowViolent Games Influence Violence
Playingvideo games can lead to increased aggression. In a laboratoryexperiment, psychologists from Iowa State University included 47undergraduates to participate in playing Mortal Kombat: DeadlyAlliance, a violent video game for a span of 15 minute. The studentswere measured for different arousal both physical and psychological.It was established that, those who had engaged in the game appearedto be aggressive than those who did not. Several studies have shownsimilar effects. Playing violent video games heightens aggressivethoughts, physiological arousal and angry feelings.
Supportersof violent video games sometimes argue that, the games are importantand useful in relieving stress or built-up anger through harmlessways. However, violent video games lead to decreased empathy amongplayers. A 2004 study involving 150 fourth and fifth graders carriedout by Professor Jeanne Funk, the only media associated withdecreased empathy was found to be violent video games (Anderson151).Several studies also disagree with this believe and have citedviolent video games as increasing aggressive feelings, thoughts andpsychological arousal, and decreasing of empathy or helping behavior.Empathy, which is defined as feeling with concern for others, plays asignificant role in moral evaluation process and is critical ininhibiting aggressive behavior (Andersonand Karen 772).Hence, with increasing violent video game playing among children,empathy may be eroded and can lead to increased aggression.
Thesocial learning theory associate behavior with behavior learnt in themedia. As such, playing video games is like a simulation. Themilitary for example uses video games in their training so as to helpalter their instinctive repulsion to killing. The founder of CureViolence (an organization aimed at reducing violence in Chicago andBaltimore), the humans are social, highly conditioned creatures wholearn their behavior by watching their surroundings. The observationof such behavior is then transformed into scripts which play in thehuman mind as they interact with the world (Andersonand Karen 772).
Bullyingincidences in schools are partly linked to the increased popularityof violent video games among children. In a study dubbed Grand TheftChildhood carried out in the year 2008, 60 percent of school boys inmiddle school who reportedly played at least one “Adult Only”rated game beat up or hit someone as compared to 39 percent of boyswho did not play violent video games. Clearly, there is a connectionbetween video games and aggressive behavior.
Violencevideo games do desensitize players into actual violence. The kind oflearning that violent video games bring to the player is that,violence is a way of solving conflict acceptable in the society. Thisis due to the fact that, the player is usually rewarded for killingor humiliating an opponent in a game. A study carried out in 2009established that, teenagers who played violent video games do notbelieve much in the use of non-violent strategies to resolve aconflict than those who played video games that were not violent(Ferguson384).
Astudy done in 2005 revealed that exposure to violent video gamesleads to a reduction in P300 amplitudes in the brain, which arelinked to desensitization to violence and enhanced aggressivebehavior (Andersonand Karen 773).
Inviolent video games, a player must have an active participation,identification with a certain character and repetition. This leads toaggressive behavior and arousal. When playing a violent video game,the physical and emotional aspects of a child are affected. The heartrate increases and aggressiveness increases as well. A 2009 studyestablished that, after engaging in a violent video game, it takesabout four minutes for the level of aggressive feelings in a child tostabilize. Similarly, the heart rate may take between five and tenminutes to return to norm. Video games that are bloodier generatemore aggressive behavior (Ferguson388).
Playingviolent video games lead to the development of aggressive behaviorscripts. A behavior script can be understood as a behavior learntthrough repetition of actions and influences the subconscious mind.For instance, a driving script which directs the driver to get intothe vehicle, tie a seat belt and turn on the ignition results tobehavior formation. Similarly video games can lead a child to actaggressively following a certain approach.
PracticalExamples of Violent Video Games and Aggressive Behavior
TheColumbine High shooting incidence in 1999, where two teenagersindiscriminately opened fire in school killing 13 of their colleagueswas associated with violent video games. The two perpetrators wereardent players of Doom and Wolfenstein a factor that was believed tohave influenced them to the killings. Similarly, the 2007 VirginiaTech shooting was connected to the violent game Counter-Strike, agame that the perpetrator was fond of playing. This and several otherincidences including the Colorado Theatre shooting have been linkedto violence video games. The common denominator established in theperpetrators of violence incidences across the country is that, theywere all players of violent video games. Even those opposing thisrelationship may not be able to ignore this fact. The reality is,American children are playing more violent video games than any otherchildren world over. There has not been such incidence in othercountries, even though people play violent video games.
Criticsof Effects of Violent Video games on Behavior
Someresearchers have argued that, violent video games are not the maincause of aggressive or violent behavior. They argue that, withincreasing popularity in violent video games, there has been ageneral reduction in violent juvenile crime in the United States.However, according to Krahéet al. (630), childrenmay not necessarily become violent in a manner that is suggested likekilling. He argues that, violent video games do not instill morals inchildren. In video games, when one kills or does something wrong,they are not punished or sent to jail they are rewarded with points.Although they may not go and kill, they can be aggressive and useverbal abuse, use aggressive images and are not able to control theiranger and externalize issues violently.
Inaddition, children who are naturally aggressive have an increasedtendency of playing violent video games. The game a child plays maybe a reflection of their actual personality. This is so for examplein the statistics of playing video games among boys and girls. Boysare more likely to play a violent video game than girls (Krahéet al. 633).This shows that, by nature, boys are more aggressive or violent thangirls. However, it is evident that, playing violent video gamesaffect the physiological and emotional aspects of a child. Thus,whether a child is aggressive or non aggressive prior playing a game,the violent video game will have an aggressive influence on them.
Ultimately,violent video games cannot be entirely blamed for violence oraggressive behavior among the youth. Even supporters of video gamesas a causing factor for aggressive behavior agree that, violent oraggressive behavior can be caused by other factors (Sparks126).Teenagers usually have different issues as they grow up. They arelearning on various life aspects including responsibility, trust,relationships as well as coping with school and peer pressure. Ifthey are not guided through adolescence, they may face crisis anddevelop aggressive behavior in self defense. The increased playing ofvideo games can also be part of children trying to deal withisolation or loneliness. This can be a trigger factor for violentbehavior among such children.
Thedevelopment in media technology has affected as in both positive andnegative ways. One of the aspects in technology that has had asignificant influence in society is the development of video games.Children across America are increasingly becoming addicted to playingviolent video games, an issue that has been connected to increasedaggression among the population. Psychologists have done variousstudies linking violent video games with aggressive behavior. Theincidences that have shocked America and the world involvingteenagers shooting others in schools has dawned the reality of theeffects of these games. Despite evidence that violent video games arenot the only causal factor for violent behavior, playing violentvideo games leads to psychological and physiological effect whichincrease aggression. Policy makers and industry players must come upwith an approach that will see the negative effects of violent videogames reduced. Parents also have a role to play in controlling whattype of games their children play. Besides, more comprehensivestudies need to be done to inform on the effects of video games onbehavior (Gentileand Brad 145).This will help in addressing the current problem with video games andstill help support this growing industry.
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