Violence in society: Blame it on brutal video games


Violence in society: Blame it on brutal video games

Does playing vicious games result in aggression? CHUA HIAN HOU and LEUNG WAI-LENG revisit the issue Game violence imitates life or is the crime prompted by games? DIGITAL LIFE examines the controversy

The dust has never quite settled. And the jury is still out.

Thirty years, millions of dollars in research, and endless controversy over violent video games later, and there is still no conclusive evidence.

Does the savagery in computer games make the people who play the games savage too?

Answers still differ according to who you talk to. Medical professionals, researchers and academics, all have their own take on the topic.

Social psychologist Dr Angeline Khoo, said that ‘violent video games has a co-relational relationship to aggressive behaviour, but not a causal one’.

This means spending hours playing brutal video games is one of many risk factors that could lead to anti-social, aggressive behaviour. But it does not necessarily cause it.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Henry Jenkins, agreed.

On PBS, a non-profit media website, he wrote that ‘no research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer’.

Also, the risk is more likely to impact ‘bad tempered, aggressive’ individuals than normal folks, said Dr Khoo.

One of the most outspoken critics of aggressive video games is the American Psychological Association (APA).

It charged that excessive time spent slugging it out on such games could make the player more aggressive - conversely, less helpful - and desensitise him to the use of violence - conditioning him to believe that brute strength is an answer to problems.

In an August 2005 press release, APA spokesman Dr Elizabeth Carll charged: ‘Showing violent acts without consequences teach youth that violence is an effective means of resolving conflict.’

The APA’s research showed that perpetrators of in-game destructive acts go unpunished 73 percent of the time - and are frequently encouraged to do so by the game.

And in 1999, former military psycho- logist Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman revealed the US Marines showed recruits brutal video games repeatedly so as to desensitise them to violence and instill the ‘will to kill’.

Different study, different results

However, for every study that says playing savage games is bad, there is one to the contrary.

Nanyang Technological University lecturer Marko Skoric believes that spending a month in cyberspace slashing brigands and decapitating monsters will not make you more aggressive.

Dr Skoric did a 2005 study on video games and violence with Dr Dmitri Williams of the University of Illinois in the United States.

The study was published in an international communication journal Communication Monographs.

In the study, a questionaire that measured aggression levels was administered to two groups of participants aged 14 to 48. One group played online role-playing game Asheron’s Call 2 for one month, while the other played no games.

The aggression levels of both groups were then measured again at the end of the month.

Asheron’s Call 2 was chosen for its content, deemed to be substantially more savage than the average video game. Its violence was also highly repetitive, requiring players to slash monsters repeatedly to build up points.

The results showed no evidence that video game brutality affected players’ aggression levels in real life.

Dr Skoric attributed the results, which differed from previously published studies on video game violence, to the fact that earlier studies had focused on the short-term effects of playing video games in an enclosed laboratory.

Participants were tested within only 10 to 30 minutes after playing a game against a computer.

Said Dr Skoric: ‘The literature shows that short-term effects are present, but you could get the same reaction if you were watching a good football game and got more excited than usual.’

Other study snags

Moreover, research studies have limitations.

Dr Khoo said that studies are limited by sample size, time and demographic - ‘so it can’t model a ‘real’ society’.

In addition, ‘researchers are morally and ethically bound not to make the study subjects worse off than they were when they started (that is, more aggressive),’ she added.

Alternative study methods, like retrospective studies which ask violent people whether they were influenced by video games, depended on their recall and are thus, inaccurate as well, Dr Khoo explained.

Dr Cheryl K. Olson, a professor of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Mental Health and Media agreed.

In a 2004 article in the journal of Academic Psychiatry, Dr Olson wrote: ‘There is no indication that violence rose in lockstep with the spread of violent games… it’s time to move beyond blanket condemnations and frightening anecdotes.’

Destructive video games could even be helpful: People get to ‘work out their fears or anxieties without actually engaging in them’, posited a book examining the effects of pop culture on children by University of Southern California sociology professor, Dr Karen Sternheimer.

In fact, blaming the media for social ills is a way for the public to avoid addressing the real issues such as poverty, wrote Dr Sternheimer.

Like his peers, Mr Brooks Brown, a 25-year-old gamer, has his own take on the topic. But his views carry the tragic weight of personal experience. Mr Brown was a friend of both the killers and victims in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High, where two students carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in the United States.

In the aftermath, attention focused on the killers’ love for deadly shooting games, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, as a possible cause.

Mr Brown begs to differ.

‘Eric and Dylan (the shooters) were drawn to violent video games because they were violent, ****** up kids. I am drawn to these violent games because they offer more freedom. And, it may sound naive, but I believe the vast majority of gamers play these games for the same reason as me.’

Why not blame it on the parents who just buy the games without actually teaching the children what’s good or bad.

I have a friend who sells computer games and you can’t imagine the number of parents just coming in and let their children buy whatever they want without even giving a thought about the violence in the games, as if it is just a trip of buying candy for the children.

Games actually supress violence and reduce crime. Violent games should never be played by children. But generally people stay indoors and out of trouble in real life when playing games. Of course, that’s assuming the person playing it does not become obsessed, so the idea of restricting cybercafes need to be enforced (ie, not play for more than 4 hours continously).