Monday, January 14, 2013

Are video games behind violence? - An Editorial

The recent shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary school has made many people consider that video games may be behind a large part of the violence in the world today. Emotions can run high after these horrific tragedies occur, and the desire to hold someone responsible can be overwhelming. However, even after the perpetrator behind the act is caught, the question everyone wants to have answered is: why?

Unfortunately, the why is never clear, and the lack of answers can lead to a lot of speculation. People start seeing ties that don't exist, hear rumors that are unfounded, read internet stories that keep changing, and watch media reports that each paint a different picture. This leads to misinformation and random accusations. People try to place blame everywhere they can to try and justify the unthinkable.

Once again, video games have been brought to the forefront to accept the blame. This is not a new territory for the media to delve into. Violent video games have been brought up when discussing any school shooting or violent act done by the younger generations, with opponents claiming that it increases the violent tendencies among youth. The older generations, who have never been involved in gaming, do not understand what video games really are. They are a form of entertainment. Nothing more.

Gamers do not play titles like Call of Duty or Halo to learn battle tactics and the best strategies and weapons to use in killing people. Games, ranging from racing titles to shooters, are a form of competition that can be acted out in a virtual reality setting. The average person isn't going to be able to race in the Indy 500, nor would they engage in real life firefights. These games allow players to immerse themselves in those settings without the fear of actual harm. However, this idea that games causes people to behave recklessly or hostile in real life situations is absurd.

There have been numerous studies done that try to prove that violent games cause people to become increasingly aggressive and develop a lack of concern for the welfare of others. While it has been proven that it does cause increased aggression, the amount is negligible at best (similar to playing a game of Monopoly) and is only temporary, dissipating within minutes or hours after the game has ended. As for the lack of concern for people, several violent games have been linked to actually increasing the desire to help others, as players are usually on teams, allowing for a closer bond to form to protect each other.

A large myth that has been presented by the media is that games are geared towards children, and prey on their inexperience to understand right and wrong, making violent games, where there are no real consequences, a big commodity. However much they want to make us believe that fact, the average age of a gamer is actually 37 with the majority of gamers well into adulthood, with only roughly 20% of players ages 12-17. The attacks on video games attempt to promote the fact that children are impressionable, and that violent games can lead to desensitized "zombies", addicted to causing harm and pain. Contrary to that belief, human beings are able to tell what is right and what is wrong. What is fiction, and what is reality.

The truth is that video games can be a positive influence. Action type games (usually violent genres) have been linked to better hand-eye coordination and visuo-motor skills, an ability to resist distractions in many settings (leading to better attention in school or work), and an increase in the ability to process peripheral vision faster and more accurately. Also contrary to popular belief, video games do not cause problems with vision. In fact, action based games can actually improve eyesight.

Another positive effect, is the use of games as on outlet for stress and feelings of aggression. A lot of players use games as a way to cope with anger. This also has been cited by opponents that video games impress upon children that the way to deal with their anger is to commit violence. None of that is true. A statistical study has shown that violent crime rates have gone down as games (violent ones specifically) have become more popular. If people had been influenced to act violently, those rates would be going up drastically as violent games sell millions of copies. Instead, studies have shown that games like Call of Duty are more likely to relieve feelings of aggression or anxiety, because it allows the player to leave their problems at the door and play a simple digital game.

Even the supposed negative effects such as aggression and lack of pro-social behavior (desire to help others), have been theorized to help younger generations develop a more competitive stance in the business world. The drive to compete enables gamers to have a leg up when it comes to the pursuit of life goals. Many young entrepreneurs have cited their own gaming experience as a factor in their success.

Opponents continuously try to point out cases where violent games and acts of violence have been tied together, albeit not concretely. Events at Columbine high school have been used against the gaming community as irrefutable proof that games cause violence. The teenagers were reportedly addicted to the game Doom, a fictional futuristic shooter/horror where you combat the demons from Hell. The claim states that the two teens used the game Doom to practice the massacre and even created a map using PC mods to develop a floor plan of the high school. However, no such proof has ever surfaced that the teens created this map, nor that they used Doom as a training ground. The link to video games in that situation stands to demonstrate how misinformation and word of mouth can cause irreparable harm to the gaming community.

By condemning violent titles, gamers have been made a social pariah by the media. When you try to have a discussion with any non-gamer about the facts, it falls on deaf ears. People are so sure that studies have been done and proven the link between games and violence. The media salivates at the opportunity to attack video games, which then gives politicians an outlet to apply blame and attempt to impress new laws on games. Even gun right activist groups jump to place blame.
"Here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bullet Storm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Combat,’ and ‘Splatterhouse.’” - NRA Vice President, Wayne LaPierre.
Unfortunately while the community knows, and researchers have proven, that there is no link between violent games and violent acts, the media portrayal has convinced many of the opposite. Unsubstantiated claims have littered the news, and congress has decided to believe them. They are so sure of their own superiority, that anything they believe must be the truth and no amount of discussion will ever sway them from that fact. Video games have become an easy scapegoat for political agendas and an excuse for higher regulations. It appears every step we take to bring games into a positive light, the majority of the uneducated seek to slap us back down to being portrayed as degenerates, doomed to live out our lives as desensitized, violent loners, who know absolutely nothing about real life.

In the end it's up to the parents to determine what is good for their children, not the media, and certainly not the government. If you feel violent games will be bad for your children, don't buy them. While there are no laws against children buying 'M' rated games, many stores have policies that prohibit minors from purchasing titles with a 'Mature Content' rating. The only way they can get a copy, is for a parent to buy them one. If you don't feel that games cause violence, more power to you. A good idea though, is to limit the amount of time they play games. Video games do cause higher brain activity, and trying to put a kid to sleep right after shutting down the console is near impossible. Playing with your children can also be a good influence, just try not to swear as much as you do during the football game.

Video games cause violence? I think you're bat shit crazy.

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