Violent Video Games Should Not Be the Only Excuse

By Leslie Flippen, Jr.

"Grand Theft Auto V Poster" by Ferino Designs
“Grand Theft Auto V Poster” by Ferino Design

The tragic shooting events in Colorado and Connecticut have reignited the debate on the effects of the media. This time, the spotlight shines on a familiar and popular source of entertainment: video games, specifically violent ones. Politicians, psychologists, and parents all have clashed swords on the argument that violent video games negatively affect the youth, with some favoring this concept while others opposing it. Violent video games have continuously come under fire for allegedly damaging the mental states of players, causing the players to commit violence based off what they see on these types of games, such as Doom 3D, Grand Theft Auto, and Mortal Kombat. They have also been blamed solely for school shootings, increases in bullying, and other violent acts. Critics argue that these type of games desensitize players to violence and teach children that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict. People will say that violent video games are the sole reason someone would do something like this. In reality, video games are only one factor when someone already has psychological issues, not the main or only reason.

Between players and critics, there is a split opinion on the issue and a resolution seems somewhat far off. An expert of the subject, Christopher J. Ferguson, author of numerous articles on the arguments of the link between violent video games and violent behavior, believes people should take responsibility for their own actions, while writer Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, writer of several media books, strongly believes that video games are the reason why violence in teens is on the rise. Some parents, like Dr. Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson, think it boils down to what parents allow their children to do.

The argument of violent video games came under scrutiny after the April 20, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Senior students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, equipped with guns, knives, and explosives, went on a crazed shooting spree, murdering twelve students and one teacher, and injuring twenty-four others. Quickly, it was shown that both Klebold and Harris both were avid players of the popular violent video game Doom 3D, where the main character carries all types of ammunition and weapons to kill the aliens from taking over the planet Mars. As the game progresses, more and more violence takes place. The boys, Klebold and Harris, played this game for hours at a time every day. I don’t know whether or not these two were bullied or picked on in school, but they planned this attack. When they were planning out the massacre, it was noted that Harris said “That the killing would be ‘like playing Doom,’ and the rifle he would use would be ‘straight out of the game’” (Grossman 8). A lot of people claim that this game was the only reason why that the two violently decided to do what they did, however, there is no proof. To this day, this game Doom 3D has not caused anyone else to commit the same crime.

Writer Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, one of the writers of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie & Video Game Violence, says it should not be surprising that this bizarre behavior came from their game play. But Klebold’s and Harris’ mental state wasn’t looked at. It wasn’t widely publicized that both of these teens were loners at school and were somewhat depressed. Instead, the blame was directed solely to the hours they spent on video games. Both young men had to already have been mentally unstable, and they were capable of these crimes before playing the game, but there is a possibility that the game helped their psychopathic views to be glorified and expressed. If someone has problems determining the difference between what is fake and what is real, they probably should not be playing video games.

Video games should not be strictly and exclusively blamed for violence caused by individuals. Violent acts are committed by choice of the individual. According to Christopher J. Ferguson’s article “Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents,” “the potential influence of violent video games on youth violence remains an issue of concern for psychologists,” stating that this topic is generally concerning to many people, including game players, parents, and psychologists. Many studies have taken place to look into whether or not these games are causing bad behavior, but “…none of these studies have developed well validated points of youth violence caused by the games” (Ferguson). Ferguson also points out that having these type of bleak depressive symptoms can lead to violent outbreaks, due to antisocial characteristics with the individual, and gaming is an antisocial activity; therefore, these games attract those who already have these depressive symptoms and the potential to act out violently. These violent video games have nothing to do with making the person violent, these traits of the person are there before even playing the game.

After numerous studies, current players of violent video games contend that a majority of the research done on the topic is deeply flawed and that no connecting relationship has been found between video games and violence. It’s flawed because there has been no scientific proof on the connection between the violent behavior and the games. Some gamers argue that violent video games may reduce violence by serving as a substitute for rough play and by providing a safe outlet for aggressive and angry feelings. They can use the video games to let out their aggression on the characters instead of a human being. On the other hand, some researches suggests that hours of exposure to violent video games can make kids react in more hostile ways compared to ones who don’t spend lots of time with the game controller in hand. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, argues “People need to be aware of how the prolific use of sensational violence in video games affects players’ attitudes and actions, causing the rage and violence” (Grossman 23). He also believes that there’s a “deadly link” between violent graphic imagery and the escalating incidence of youth violence.

Everyone knows that the youth are influenced by what they see and some even say everything that they know is learned behavior. With that being true, video games can influence young children in regards to minor transgressions but not criminal actions. In Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, Dr. Lawrence Kutner writes that adolescent youngsters don’t have an altogether created feeling of good and bad, and they are likely to curse or say a bad word in the wake of taking in the dialect from the violent video game; however, they won’t take in stealing cars or doing drugs in the wake of seeing these activities take place. The degree to which kids are impacted by video games at last descends to their guardians. Video games can be a potential danger to kids, but not if their parents control what they play and for how long. In order for parents to accurately judge what their children should and should not play, they can simply consult the ESRB rating on the bottom left corner of every video game printed in bold black and white letters. The parent would have the ultimate power about what happens to their children (Kutner and Olson). They choose what their children are exposed to and they choose how their children are raised. Children under the age of 18 cannot purchase certain video games, especially graphic violent ones, without their parents’ consent.

There is no question as to whether or not video games are violent, but there are those who argue that the psychological effects of playing them result in violent actions. There are other isolated incidents, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (Dec. 14, 2012), where mentally unstable people have gone on killing sprees because of not what they have seen in video games, but by a person’s unstable mental health; while today’s games are increasingly violent, they are not likely to influence the actions of the average person. Blaming these type games for people’s actions is obscured and inaccurate. A person will make a clear and conscience choice to kill a person not because of a video game, but because they choose to pick up a weapon and plan to end another persons’ life for whatever reason (Ferguson, “Video Games: The Latest Scapegoat for Violence”). If someone is capable of committing extreme violent acts, or acting in an aggressive manor, they were capable of it well before they took part in playing a video game. It is up to the individual who plays these games to act responsibly, know right from wrong, and play the games for entertainment only. It is time to stop using video games as the only blame and excuse for their behavior, and let people take responsibility for their own actions.

Works Cited

Ferguson, Christopher J. “Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 40.4 (2011): 377-91. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

Ferguson, Christopher J. “Video Games: The Latest Scapegoat for Violence.” Chronicle of Higher Education 53.42 (2007): B20. EBSCOhost. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Grossman, Lt. Col. Dave, and Gloria DeGaetano. Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence. 2014 ed. New York: Penguin Random House, 1999. Print.

Kutner, Lawrence, and Cheryl K. Olson. Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth about Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. Print.

Submitted for ENG 101 Composition, Fall 2014. Assignment: Research Argument. Instructor: Kevin Lamkins, Associate Professor of English Instructor comment: This essay represents a key aspect of the research process: refining the thesis based on the information gathered, not on preconceived notions or opinions.  Leslie developed a more complex (and accurate) thesis after reviewing a variety of perspectives on the issue.

Photo Credit: “Grand Theft Auto V Poster” by Ferino Design.  Licensed through Creative Commons.

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