The Truth About Video Game Violence

A look at real research into violent video games and actual violence. No, there's no connection. Keep on gaming!

We’ve heard it all before,and we probably will again: Violence in today’s youth is caused by violent music and violent video games, their television series and their movies. And while many of us geeks know better, we’ve desperately gone a full minute and a half without rolling our eyes at those who spout this nonsense. Fortunately for us, there are people taking the time to actually study the issue of video games violence instead of just saying someone else studied it and not giving any kind of evidence to the “awesome findings that prove video games are the root of all evil, the spawn of Satan” and living in our apartments under the name Kirby’s Dreamland, Doom, Halo and Call Of Duty. (Kirby’s Dreamland used for comedic purposes only.

Please do not try to find violence in a little marshmallow puff sucking people inside him, taking over their powers and/or eating them. That’s clearly a sexual reference, and we’ll cover that later in life.)

First of all, I must speak to YOU, parents of gamer kids and rant a bit at some things that I have noticed. If the following doesn’t apply to you, please don’t take offense. If it does apply to you, don’t take offense either, just keep it in mind before you buy your gamer child his or her next video game.

When was the last time you played video games WITH your gamer kid? Is the console in the living room or in their room? And what was the ESRB rating on the last three games he or she played?  When I started writing articles about games, my local game store started taking notice of my more frequent purchases and I ended up talking to a parent who was going to buy Call Of Duty: Black Ops II for his son. He asked if it was any good, if the graphics were nice, if the story was compelling, he asked everything except something he may have wanted to: What is the rating on this game and is it suitable for my 12 year old son? I have a friend whose brother (age 8) is not only allowed to play “M” for Mature games, but was given at least 6 of them for Christmas. Every single game he got this Christmas was for someone a minimum of 5 years older than he is; games with ratings ranging from “T” for Teen to “M” for Mature.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking: Some kids are more mature than others and can handle different things and I agree with you. But I think we can both agree that at 8 years old, you should be sticking to a maximum of “T” for Teen even for the most mature 8 year old in the world. The exception is if the 8 year old is reading at a college level while at the university getting his bachelor’s degree (Doogie Howser anyone??). Then let him play whatever he wants, he’ll be okay. Okay, now that we’re doing dealing with Doogie, I’ll go back to talking to the whole group.

While the news and media are, once again, talking about how horrible video games are for kids and how we should shelter them forever inside a little bubble to protect them from the world, there are actual studies being done that are showing the opposite. Not the bubble thing, that’s not what they’re studying; the video game thing.

How would you react if I told you that, in 2004, the co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media began a $1.5 million study funded by the Department of Justice and their findings confirmed precisely none of what the media says. Not that violent video games are bad, not that they are good. The Harvard study’s findings showed absolutely no evidence to support the argument that violent video games could turn a child or teen into a violent criminal. In fact, while video game play has increased, violent crime has actually decreased in the United States.

Here’s an interesting fact: After the fatal shooting at Virginia Tech in 2003, pundits took to the airwaves blaming violent video games for the shooter’s behavior. But, the investigation showed that Seung-Hui Cho, the (actual, as opposed to virtual) shooter, played Sonic the Hedgehog at age nine and then didn’t play video games later in life. So, talk about making something out of nothing, these guys didn’t even know that the shooter had never even played violent video games like Doom or Halo or a single gun related game. The only way you can make any connection to this shooter’s game playing is if he became invincible as long as he held on to a gold ring (Sonic, The Hedgehog reference).

Psychologists Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olsen are not only responsible for the study proving the lack of connection between violent video games and ACTUAL violence, they have documented their findings and collected them in a book titled Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games. If the title alone doesn’t make you love it, you’re in for even more of a treat. First off, Kutner and Olsen stress the importance of parental education and awareness, citing how “the Geek shall inherit the earth.” Not really. But they do discuss the need to block out the seemingly endless attacks on the game industry and focus on scientific evidence available and make our own judgments.

Here’s a quote from Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games:

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Guy Cumberbatch, PhD, is a psychologist specializing in media research. He directs the Communications Research Group in Great Britain and has been studying the effects of mass media on violent behavior for several decades. He sums up that research succinctly:

The real puzzle is that anyone looking at the research evidence in this field could draw any conclusions about the pattern, let alone argue with such confidence and even passion that it demonstrates the harm of violence on television, in film and in video games. While tests of statistical significance are a vital tool of the social sciences, they seem to have been more often used in this field as instruments of torture on the data until it confesses something which could justify publication in a scientific journal.

Another fact highlighted in Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games is that some of the studies often quoted about teenage violence aren’t even studies on videogames. They are based on studies from the 1990s done on select television programs. That’s right, they were talking about Miami Vice and Magnum P.I. and they were wrong there too; seriously? MAGNUM? And we’re not even going to discuss Law and Order. No. Leave it alone.

Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games also explores the fact that kids who don’t play any video games at all are equally likely to get into serious trouble as those obsessed with gaming. The two extremes are just as dangerous and for different reasons. Kutner and Olsen explain that for today’s youth (and today’s IT departments), gaming is a way to show status, dominance, pecking order, who’s cool, who’s not, who’s got the best score, who’s the top sniper, who’s stuck healing, who’s the demo expert and who’s really good at tanking a level 78 paladin through the breach while the others DPS and heal and make sure no one dies while they try to steal the pitch-spork of destiny from the evil lord of darkness, Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light. 

What’s the absolute best part about Grand Theft Childhood? You can get it for as little as a penny or as much as fifteen dollars on Amazon or Simon and Schuster.

So, what is the big take away here?

First of all, we can give the people who blame videogames for everything actual proof that they don’t know what they’re talking about on this particular subject and hopefully we can keep our calm and educate them with truth, facts and the Geeky way. We can also breathe a sigh of relief that the video game addiction we are proudly passing on to our gamer children is not, in fact, messing them up in any way and maybe someday we’ll stop sniping them from 300 yards away in CTF games and actually let them capture the flag once in a while.

Secondly, we can make sure that, if our kids do game, we help them to game responsibly. At some point, hopefully early and often, we have the “just like on TV, videogames aren’t real and you shouldn’t try anything on them without asking us first” talk. And of course, for the non-gamers, try to make sure you put the console somewhere where you can supervise to make sure the game is appropriate for the gamer (though hopefully you were able to do this before paying for it) and make sure to check any games that they borrow from friends. I know some parents who have their kids educated enough to just come up to them and ask “Hey, Bobby let me borrow this game. Can I play it?” before they even try to get it near the console. It can be done, guys.

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So, there you have it–the truth about video game violence.

Lastly, we can take our Gamer Geeks up on high and let them shout it from the rooftops:

Gaming Does Not Make Me A Criminal.


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