Video Games and the Increase in Adolescence Aggressive Behavior Thesis

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exciting about video games is you don't just interact with the game physically -- you're not just moving your hand on a joystick, but you're asked to interact with the game psychologically and emotionally as well. You're not just watching the characters on screen; you're becoming those characters.

Nina Huntemann, Game Over

Violent Video Games: Do they Cause Violent Behavior?

Disasters such as school shootings in Colorado and in other academic institutions have prompted national and international concern over media that children watch and are involved in and the consequent result in their level of aggression (Ferguson, 2007). The majority of studies have focused on the impact of TV in producing aggression and a significant amount of studies have indeed noted an association. Relatively few studies, however, have been conducted on video games and whether or not these stimulate inspired violence. Moreover results are mixed. Ferguson, (2007) conducted a meta-analysis on 30 review studies showing that researchers had arrived at mixed conclusions of the impact of the games. There were differences between the range of games, subject pool, and treatment time and design and all of these complicated results. Some researchers assert that playing violent video games results in violent behavior whilst others affirm that no parallel can be drawn. Reviewers of the literature are equally confused. Each accuses the other of publication bias with critics arguing that opponents of violent video games exaggerate the negative outcome whilst avoiding possible positive outcome. Opponents of those games, however, accuse their critics of the same agenda saying that their personal identities and self-interest are so linked with the games that they deliberately avoid seeing the negative repercussions. It may be, however, that the situation is far more complex. So many variables exist into testing whether or not violent games have an effect. Conditions include length of the game, kind of game, specific culture, context, characteristics of user, and so forth. The author of this research, therefore, suggests that delineating determining variables for the confusion -- singling out the variables that cause contradictory results- will help social researchers better define the problem and implement studies that will have clearer results.


The video game enterprise is huge. Studies estimate that more than 80% of homes with boys 8-16 years old possess these games and that the video manufacturing industry is larger than the film one (Ferguson, 2007). Currently, one can play video games on computers, consoles (e.g., Xbox 360, PlayStation, Wii), handhelds (e.g., Nintendo DS), computers, iPods, personal digital assistants, and mobile telephones. Violence has grown by leaps and bounds. Even as far back as 1993, a survey showed that 88%of boys and 66% of girls reported playing these games at least one hour a week, whilst 29% of boys reported playing them at least 3-6 hours a week (ibid.) it is presumed that given the far greater range of mediums that users can access for playing the games, these statistics have increased. The same study showed that half of the adolescents preferred games displaying violent content (17%) or fantasy violence (31.9%), whilst other prefer nonviolent demonstration of sport (29.4%), vernal entertainment (19.7%), and educational themes (1.8%). Of all of these genres, therefore, fantasy violence shows the biggest cut by far. Fighting games (such as Mortal Kombat, Streetfighter and tekken) are bestseller whilst first-person shooter (Such as Quake, Doom, and Marathon) also shares first class status. Each of these above-mentioned games show exponential leaps in graphic inspired violence to earlier video games productions. Increasingly faster games are introduced over the video growing in leaps of violence. Parents and the watchdogs such as the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) are concerned by the possible ramifications of children continuously absorbed in these fantasy-real, violence-imbued games. At one time, U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop pronounced violent video games to be one of the three top factors in causing family destruction whilst a mayor of Indianapolis spearheaded law banning children under 18 years old from playing these games unless accompanied by an adult (Halladay & Wolf, 2000). In fact, a recent panel of experts assembled by the U.S. General unequivocally pronounced video games to be harmful to the moral nature of the country:

"Research on violent television and films, video games, and music reveals unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts" (Anderson et al., 2003, p. 81).

Numerous reports by professional health associations (e.g., American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, Australian College of Pediatrics, Canadian Pediatric Society) and government health agencies (e.
g., U.S. Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) have come to the same conclusions (Gentile et al., 2007; Ontario Office for Victims of Crime, 2004). Some meta-analytic studies (such as Anderson, 2004; Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Anderson et al., 2004; Sherry, 2001), clearly show a clear positive association between video games and violence. Each of these met analysis / literature reviews considered both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies and are therefore quire responsible in their qualities. All, without exception, showed that exposure to violent video games is associated with higher levels of aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and physiological arousal and with lower levels of prosocial behavior. These studies discovered that not only did video games have a significant impact on violence but that, many times, this influence exceeded that of violent TV shows and violent films. However, they (and similar ones) have also been accused of publication bias since not only did they ignore studies produced before 1995, but they were also selective in studies chosen (choosing only published ones and even then ignoring many others). For these and other reasons, these studies are incomplete.

A more recent and reliable study trying to avoid these problems found indubitable association between violence of the show and user violence and that this difference was unilateral regardless of sex and demographic differences. They attributed this due to the all-absorbing impact that the user has in the game:

It is true that as a player you are "not just moving your hand on a joystick" but are indeed interacting "with the game psychologically and emotionally." It is not surprising that when the game involves rehearsing aggressive and violent thoughts and actions, such deep game involvement results in antisocial effects on the player. (171).

The immediacy of the impact was supported by neural imagery that showed clear association between violence of the game and corresponding brain activation of brain regions that are attracted towards aggression. In an experiment conducted by Englehardt et al. (2011), participants played a violent or nonviolent video game, viewed violent and nonviolent photos while their brain activity was measured, and then gave an ostensible opponent unpleasant noise blasts. Individuals whose prior exposure to video game violence was low, showed desensitization to the violence shown on the game (as indicated by neural imagery of corresponding brain regions) and, this in turn translated into greater shows of violence eon the person's part. In other words, the greater the amount of violence portrayed on game and the more intense the user's involvement in the frame, the more desensitized the user became to the violence portrayed, and there greater the level of his aggression. However, as Englehardt et al. (2011) pointed out, what is unknown is the previous level of the user's attitude to violence: they may have been already desensitized to violence in which case their desensitization in this instance is nothing new. Similarly, it may have been another unmeasured factor that may have stimulated the neural drop in sensitivity to the portrayed violence. The authors however concluded that as far as they could see "acute desensitization to violence can account for the causal effect of violent video game exposure on aggression" (1036). Quoting from Caldwell, A Pillar of Iron, they concluded that:

"The daily spectacle of atrocious acts has stifled all feeling of pity in the hearts of men. When every hour we see or hear of an act of dreadful cruelty we lose all feeling of humanity" (ibid.)

To these researchers, at least, and to so many others, it is clear that video games have an impact on user behavior both for good and for bad. Violent video games insure violent behavior and the more graphic this violence, the more aggressive the behavior.

Parents, concerned observers, and watchdogs continue to protest, but conclusions regarding whether or not violence-inspired games are responsible for violence-inspired behavior on the part of children continues to be mixed.


In 2001, a meta-analytic study conducted by Sherry (2001) indicated that video games do have an impact on violent behavior, but this impact is small and far smaller than the impact TV has on behavior and thought. They further discovered that human and fantasy-simulated video games have a greater impact on violence than sports-violent games have. Paradoxically, it seems that the longer the game is played the less impact it has on the violence of the user. This.....

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