Real-World Violence: Are Video Games To Blame?

Video games are always taking the fall for crazy people and their evil-doings.

I don’t often voice my opinion on political issues, mostly because it gets everyone on both sides all riled up and before you know it, the “discussion” turns into a bunch of magpies squawking over one another. No one gets heard, and I try not to add to that toxic narrative.

And yet, here we are. I’m gonna do it anyway. Why? Because video games are, once again, being blamed for a psychotic person’s shooting rampage that tragically took too many young lives for seemingly no reason whatsoever. And no matter what your opinion is on gun laws and guns in general, I feel fairly certain that video games are considerably less harmful to the public, despite certain Texas officials trying to spin the tale in another direction.

Ted Cruz, guys. Love him or hate him, he sure says a lot of questionable things.

I can’t speak to some of Cruz’s other claims — that absent fathers play a role, for instance. But as a mother of a child the same age as many of the Uvalde victims, I call bullshit. Because while I’m a mom, I’m also a gamer, and if you’re not going to blame guns, then at least blame crazy people. Blame other societal issues — blame Canada, I really don’t care. But don’t blame video games, because frankly, not only does that distract from the real issue, but video games do considerably more good than they do harm.

And I can prove it — with Science!


Violence in Games

Before we get into all the awesome Science, let’s look at video games and why there is such a misplaced concern.

Video games, whether they are played on your PC or on a console system, come in all shapes and sizes — and with a variety of parental ratings. From the colourful world of Hello Kitty Online to the comparably violent Grand Theft Auto series and every game in between, the range of violence in video games seems endless.

Video games have matured considerably since the days of Pong and Space Invaders, and so have their parental ratings, with some games being rated as high as mature or adults only. Many violent games even have an additional option in the menu to toggle “blood splatter” and other potentially offensive content off. Video games are no longer just for kids, either — in fact, adults play video games more than underage gamers do.

And yet, with some of the best games this year being rated mature, it’s likely that many people under the age restrictions are playing these games anyway.

The question that many parents have when it comes to video games, especially after officials began to point their fingers at video games after the Uvalde tragedy, is this: are there legitimately negative effects due to the violent and mature gameplay that teens and young people play?

Or is it just political bullshit?


A History of Violence

The belief that the violence in video games can, in turn, create violent tendencies in gamers themselves is not a new one. Parents have questioned the potential negative effects of violent video games on their children since the 1990s. Studies show, however, that any aggression caused by video games is generally due to frustration over game mechanics, and not the violence itself.

And this doesn’t translate to hurting other people. A frustrated gamer might break a few pieces of electronics and then live with that regret, yes — but violence? Unlikely.

Further studies show that there is no direct correlation between violence or criminal behaviour in individuals and violence in video games. In fact, while violence in video games has certainly increased over the years, the number of young offenders has actually decreased.

Gamers and scientists alike have repeatedly attempted to quell parental fears about video game violence causing real-world violence, but this reassurance doesn’t always hold any water with concerned parents. The trouble with this violent gamer myth is that parents still believe it, causing video games, in general, to have earned a tarnished reputation.

A true shame, considering that many video games might actually be positive influences on those who play them, rather than negative ones.


Not All Blood and Gore

There are video games with violence to varying degrees, but there are just as many games that have none at all. Turn-based strategy games, such as the Civilization series, teach history, strategy, and mathematical skills, all without blood spatter, foul language, or gore. There are also many story-rich games that encourage strategic thinking and world exploration, such as the well-received What Remains of Edith Finch and other games of its ilk.

Young people may be missing out on the valuable education and skill-building that could aid them as adults by being kept from these beneficial games. Many parents don’t realize that the video gaming industry is a vast and varied market. Not all games are cut from the same cloth, after all, and video games can often help young people increase their productivity, confidence, and problem-solving abilities in a safe and monitored environment.

Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of Reality is Broken, says that through the virtual world of video games, we can find happiness and confidence in our abilities in ways that reality doesn’t often nurture. She goes on to say that video games could actually make the world a better place if we could only apply ourselves in reality in the same way we do in video games:

“I see a future in which games once again are explicitly designed to improve quality of life, to prevent suffering, and to create real, widespread happiness…” — Jane McGonigal

Video games can not only provide endless hours of entertainment, but they can also be an educational and safe activity for children and teens — and adults, for that matter. Despite the unfounded concerns that violence in video games can lead to yet more violence, playing video games could instead increase productivity. Playing games could help young people to nurture their social relationships and even learn a variety of new and useful skills.

What’s more, even if teens are playing games with violence, there is no evidence to support that playing those games will lead to real-world aggression:

“Attributing violence to video gaming is not scientifically sound and draws attention away from other factors, such as a history of violence, which we know from the research is a major predictor of future violence.” — APA President Sandra L. Shullman, PhD.

Take that, Texas officials.


Find Another Scapegoat, Please

Video games are not to blame — quite the opposite, according to the research I’ve cited. As Jane McGonigal said, not only are video games not the problem, but playing them could actually help make our world better.

It’s a shame that video games and the people who play them are so misunderstood. Through video games, we can find worthy heroes to look up to; we can learn to value our own skills and talents, too. Through video games, we can apply those amazing skills in the real world.

Through video games, even we can be heroes, both on and offline.

With so many benefits, gamers can only hope that the negative video game stigma will soon be extinct. Perhaps one day gamers everywhere will be able to continue to enjoy this beneficial — and fun — activity without public scorn or judgment.

I have faith that things will change — the proof is in the proverbial pudding, after all. As one unknown gamer was once aptly quoted, “if people were influenced by video games, then the majority of Facebook users would be farmers by now.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.




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