Increase in Violent Behavior due to Violent Gaming

Scott Armistead

The term “game” is one that has continually changed. In the past, a game would be considered going outside and playing. An example of this would be the timeless classic game of “tag.” In this game, the objective is not to be the one to get tagged. A group of people run around, and one person is the person who is it. His or her objective is to tag someone else. Once someone is tagged, he or she then becomes the person who is it and the game continues in this manner. Obviously, this is considered a non-violent game that clearly promotes exercise and activity, all the while being outside in the fresh air with friends having fun. However, in present day the term “game” has changed. When one thinks of the term “game” now, one thinks of a handheld controller, with a console in front of a television that is portraying movements dictated by the user who is moving knobs and pressing buttons on said controller. Although what one thinks of when hearing the term game has changed, the persons who are playing these games have not changed. The people who are playing these games are still young to adolescent individuals who have not fully developed physically or mentally. These games are having an effect on these children as they are getting impressions of what is deemed acceptable in society outside the world of the game.

            Children playing these video games may not possibly be a problem if they would combine the playing of the video games with the playing outside in what they would call “old fashioned” games (an example being that game of tag). However, many children are not doing this. Additionally, the children are not playing games that would be classified appropriate for their age or mental or cognitive development. There are appropriate games out there, yes. Examples of these types of games would be games said to be “non-violent.” Examples of some non-violent video games include sports games (FIFA Soccer, NBA Basketball), musical games (Guitar Hero, Rock Band), and puzzle games (Tetris). These are only a handful of “non-violent” games. As one can see, there are multiple games available for a person to play that do not provoke any form of violence or harm to anything or anyone. However, children are not playing these games; children are choosing to play games that are not advertised for their age groups. The games the children are playing are extremely violent and bloody games where the objective of each said game is to kill, damage, or harm someone or something. Examples of these games would be “first person shooter” games (Killzone, Call of Duty) or “shoot ‘em up” games (Space Invaders, Spacewar). As children and adolescents are playing these games, the number of violent incidents in schools and out of schools for this age group has been slowly increasing. The increasing use of violent video games has been provoking and increasing violent behaviour in children today.

            Before one debates whether or not the use of violent video games affects children’s cognitive functioning enough to increase the violent behavior he or she portrays, one must initially define what characterises are said to be “violent” or “non-violent.” Furthermore the definition of “video game” must be clarified. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “violent” (adjective) is defined as “using or involving physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill someone or something” (“violent”). That is, when a person acts with intent to hurt someone, that person is acting violently; when a person acts with the intent to kill another person, that is an act of violence. Also, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “non-violence” (noun) is defined as “avoidance of the use of violence, especially as a principle” (“non-violence”). Thus, any act that attempts to avoid violence is characterized as a non-violent act.  The term “video game” is one that is required to be defined before anything else is discussed. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “video game” (noun) is defined as “a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or other display screen” (“video game”).

            Various pieces of research conducted that have used the terms “violent video games;” however, in all of these pieces of research the definitions of each are neither clear nor concise. In an article printed in the CyberPsychology and Behavior journal, titled “The Appeal of Violent Video Games to Lower Educated Aggressive Adolescent Boys from Two Countries,” a “violent video game” was surveyed to assess what constituted one. To classify the games as violent, two independent raters “coded whether players were required to kill humans in order to advance in these games” (Lemmens 639). In an additional piece of research “Aggressive and Non-violent Videogames: Short-term Psychological and Cardiovascular Effects on Habitual Players,” presented in the Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, Bruno Baldaro defines a violent video game by the name of “Unreal Tournament.” According to this, a “violent video game” is a game that “consists of moving through a very detailed three dimensional labrynth, where three other players, guided by the computer fight with each other and the player” (Baldaro 204). Thus, in this second piece of research, a violent video game is described as a detailed and three dimensional area in which players are fighting with each other.

            Now that the terms have been defined, one must ask what causes these games to be played so often and also what effects the continual playing of these games has on the cognitive functions of the players. To do this, the issue must be split into two parts: the reasons that players are playing the games so often (thus, causes of playing violent video games) and the effects that the continual playing of the games has on a person (thus, the effect of violent video games). Various pieces of research have been conducted concerning violent video games. In many of these pieces of research, the researchers stated their findings as to both the causes and effects of the violent video games on a child’s behavior.

            In an article presented on the website for Psychology Today, there are a few causes to explain the increasing popularity in violent video games. In the article titled “Violent Video Games and Movies Causing Violent Behavior,” reasons included that the game presented a challenging situation to overcome. This does not present a direct correlation to why the video game genre choice of violence is increasing. However, it does show why the games in general are becoming more popular. In the same article, another reason for the increase in popularity and play time of video games is presented is that the games are played to “cope with [players] emotions;” i.e. the video games allow players to “create their own worlds” which can effectively “relieve stress” (Beresin 11). Effectively, the creation of the player’s own world allows the player to do whatever the player wishes; things that are not legal in the world are, in fact, legal in the world created by the gamer. This is a strong reason players play video games in general. However, in the same article, Beresin mentions that the video games can “isolate kids or have addictive potential” (11). By isolating and addicting the gamer to the game, the game is essentially taking away what the person would have in the outside, real world. Enough addiction and isolation will prove to cause the gamer to lose friends and connections that were once there, and in the long run leave the gamer to be alone with just the game and their own personal “gamer” world around them.

A second piece of research mentions a different reason that the games are becoming increasingly popular. In M. Brandon Robbins’ article titled “Games and Violence,” the reasoning is “I appreciate that I can live out my fantasies of being a detective, a knight-errant and a special ops agent all in one gaming session.” This shows that the gamer can, once again, become whomever he or she wishes to become in the game world without any further repercussions. This ability is, again, only possible in the world of video games as in the real world; if one was to become a detective, it would require years of training. One would not be able to become a knight-errant in today’s society, and once again if one was to become a special ops agent it would, again, take years of training. The effect that a violent video game has on a person is also another aspect that must be taken into consideration when discussing the increasing violence in children with relation to video gaming.

Furthermore, Brad J. Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, researched the topic of violent video games (in regards to children and behavior) and published his findings in an article titled “The Effects of Violent Video Games: Do They Affect Our Behavior?” Bushman provides evidence that supports the idea that “people learn better when they are involved,” as “in first person shooter games people have the same perspective as the shooter” so “players are more likely to identify with a violent character” (6). As Bushman concludes the study, it is seen that “… boys who played a violent video game were more aggressive afterwards than boys who merely watched” (6). This piece of research shows a direct positive correlation between the playing of violent video games and the aggression levels of children who were playing them; the boys who played a violent video game were in fact acting in a more aggressive manner than the boys who did not play the game. A secondary piece of research conducted by Christopher R. Engelhardt and associates shows the effects that violent video games have on the cognitive functioning of individuals. The research supports the idea that “exposure to [violent video games] may activate various associative networks associated with aggressive emotions, which, in turn, should jointly activate aggressive cognitions and increase the probability of aggressive behavior” (Engelhardt et al. 540). This shows that violent video games may in fact “increase the probability” (Engelhardt et al. 540) of gamers to turn to violence after playing a violent video game.

            However, what does all of this mean? One must ask, does the increase in playing of the violent video games in fact increase violence in children? If so, how is this idea being supported?

            Once again, there have been multiple studies that have been dedicated to the topic of violence in children and adolescents following playing violent video games. Included in this, theories already circulate in the fields of psychology regarding violence and violent video games. In a study conducted by Teena Willoughby and associates, “From a social learning perspective, adolescents who play violent video games may imitate the aggression that they observe in the games… Specifically, physiological arousal from a stimulus (e.g., violent video games) can linger after that stimulus is gone and transfer to a further encounter” (Willoughby et al. 1044). These statements confirm that the idea of violent video games affecting children’s behavior have been around for many years already, yet no proof has been present in the presentation of the arguments thus far. However, in the same article, Willoughby et al. state that “studies have found a positive association between violent video game play and aggression” (1044). This is further supported by the findings of the research: “the correlations between aggression and violent video game play were small (i.e., in the .20 range)” (Willoughby et al. 1050). However, following this statement it is noted that “these correlations suggest that it is violent video game play rather than nonviolent game play that is more strongly linked to aggression” (Willoughby et al. 1050). This study has in fact shown a direct correlation that violent video game play increased the aggression (thus, violence levels) in the players, who happen to be adolescents. It should be noted that the players chosen to play the violent video games and be tested were also children in grade 9 of their schooling years.

            In a second study, directed by Vincent Cicchirillo and Rebecca M. Chory-Assad, the effects of video game play on aggressive thoughts and behaviors were studied. In this research, “participants played a violent or nonviolent video game for 10 minutes. Participants then performed a word completion task and judged the researcher’s competence, courtesy, and deservedness of financial support” (435). Essentially, this research is studying the extent to which games may modify a person’s personality traits. The results of this experiment showed support for the idea of the violent video games negatively affecting the cognitive workings of the person playing the game. Circchirillo states “…consistent with the hypothesis, individuals who scored high in affective orientation and played the violent video game rated the researcher as less courteous and less deserving of financial aid” (Cicchirillo and Chory-Assad 443). This shows that the violent video game affected the cognitive functioning of the player as the players who did not play the violent video game found the researcher more courteous and were more obliged to give the researcher financial aid. Thus, this shows that the violent video game had a negative impact on the cognitive functioning’s, as without the violent video game the players were more willing to be helpful towards the researcher. Although this was not greatly supported, it is still clear that there is a correlation present; and the idea of violent video games increasing the aggression levels (by way of thought processes in this case) is also supported by this evidence.

            Finally, in a third piece of research presented in the journal Aggressive Behavior, Hanneke Polman and associates published a study titled “Experimental Study o the Differential Effects of Playing Versus Watching Violent Video Games on Children’s Aggressive Behavior.” In their research, Polman et al. initially lay out a cause of why gamers play the video games so often; “the person playing a video game virtually becomes the character of the video game” (256). This study was conducted with regards to “whether violent gaming frequency was related to aggressive behavior” (Polman et. al. 260). In this study, the findings were, once again, consistent with supporting the idea of violent video games increasing violent behavior in the gamers who played them. Polman used two variables for his study: an “active violent” and “passive violent” variable. The children who were the “active violent” variable played a violent video game; and the children who were “passive violent” variables simply watched this video game being played. The results of this study were consistent with the idea that playing a violent video game will increase violent behavior in the gamer. This is shown by “boys in the active violent video game condition were more aggressive than boys in the passive violent game condition” (Polman et. al. 261). This shows that playing the violent video game caused the boys to become more aggressive than merely watching the exact same violent video game. Active participation made boys behave more aggressively than those who simply watched.

            In a separate piece of research, a researcher attempts to break the linkage between violent video games and violent behavior. Christopher J. Ferguson titled his paper “The School Shooting/Violent Video Game Link: Causal Relationship or Moral Panic?” In this paper, Ferguson attempts to disprove the theory that violent video games negatively affect a person’s behavior; however, as one reads the article it is clear that it does not accurately research the information regarding such hypotheses. Ferguson states, “The reality is that… as violent video games have become more prevalent, violent crimes have decreased dramatically” (33). However, as mentioned in the title, this article is related to the school violence rate. School violence does not necessarily have to be classified as a “violent crime,” as school violence could be anything from physically abusing right the way through to, more recently,  “cyber bullying,” that is abuse via the means of technology. This clearly shows a flaw in such research as the majority of violence in the modern school system is not deemed serious enough to be reported to the police as a violent crime. Thus, by commenting how the violent video games do not affect the violent behavior of the children at school, Ferguson is not including the acts deemed not worthy of the criminal justice system.

            In conclusion, by initially defining what is meant by the term “violent video game,” followed by discussing the cause and effects of such games, one can see through the research analyzed that violent video games do indeed have a negative effect on a gamer’s behavior. Additionally, by revealing a major flaw in a piece of research attempting to disprove the topic, the argument was further enhanced. Through the research that had been conducted, one can see that the games did increase the violent thoughts and behavior, along with the aggression levels of each of the subjects involved in the separate experimental pieces of research. Although it may not be a perfect correlation in each of the studies, it cannot be ignored that there was correlational intertwining between the three separate studies, presented by three separate researchers.


Works Cited

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Bushman, Brad J. “The Effects Of Violent Video Games. Do They Affect Our Behavior?” International Human Press. 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2013

Cicchirillo, Vincent, and Rebecca M. Chory-Assad. “Effects Of Affective Orientation And Video Game Play On Aggressive Thoughts And Behaviors.” Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 49.4 (2005): 435-449. Academic Search Premier.15 Apr. 2013.

Engelhardt, Christopher R., Bruce D Bartholow, and J. Scott Saults. “Violent And Nonviolent Video Games Differentially Affect Physical Aggression For Individuals High Vs. Low In Dispositional Anger.” Aggressive Behavior 37.6 (2011): 539-546. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Apr. 2013

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Polman, Hanneke, Bram Orobio de Castro, and Marcel A.G . van Aken. “Experimental Study Of The Differential Effects Of Playing Versus Watching Violent Video Games On Children’s Aggressive Behavior.” Aggressive Behavior 34.3 (2008): 256-264. Academic Search Premier. 15 Apr. 2013.

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“Violent.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford English Dictionary. 2013. Web. 27 February 2013.

Willoughby, Teena, Paul J. C. Adachi, and Marie Good. “A Longitudinal Study Of The Associations Between Violent Video Game Play And Aggression Among Adolescents.” Developmental Psychology 48.4 (2012): 1044-1057. Academic Search Premier. 15 Apr. 2013.