Evidence shows violent video games may boost aggression

Evidence shows violent video games may boost aggression

A Fairmont student plays a violent video game.

The year 1974 holds great significance in the world of electronic entertainment. With the release of the Atari game Pong that year, families and friends could enjoy electronic games right on their television. From these humble beginnings to today’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4 and World of Warcraft serving over 10 million players, video games have evolved rapidly alongside technology.

However, these games also spin quite a bit of controversy, and most of it concerns whether or not violent video games make those who play them more aggressive. Now, a new Ohio State University study provides the first experimental evidence that the negative effects of such games can accumulate over time.

The Dayton Daily News reported that the study, by Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology, involved 70 French college students who were randomly assigned to play a violent or non-violent video game for 20 minutes on three consecutive days. After each game session, the participants engaged in exercises that measured their aggression and hostile expectations. Those who had played the violent games showed an increase in aggression that grew each day; they also had decreased feelings of empathy and compassion for others.

Bushman, however, stopped short of linking such increased aggression to violent criminal behavior, such as school shootings.

The OSU study seems to validate the thoughts of Fairmont school psychologist Karen Johnson. “I don’t think there’s a direct correlation between video games and violence, but there is something I do see in some students,” Johnson said. “Video games can desensitize students to violence. I feel that it’s risky for students, especially younger ones, to play over-the-top games like Manhunt.”

The game Manhunt is one of the most violent games of all time, as is its sequel Manhunt 2. Both games have had exceptional controversy around them, the latter game acquiring an Adults-Only rating for its over-the-top violence. The first game in the series has been banned in multiple countries, including Canada and Germany.

“I think the level of violence in a game is important in terms of how it will affect students,” said Johnson. “Like I said, you’re risking desensitization to violence with students.”

Video game controversy has been a hot topic on Capitol Hill as well as in the streets since 1976, when a game called Death Race was released for the Atari. Based on the film Death Race 2000, the game focused on running down “gremlins,” which many saw as pedestrians. Other lightning rods for attention were the customized version of Doom created by the 1999 Columbine killers and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ so-called Hot Coffee mod, in which players could access sexually explicit mini-games within the storyline.

While these games hold a variety of elements, violence is often the biggest topic among debaters of the issues.  In California, a law restricting the sale of Mature and Adults-Only rated games to minors was struck down in 2011, but not before creating a firestorm of controversy. The law was hotly debated as an issue of free speech before being ruled unconstitutional. In his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that there is “no tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to violence.”

Johnson said she feels that even if the restriction on selling to minors had been upheld, it would be a futile effort to keep violent games out of the hands of children. “I feel like it’d be incredibly difficult to enforce,” she said. “Parents are still going to buy these games and play them with their kids, or kids are going to see them playing these games. Plus, the video game industry has a lot of power and a lot of money to lobby in this country, and they’d fight any kind of restrictive laws.”