Violent video games = violent kids?
Maybe you decided you want to read this article because you firmly believe kids should not play violent video games and you think I support your view. Well, that's not the case. Even if it was, I'm no thought leader when it comes to the topic, only a good writer and thinker who likes researching and summarising it all in an article. So, I suppose my validation of your beliefs would not be worth much anyway.
After this initial disclaimer, it's time for me to play devil's advocate.
So, let's take it from the start.
Do violent video games turn kids into violent individuals? No. Research says so.
Christopher Ferguson, professor of psychology at Stetson University (1), has dedicated more than a decade to studying the issue and could not find any empirical evidence to link violent video games and violent behaviour in real life. He also identified several flaws in the methodology of existing research that claimed otherwise. If you do not want to take my word for it and rather understand his research in more detail yourself, I recommend you listen to this podcast episode (2).
If you're looking for an actual case study, you can turn to the research by Simone Kühn (3), who assessed the effects of playing a violent video game, a nonviolent one and no video game at all, in a longitudinal study where the participants engaged in one of the three aforementioned activities for two months. No significant personality changes in any one of the three groups, even when it came to aggression levels, were found.
That said, it’s important to note that violent video games can result in violent individuals if they present certain characteristics.
As stated by Dr. Whitney DeCamp from the department of sociology of Western Michigan University:
"Violent behaviour is much better predicted with factors of their home life: whether or not they have a close relationship with their parents, whether they see or hear violence in their home or neighbourhood, whether they have been the victim of violence themselves(4)”
Moreover, the Swedish Media Council explained that:
“Either aggressive people look for violent video games to play, or that underlying factors contribute to both aggression and a preference for violent video games (5)”
Very well. So should we encourage kids to go play shooting and looting games now?
That is a moral question rather than one that can be answered by quoting relevant research. Parents and caregivers might think letting their kids play violent games is morally wrong and they can therefore exercise their right to have a certain set of values.
Now that we know there's no empirical evidence to connect violent video games and acts of violence and that adults can decide for themselves in terms of what their kids are going to play, shouldn't this article end here? What's the problem now? Can't I just ask the producers of a shooting game to sponsor my content for saving their face and end it here?
The problems that come with identifying violent games as the only cause for violent behaviour in young people:
1 The political /societal problem
I could go off on a more political tangent, explaining that it’s important to know that violent video games do not make violent kids, as opposed to what certain American politicians and media outlets led the public to believe to justify mass shootings. Many politicians bought by the gun lobby want to deflect blame for shootings onto anything else but the ludicrous ease of getting a gun in some parts of the United States.
After all, society loves scapegoating to blame anything other than itself for its own shortcomings.
2 The generalisation problem
When we accept a simple yet comforting belief such as violent games = violent kids who shoot, we usually do not dig deeper into an issue. In this case, we could be asking ourselves: if videos games alone are not the cause of violent behaviour, what are the other factors contributing to it? Why do kids choose to play violent games in the first place? How do they come to that decision?
What have the metaverse and education got to do with all this? After all, they are the focus of this newsletter.
What worries me is the high definition realism and immersion the video game industry is striving for. It has come a long way since the days of quarter-fed arcade machines. High-powered PC's can produce cutting edge graphics that deliver complete immersion into a gaming world (6). On top of the graphical realism, video game stories are making players more emotionally invested than ever before. The more realistic the game, the more time the player is going to invest in it.
From an educational standpoint, that sounds perfect. Would you not want a medical student to understand the inner workings of the right artery through an accurate and realistic virtual reality experience? Would you not want children to understand emotions and empathy through a behaviourally realistic reproduction of a real life scenario in the metaverse?
But what happens when this hyper-realism is applied to a shooting game?
A study conducted by the university of York found no connection between realism in games and increase in violent behaviour (7). And so did many other similar studies. However, just like some adults would not allow their kids to play violent games because it’s morally wrong, I am worried about video game realism in the same way. But maybe that could be the focus of another article?
What do you think? Do you think violent games per se are the cause of violent behaviour in children? How important is to take the research into account? And what about metaversic and virtual reality realism? What are the dangers and opportunities?