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Violent Video Games

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Violent Video GamesWe see the advertisements flash across our television screens. They are so realistic that at first the ads appear to be for upcoming movies. Instead, they are violent video games with characters that seem very real. These video games carry tags with them labelling them for "mature audiences only." However, research findings provide small comfort when they are examined. Essentially, the findings are that all audiences are deeply affected by these violent games regardless of age, nationality or geographic location.

The Psychological Bulletin published the results of a meta analytic study of the effects of violent video games on aggression, empathy, thinking, arousal and social behavior. The study can be found, if you wish to purchase the journal, at the following: (Psychological Bulletin. Vol 136(2), Mar 2010, 151-173).

Meta analysis refers to the statistical analysis of many small research findings. When there are many small studies it becomes possible to integrate their findings. Please keep in mind that, in conducting research, scientists value results whether they support hypotheses or not. In fact, in psychology and other behavioral sciences, researchers test the "null hypothesis," or the prediction that the results of the study will prove the hypothesis to be untrue.

In this case, the results of examining all of the myriad studies of the effects of violent video games were strongly positive. In other words, video games cause people to think and feel violent. Some of the smaller studies were done with experiments on human volunteer subjects while others were done with field studies, surveys and questionnaires. These various pieces of research were conducted around the world, particularly Japan and the United States.

In short, the meta analysis of these many studies proved that viewing violent video games affects people in the following ways:

1. They caused people to think more aggressively and violently.
2. They reduced feelings of empathy for others.
3. They increased agitated emotions.
4. In some cases, they brought about violent or aggressive behaviors.

Discussion:

More than television and movies, many video games are incredibly realistic. War games, detective stories and police shoot outs, etc, take the player directly into the action. The player shoots at and kills figures who are as close to real as possible. There is some evidence that violence in movies and on television has a detrimental effect on people. With the added reality of these games it seems logical that their effects would be that much worse.

Despite the ratings placed on these games, it is naive to believe that the "maturely rated" games will not fall into the hands of children and teenagers. After all, young people manage to view both violent and sexual movies and television despite their ratings.

From my point of view as a student of psychology and as a mental health worker and licensed clinical social worker, I know that a lot of learning happens as a result of observation of role models. This is partly why advertising is so effective. Media of all types exert a powerful influence over our feelings, tastes and preferences. Violent video games are no different except that they are that much more powerful.

In addition, these games portray human beings in the worst possible way. The enemy is demonized and worth killing. No longer human, there is every reason to attack and wipe out the enemy. This is typical of wars in which the other side is depicted as a dehumanized monster. It is bad enough that we have wars but we know all too well that the "enemy" are fellow human beings with families, wives, children, parents and feelings.

Yes, in war our soldiers are required to confront and kill the enemy. However, do we want our children or adults to leave the house pumped up with angry passions against the human race. Do we want to encourage angry acts against other people just because we have been exposed to cyber space violence?

Perhaps we cannot and should not prohibit adults from these games. When it comes to our children, healthy development and conscientious parenting requires that we monitor what we expose our children to. This includes what they listen to, watch on television and in the movies and play in terms of video games, not to mention what we should allow them to see on the Internet.

Is there a direct positive correlation between violent video games and acts of violence in school and at the work place?

What are your opinions, observations and experiences with regard to this issue?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

 




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