Why I don't Believe Violent Computer Games lead to Violent Youths
Scientists have been studying the effects of media on young people for approximately forty years, and many issues still remain unresolved. Violent video games and the young people who play them have been under public scrutiny for years, particularly since the early 1990s, when home video game systems became more popular and games like Mortal Kombat, Doom and Duke Nukem were released. Throughout the 1990s, as gaming technology became more sophisticated and gameplay became more realistic, the media and parents groups began making correlations between violent video games and high-profile school shootings and other violent crimes.
The assertion that violent video games cause young people to become more aggressive and to commit violent acts in real life is informed by fallacious reasoning. Some people who commit high-profile acts of violence also play violent video games.
People see the correlation between violent video games and acts of violence and assume that the video games caused the incidents. However, correlation between violent games and acts of violence does not mean that the games caused the behavior in question. It is a possibility that people who are predisposed to commit violent acts are attracted to media that depict graphic violence, including video games. This is an important distinction to make, since there may be an element of self-selection. Self-selection is a type of selection bias where people select themselves into a group; in this case, people with violent personalities may be more likely to play violent games. This makes it difficult to determine whether the games influenced their behavior or whether their behavior would have been the same even without the influence of violent media in their lives.
There have been many scientific studies investigating the effects of violent video games on the people who play them. However, one flaw that many prominent, frequently-cited studies share is the focus on short-term effects on players. Some studies on very young children describe the effects of a short period of gameplay over the course of minutes or hours. Courts across the United States have routinely rejected studies that purport to show a causal relationship between violent games and violent behavior in children and teenagers. Judges assert that there is not sufficient evidence in existing research that proves that violent games cause violent behavior. In June 2011, the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a California law that would have imposed penalties for the sale of violent video games to minors. The ruling was partially the result of inconclusive evidence in the research presented to the Supreme Court by the state of California.
The social climate in the United States is a factor not often considered in debates about violent video games. Between 1995 and 2008, rates of violent crimes committed by people under 18 fell over 40 percent; rates of murders committed by juveniles decreased over 70 percent. It was during this time that highly realistic games like the Grand Theft Auto series were released and annual sales of video games quadrupled. Such a drastic decrease in juvenile violence during a time when video games show a drastic increase in sales calls into question the conclusion that video game violence influences real-life violence. That conclusion is further called into question by the lower rates of murders committed by juveniles in Japan, a country where video game sales are nearly ten times that of the United States. Over 2200 murders by juveniles were committed in the United States in 2005, compared to 73 in Japan. The correlation between real-life violence and video games violence seems to be relevant only in the United States.
Much of the concern over violent video games influencing children and teenagers is manufactured by the mainstream media. Exploiting people's fears about the safety of their children is an effective way of increasing ratings. Traumatic national events like school shootings are not easily forgotten, and people look for easy answers to why and how such complex and terrifying things happen. It is easy to blame violent video games. However, in nearly twenty years of scientific research, no causal relationship has been found between violent behavior and violent games. A continued fixation on violent video games is not a viable solution to the problem of juvenile violence in the United States. Continued media intervention means that it is likely that violent video games will continue to be implicated in youth violence.
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