Dealing with the link between video game violence and children's behavior
Previously published on January 28, 2008
In the past decade since the Columbine massacre of 1999, this nation has continued to see shootings by young adults and teens, which in turn, has generated fears that violent video games share some of the responsibility for these tragedies. Furthermore, parents are concerned that violent video games negatively affect their children. After all, psychological research has shown links to violent behavior and playing violent video games, albeit, the link is casual.
This means there is no direct connection showing playing violent video games causes violence. On the other hand, it has been shown that playing violent video games does increase aggression and influences aggressive cognitions, such as, aggressive thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Furthermore, it increases internal aggression and psychological arousal while it also decreases pro-social behavior, such as helping behavior.
Starting from a legal perspective, it is important to note that violent video games are a form of media, which is likely viewed as an artist expression by their creators; thus, they are entitled to certain rights under the protection of the First Amendment. On the other hand, even though children, who play the video games, have First Amendment rights, much like the adults who create them, the courts have ruled that those rights can be limited, at times, in order to protect children from harm.
Because video games can be obtained from retail stores, some legislation has banned the sales of violent video games to persons under the age of eighteen; however, this legislation has tended to be vague as to what constitutes as violence in a video game and only applies to the few counties across the Country that have been able to pass such legislation. Moreover, the greatest failure of this legislation is that video games are not only available through retail stores as they are also available from the Internet and other children.
Furthermore, security protections, which prevent children from accessing games, will not work because such security measures are generally broken fairly easily while there are already plenty of violent video games available. This means national bans are required to prevent the entrance of specific violent video games into the Country.
On the other hand, such a ban would not only affect children but adults as well. Fortunately, for the sake of our broader rights, the courts require very special circumstances before they accept limitations on the rights of adults. Like any law that restricts freedoms, a ban must be narrowly tailored and applied in such a way that it restricts the minimum number of rights necessary to accomplish its goal of protecting children from the violence in video games.
The difficulty with passing violent video game legislation, which can hold up to Constitutional challenges, is that the legislation must demonstrate a particular violent video game is more detrimental than most other sources of violence found in a child's life as violence is historically and culturally ingrained into our society. After all, just because video games are the new guy, doesn't mean we can pick on them as movies, television, and books all contain images of violent behavior.
Frankly, parents and advocate groups complain about violence in today's media, but if someone takes a look at old cartoons like Woody Wood Pecker or Bugs Bunny, they would see constant and completely senseless acts of violence almost every second of the show. Furthermore, the news and real life experiences bombard many children with real life examples of violence. Americans must serious question the validity of banning all violence in video game as the world is overburdened with far more vivid and harmful examples of violence.
From psychology, society understands that behavior is determined by multiple sources, meaning more than one influence causes behavior. Therefore, law requires evidence, which demonstrates violent video games play a significant and direct role in causing violent criminal behavior in a more detrimental way than other sources of violent images. Research demonstrates that all violent media and real world violence influence violent behavior; however, legislation cannot successful or legally attack all sources of violence.
Although there has been a great deal of research in determining there is a link between violent behavior and violent media, the research does not provide a means of determining which lines of products are more detrimental. For violent video games, this means research needs to pay closer attention to the characteristics of video games, i.e. the format, type of game, presence of a storyline, etc., so legislators can create laws which specifically target violent video games that are more likely to be more detrimental to children than real world violence and other reasonably sources of violent media.
Albeit this debate is slowly progressing, it does little to comfort a parent who is watching their child play a violent video game only to discover any attempt to arouse the child from a media induced trance not only causes the character to die but results in the throwing of the controller and a violent barrage of verbal abuse. Some researchers suggest the solution for combating the effects of violent video games is parental intervention, which is pretty much the most worthless advice to give for children, who are most likely to commit a violent crime, as the lack of quality parental involvement and abuse by the parents are two aspects that truly raise a child's risk of committing a violent crime.
On the other hand, this is good news for most parents because it means the chances of a video game turning their child into a murderer is slim. A child's overall behavior is a result of the parents shaping that behavior over the child's entire childhood. Moreover, it is true that the short term behavior of individual is often greatly influenced by peers, but children will do as their parents train them to do in the long term. If a child's behavior turns violent while playing a video game, then it is the duty of the parent to take away that video game and not give it back, under any circumstance, until they learn not to behave violently.