This is a node your homework. This paper was originally written in 2001 and is current as of that time. If anyone has more current information /msg me and I will include it.
By Matthew Scouten
On the morning of April 20, 1999, tragedy struck Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Two deranged students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, went on a shooting spree, killing 13 people and wounding many more. As the nation grieved with the survivors of this horrible tragedy, one question rose to everyone’s mind. Why?
Much was made of the fact that the shooters frequently played Doom, a popular, first person shooter video game. Many believed that the violent nature of this game both desensitized the shooters to violence and trained them to be efficient killers. This sparked a national outcry against violence in the media and violent video games in particular.
But how strong is the connection in reality? Do violent video games result in school violence? Are they effective combat trainers? And how do we prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future?
In this paper, I will explore both the effects of violent video games and the causes of school violence.
Violent play and childhood exposure to violence is nothing new. In ancient Rome, gladiators were pitted against each other and animals in the coliseum. This was considered wholesome family entertainment.
Fast-forward 2000 years. In interviewing my parents about this subject, I discovered that violent play among children is anything but novel. Although they lacked sophisticated electronic assistance, they were hardly prevented from playing games of “Cowboys and Indians”, “War”, and various other simulations of violent behavior. I’m told that these games were as real in their imagination as any video game appears on the screen. In fact, my nonviolent mother reports both receiving and inflicting injuries due to high velocity, projectile acorns.
I remember in my youth, not so long ago, my mother forbade toy guns in her house. She considered them inappropriate. Did this stop me and my brothers from imagining violent scenarios? Hardly. In our imagination, balls became grenades, brooms became rifles, and 4-foot long section of 2-inch PVC pipe became a powerful rocket launcher. Even our backyard play set became at various times a fortress, a tank, an airplane and even a spaceship. Even when lacking this frightfully destructive arsenal of everyday items, we could still point our finger and say, “Bang, you’re dead!”
Despite all this, as far as I know, no member of my family has ever shot a single person!
Obviously, the phenomenon of violent video games is merely an extension of the age old practice of violent and aggressive play among children. But the question remains: “Does this new high tech vehicle provide greater realism than older purely imaginary methods of violent play? And if it does, is this realism as corrosive to individual morals as some would have you believe.
To quote Dr. Jeanine Funk, a psychologist at the University of Toledo and a parent, “[The] research is not exactly there to support it.”
As of 1996, only 8 peer-reviewed studies had been conducted on the connection between violence and violent video games among children (in contrast, in the same year, there were 49 studies of quantum teleportation, a particularly esoteric field of advanced physics). Of these 8 studies, 4 found definite correlations, 3 found no relationship at all, and one found effects for girls but not for boys. A more recent study by Dr. Jeanine Funk, reported an apparent negative correlation for the 10 years old subjects.
This study involved first administering a personality test to the subject, and then observing their selection of video games from a number of games available. Those subjects who preferred violent video games scored higher on the Internalization and Anxious Depressive scales and tended to be withdrawn rather than aggressive. Those who preferred nonviolent video games scored higher on the Delinquent Behaviors scale and tended to be more aggressive. On the surface, this appears to indicate that children who prefer non-violent video games are violent now, whereas children who prefer the violent games either express their aggressive tendencies through the video game, or become ticking time bombs, ready to explode at some later date. Does this mean we should encourage our children to play violent video games? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. But it certainly seems to indicate that video games are not the root of all violence.
WHERE IS THE VIOLENCE?
In determining the true causes of violence, it may be instructive to consider where the majority of school violence takes place. It would seem logical to conclude that most school violence occurs in poor inner city schools, located in gang-controlled areas. This can be backed up by statistics. Of city schools, 17% report one or more violent crimes per year. In the urban fringe area, this number drops to 11%. In affluent suburban and small town areas, only 5% of schools report one or more violent crimes per year. In rural areas, this number drifts up somewhat to 8% (source 4). As you can see less advantaged urban schools have considerably more violence than the relatively richer suburban areas.
If violent video games truly result in violent behavior, then school violence ought to be concentrated in high-income suburbs rather than inner city areas. Why would violence be greater in the areas that can least afford luxuries such as video games? This contradiction forces us to assume that if violent video games are truly a cause of violence, these effects are vastly outweighed by other influences, such as gang presence and poverty.
HOW BAD IS THE VIOLENCE?
In the wake of a tragedy like Columbine, it is tempting to assume that school violence is getting worse. After all, nothing like this has ever happened before, has it?
But in truth, the tragedy at Columbine was not a pattern but an anomaly. In the 1992-1993 school year, there were 55 deaths related to school shootings nation-wide. This number fell each year until it reached 25 deaths in the 1996-1997 school year. In 1997-1998, it spiked to 40 deaths but then dropped back to 26 in the 1998-1999 school year. This indicates a general decrease in the level of violence in schools. Remember this fact, we will come back to it later.
WHO USES VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES?
Violent video games can only affect children if children are the ones playing the video games. This would seem to be a matter of course. Video games are toys. Therefore, it must be the children who use them, right?
Wrong. As of 1998, 61% of all video game players are greater than 18 years old, and 35% of video game players were older than 35 years old. In fact the average age of video game players is 28 years old. These statistics indicate that young men and adults are playing the majority of video games. After a certain age, people are much less likely to be permanently affected by exposure to violence. Assuming that they are psychologically healthy in the first place, an 18 year old is unlikely to suffer any permanent psychological damage by playing a few violent video games.
Another important factor to look at is the general trend of video game sales. In the year 1995, the total video game sales reached 3.2 billion. This figure has increased each year and reached as high as 6 billion in the year 2000. Video game sales are increasing. The violence in schools is decreasing. If you assume that video games cause violence, then these figures make very little sense. If video games truly caused violence, then how could more video games result in less violence? The answer is that violent video games are not truly an important cause of school violence.
HOW VIOLENT ARE VIDEO GAMES ANYWAY?
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a group consisting of psychologists and other experts. The purpose of the ESRB is to assign ratings to video games much like the current system for rating movies. These ratings include “E” for everyone, “T” for teen, and “M” for mature (there are also ratings for early childhood and adults only but these are rarely assigned).
Since its creation in 1994, the ESRB has rated over 7240 games (source 10) up to when. Of all these games, 71% have been rated E, 19% have been rated T, and only 7% were rated M. In 2001, 90% of the best selling video games were rated acceptable for children 6 and up. A brief inspection of the games listed on the web site convinced me that the games are rated in an appropriate, if not slightly harsh, manner. Although not everyone would necessarily agree with my assessment, the information is available on the ESRB web site for parents to make their own evaluation of what ratings are appropriate for their children.
One might wonder if these ratings serve only to point out to children which video games have all the cool violence in them. The fact is, though, that adults purchase 9 out of 10 video games. Parents have control over the video games that children are exposed to via the power of the purse string. As long as most video games are priced between $20 and $50 children will only have access to them through their parents.
SKILL TRANSFER: HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT?
It is commonly argued by video game alarmists that many video games (especially first person shooters) train children to be efficient and effective killers. Even if video games don’t make children violent, they say, the games will train those who already have a propensity toward violence to be that much more deadly.
On the surface, this seems to make sense. After all, the video games do simulate activities such as aiming, firing, sniping, and other combat skills.
Upon closer examination however, this argument falls apart. The act of aiming a real gun is a very different visual motor activity than the act of aiming a video game gun. In a video game, there is usually a visual reticule or aim point that shows exactly where the shot will go where it is fired. A real gun does not have such sophisticated aiming devices. Unless the gun is equipped with an expensive laser sight, then aiming involves lining up a notch, a post, and your target in a straight line. This is a much more difficult activity than simply placing the reticule over the target and pulling the trigger.
Now, about that trigger. A video game usually does not have an actual trigger. Instead, the player presses a button on the controller and clicks a mouse button. This is a very different activity from squeezing a trigger on a real gun. It does not, for example, teach the player that it is important to squeeze the trigger slowly to achieve more accurate aim. Also, once the trigger is pulled, a video game weapon and a real weapon behave very differently. In a video game, a sound effect is made and the bullet goes forth to strike its target. A real weapon almost always has terrific recoil. Also, the noise made by a real gun is orders of magnitude louder than the sound effect produced by a video game weapon. If the game weapons were as loud as the real thing, video game makers would face constant law suites for deafening children
When firing a real weapon, certain postures and positions will result in a steadier, more reliable aim. These postures are not the postures that are learned by slouching in a chair and clicking a mouse.
Also, when firing a machine gun in the real world, it is necessary to use short, controlled bursts. Simply holding the trigger down will result in the gun behaving like a fire hose and taking over control of the aim. A video game machine gun usually has little to no recoil effect. The player can simply hold the trigger and spray a stream of bullets wherever they want.
As you can see video games not only fail to teach accurate and efficient killing, they actually teach what a true expert gunman would consider bad habits!
NotFabio adds: From my own experience, I won't play video games before deploying. The rapid hand/eye reflex and timing developed by mouse driven shooters interferes with real life shooting. I hear pro athletes are the same way with sports video games.
IF NOT VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES, THEN WHAT?
So if video games are not causing violence in school, then what is? School violence has many causes. A Surgeon General's report on youth violence lists many risk factors including: depression, domestic violence, bullying, gang activity, high local crime rate, past aggression, and others. Any one of these items may be a cause of violence. Video games are not listed.
Both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been the subjects of bullying and had shown signs of depression. Although they did play violent video games, it is not logical to assume that their violence was a result of their gaming.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT SCHOOL VIOLENCE?
Too reduce school violence, we must stop scapegoating and attack the real causes. According to fact sheets from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, school violence is a public health problem. Safe schools require a positive and welcoming environment, free of intimidation and fear. This means cracking down on bullying and fighting neighborhood crime. Schools also need to identify and treat student who show signs of depression or unusual aggression.
People like to believe that tragedy can never happen to them. When tragedy does strike, we want to find a reason. Sometimes though, the reasons are complex or not obvious. In cases like Columbine, it is tempting to point our finger at the first scapegoat that comes along. We feel that if we can only stop the violence in video games, then we can stop the violence in our real lives. Real life though, is not that simple. If only it were.
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