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Summary Article: Video Games and Violence
from Boy Culture: An Encyclopedia

Video games invaded the North American market in the mid-1980s. Very soon, the marketers of these games started including violence in them. Soon after their invention, the U.S. Army started using them to train their young recruits. After using a video game named Doom, the rate of soldiers that could actually kill other human beings went up from 50 percent to 90 percent (Grossman, 1998). Doom proved to be a First Person Shooter (FPS) video game that could be considered a murder simulator. It had the objective of breaking down the inhibitions that soldiers had against killing, and of increasing their “killer-efficiency.”

In 2003, the global sales of the industry producing and marketing video games exceeded 18 billion dollars a year, more than television and movies together. It was the fastest-growing sector in the entertainment industry, second only to music in profitability. Violence became so popular that in 2008, across North America, half of 9 to 12-year-old kids could play FPS video games, also called killer games. After playing such games, researchers found measurable decreases in prosocial behaviors, a 43 percent increase in aggressive thoughts, and a 17 percent increase in violent retaliation to provocation. Playing violent video games accounts for 13-22 percent of the variance in teenagers’ violent behavior, a higher impact than smoking cigarette, which accounts for 14 percent of the variance in lung cancer. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who has been a psychologist for the U.S. Army for 20 years, has described how video games affect brain functioning. His two books show how and why video games actually give players the skill, the will, and the thrill to kill. Apart from the tendency of video games to arouse aggression, these games provide little mental stimulation to the brain's frontal lobe, an area that plays an important role in the repression of antisocial impulses. A lack of stimulation before the age of 20 prevents the neurons from thickening and connecting, thereby impairing the brain's ability to control such impulses as violence and aggression.

In December 2007, the (German) Society for Scientific Discussion of Psychotherapy (GwG) proposed a ban on violent video games. The GwG is the largest organization of its type in Europe. It stated that brutal computer games destroy compassion and asked European parents to avoid killer games as gifts for children. Psychotherapists demanded the prohibition of games in which young people are rewarded for the killing and torture of human beings. They believed that simply labeling videos as shooter games does not make them less damaging. The GwG also mentioned that media literacy frequently functions as a smokescreen for the industry.

For most young players, violence-promoting games are a catastrophe from the standpoint of their psychological development. Many specialized psychotherapists working in counseling centers and schools have witnessed the profound damages to children and teens. They believe these games hurt souls just like landmines hurt bodies. Some believe that child abuse by the media has reached such a scale in recent years that political decision makers must take action without delay. In 2007, the news reported 37 school shootings in the United States alone. Tolerance for the commercialization of killer games allows children and teens to lose contact with reality, to increase their own frustration, and to punish innocent people around them, including members of their own family. German psychotherapists agree with U.S. pediatricians, psychologists, criminologists, and scientists who point at the entertainment industry's responsibility for the increase of youth violence. Many believe that the production, sale, and marketing of killer games should be legally prohibited and become liable to prosecution.

After being immersed for hours and days in a brutal world, after using destruction and killing as amusement and fascination, an increasing number of young children are losing their natural compassion. The younger they are, the more deeply they are affected. They behave more aggressively and find no interest in solidarity. An increasing number of teenagers spend more time with killer games than in school. And more parents become helpless and desperate when trying to compete with the power of the media. Killer games also provide a new device that helps avoid parents’ monitoring. When clicking the escape icon, the killer game disappears from the computer screen and is replaced by a game of solitaire.

German psychotherapists note that the concept of media literacy has been manipulated by the media industry for a long time. Big media funds the production of “media literacy” kits for schools. To critics, such educational tools are biased enough that they avoid blaming the industry that makes money by intoxicating kids with violence. In some North American states, the video game industry has firmly opposed any regulation of sales of violent games to minors. Where such regulations have been adopted, the industry's lawyers have challenged them in court, arguing that they deny them freedom of expression, protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Some industry advocates argue that “prohibition increases the appeal.” Other advocates argue that computer games are “objects of cultural value.” Killing and violence can thus be accepted as an “artistic convention.” Educators and parents answer that the video game industry, like other members of the global village, has the responsibility of promoting a culture of cooperation, of human rights, and of peace, instead of conditioning youth to find pleasure in killing human beings.

Further Reading
  • Grossman, Lt-Col Dave. “Trained to Kill.” (accessed April 3, 2008).
  • Rich, Michael. “Violent Video Games Testimony.” (accessed April 3, 2008).
  • Robinson, Thomas N. “Effects of Reducing Children's Television and Video Game Use on Aggressive Behavior.” Journal of the AMA.
  • Brodeur, Jacques
    Copyright 2010 by Shirley R. Steinberg, Michael Kehler, and Lindsay Cornish

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