Violence in video games: what’s too much?

John Lee

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Call of Duty, Halo 4 and Resident Evil are popular among children and include violence. Photo by John Lee.

Call of Duty, Halo 4 and Resident Evil are popular among children and include violence. Photo by John Lee.

Lost in all the gun control debate that has seemingly become a snowball effect after every shooting is the government’s decision to request more studies done on the connection between video games and violence. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil and Doom have all been in question because of the violent nature of the games. Add popularity of games like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Halo 4 among young children and there is a concern that video games are linked to a violent nature as children grow up.

“Children imitate what they see,” Chrystal Klem, mother of four, said. “My boys get rowdy after playing fighting games. They tend to want to wrestle. I, however, do not believe that violence in a video game is to blame for a child acting out or for behavioral problems.”

Maxwell Hanson, a father of two, said what he feels comfortable with his children playing depends on the type of violence. Cartoonish violence, such as Halo, and objective violence, such as Call of Duty, is different from that of Grand Theft Auto IV, which Hanson said is “senseless.”

“Personally, I think that [children playing violent video games] would depend on the type of violence,” Hanson said. “As far as I’m concerned, the Call of Duty’s, the first-person shooters, I have never seen them as being too violent, but things like Grand Theft Auto where you’re adding in more of the picking up random people in cars and killing them for no reason and mowing down people in a vehicle, that’s a little bit different than being put into the role of a first-person shooter where you’re part of a task force trying to perform an objective.”

Brittney Schmitt, an avid gamer and certified medic, has an issue with children playing violent video games, but also believes that the parents should have more control over what they let their children play.

“I have a problem when parents let their kids play violent video games. That kind of stuff desensitizes you,” Schmitt said. “For instance, when a medic wants to get desensitized to all the senseless carnage that happens out on the streets they get prepared by looking at various photos of mutilations and horrible stuff like that.”
Studies have been disputed on the effect video games have on children. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) video game exposure has had negative effects on children.

“Children and adolescents can become overly involved and even obsessed with videogames,” the AACAP stated on their website. “Spending large amounts of time playing these games can create problems and lead to poor social skills, time away from family, school-work, and other hobbies, lower grades and reading less, exercising less, and becoming overweight [and] aggressive thoughts and behaviors.”
But a report from The Entertainment Software Association issued a different statement on their website.

“Numerous authorities, including the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Surgeon General, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have examined the scientific record and found that it does not establish any causal link between violent programming and violent behavior,” the ESA said. “The truth is, there is no scientific research that validates a link between computer and video games and violence, despite lots of overheated rhetoric from the industry’s detractors. Instead, a host of respected researchers has concluded that there is no link between media violence and violent crime.”

Just as any other hot topic in United States culture, there are two sides to this debate. Schmitt believes the studies are called for not only because of recent shootings but an increase of other society trends.

“Curiosity I suppose,” Schmitt said. “Maybe they notice the increase of obesity, sedentary lifestyle, cases of ADHD, hyperactivity. Not to mention all the school shootings.”

Hanson believes that it is finding something to blame negative trends of society on.
“When things like that [Newtown shooting] happen people want something on which to blame or want a cause because they want to be able to put fault or liability on something other than themselves, ‘here is the reason why he did it.’ It’s not because he chose to do it or because he was messed up psychologically,” Hanson said. “People want to be able to put blame on something so there is a reason why it happened.”

Both Hanson and Klem believe there is nothing else that the video game industry can do to fix its image when it comes to children and video games.

“It is believed by so many people that it’s just how it is. People have to blame someone or something for how their child acts,” Klem said. “Video games are in the spotlight right now. When in fact it is really just the lack of good parenting; teaching your children morals and values that go beyond what they watch, hear or play and see what a difference it makes.”

Among the policies passed in the past, and arguably the most successful, is the establishment of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board or ESRB ratings. These are ratings placed on video games that not only tell a parent what age the game is appropriate for but also what is in the game. For example: Halo 4 is rated “M: for Mature” for “Blood and Violence.”

“I think the video game industry has done a pretty good job,” Hanson said. “We [as parents] also have the ESRB ratings that are supposed to be used to inform parents of what the games are rated and what the games contain [within] themselves.”

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Violence in video games: what’s too much?