Are Violent Video Games Negatively Effecting Adolescents?
By Brandon Arp
For decades researchers have been studying the effect violent video games have on adolescents. There have been arguments as to whether or not the video games make adolescents more aggressive and if moral disengagement comes into play. The topic continues to come up after tragic shootings in Norway and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Researchers expect violent video games such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto among others are factors in negatively effecting the people involved.
|Call of Duty 4|
Anders Behring Breivik is a Norwegian citizen who is currently sentenced to 21 years preventative detention which is the maximum penalty in Norway. The penalty allows for extensions to his time in preventative detention for as long as he is deemed a danger to society. Breivik is in prison for the killing of 77 people by means of a car bomb and the use of a semi-automatic 9 mm Glock 17 pistol as well as a semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 rifle back in 2011. Breivik stated that he used Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for “training-simulation”. Adam Peter Lanza lived in Newtown Connecticut and had briefly attended Sandy Hook Elementary. On December 14th, 2012, Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home. He then traveled to Sandy Hook Elementary and killed 26 students and faculty before killing himself. An article by the New York Daily News on March 17, 2013, provided details by an anonymous law enforcement who had attended a meeting of the International Association of Police Chiefs and Coronels held during the week of March 11, 2013. The source stated that the investigation had found the Lanza had created a 7-by-4 foot sized spreadsheet listing mass murders and weapons they used. Lanza was using the spreadsheet as a type of score sheet when keeping track of murders. It is believed Lanza did extensive research into shootings such as the 2011 Norway attacks carried out by Breivik. In more documents released by the investigation it is shown that Lanza spent significant amounts of time playing Call of Duty.
The two mass shootings above are extreme cases of violence and violent video games are just part of what might have caused such horrific events, but what do violent video games do to increase the aggressive nature of people and help in the moral disengagement that allows for people to do harmful things? Take a look at the Grand Theft Auto (popularly called GTA) video games that have been produced. Players are encouraged and rewarded for the killing of other people as well as performing other illegal activities such as drug dealing or armed robbery. Research has been done to see what effects this game has on adolescents. One of the procedures was to have volunteer participants fill out a questionnaire measuring several different constructs. Questions asked how often they played video games, had they ever played GTA, how often they played GTA (if they answered yes to playing GTA), and when the last time they had played GTA if they had played it. Participants then completed an adapted version of the moral disengagement scale. The scale measured moral justification, advantageous comparison, diffusion responsibility, distorting consequences, and dehumanization. The results showed that playing violent video games such as GTA may increase adolescents’ moral disengagement in real situations. Playing violent video games helped adolescents justify real-life immoral conducts.
Most adolescents aren’t acting out immorally in real-life on a regular basis. Video games are increasing the likelihood that they might start that behavior. Considering adolescents know that what they do in video games such as GTA is considered immoral and would be more than frowned upon in real life, why do adolescents continue to play these games? Researchers have found what they call the “Macbeth effect”. Researchers claim that “The ‘Macbeth effect’ denotes the phenomenon that people wish to cleanse themselves physically when their moral self has been threatened. In this article we argue that such a threat to one's moral self may also result from playing a violent video game, especially when the game involves violence against humans.” (Macbeth and the Joystick). Researchers have participants play two different video games. FlatOut 2 is a racing video game that has its most violent aspect centered on a demolition derby. The demolition derby doesn’t involve violence directly toward a human. The other video game is GTA which rewards players for violence against humans. Participants are assigned to randomly play one of the two games. After playing the game, the participants are asked whether or not they felt guilty about having played the game. The researchers were trying to find out if the players felt morally distressed after playing either game. The results of the experiment showed that a player’s moral distress increased after playing GTA more than after playing FlatOut 2. Researchers also found that players that didn’t frequently play violent video games felt even more distressed than players who frequently played violent video games. This result told researchers that frequent violent video game players had ways to overcome immoral distress felt while playing the game. Researchers asked the participants to select a “gift” after they played one of the video games. The players that felt a lot of immoral distress selected a hygiene product whereas the players that didn’t have that immoral distress selected a non-hygienic product. The results showed that the “Macbeth effect” was a real phenomenon. The player’s felt they needed to cleanse themselves after playing an immoral and violent video game.
It has long been said that violent video games increase aggression in adolescents. The research being done shows results in the short-term more than the long-term. There was a study done where aggression was measured over a relatively longer period of time (3 days) compared to 1 day in other experiments. The experiment had participants play either a violent or a non-violent video game. The violent video games were Condemned 2, Call of Duty 4, and The Club. The non-violent video games were S3k Superbike, Dirt 2, and Pure. The participants would play either a violent video game for 20 minutes a day for three straight days or a non-violent video game for 20 minutes a day for 3 straight days. After each session the participants, “completed one of three ambiguous story stems each day (Dill et al. 1997). For example, in one story a driver crashes into the back of the main character's car, causing a lot of damage to both vehicles. After surveying the damage, the main character approaches the other driver. Participants are asked: ‘What happens next? List 20 things that the (main character) will do or say, think, and feel as the story continues.’” (The More you Play, the More Aggressive you Become). Each day the participant who had played the violent video game would answer with increasingly aggressive answers whereas the non-violent video game player did not have increasingly aggressive answers.
Observers ask if violent media such as violent video games are the cause of violent such as rape or murder and it is impossible to completely blame violent media as the cause of such violence because it would be unethical to perform an experiment like that in the laboratory. The best experiments that can be done are experiments that don’t actually hurt an individual. The experiments just measure the level of aggression or the lack of moral distress. It is easy to see from some of these experiments that as adolescents continue to play violent video games; they become increasingly aggressive and find it easier to disengage from the moral boundaries put up in real-life. These findings are something that need to be tested further to see just how disengaged an adolescent might become after an extended amount of time playing violent video games such as Call of Duty or GTA.
The chances of violent video games being outlawed seems slim and violent video games don’t need to be outlawed. Adolescents need to be kept from playing violent video games an overextended amount of time. If adolescents are limited on the amount of time they play a violent video game then they will learn to keep violence in the video games and keep a strong moral compass in real-life. As the adolescent continues to play violent video games an increasing amount then the adolescent could subconsciously learn to use violence in real-life mimicking the violence in video games.
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