Ever since the Columbine school shooting, video games have been received high, but inconsistent, amount of coverage, often on the front page of news within the United States. However, whenever it is shown, it is often to mainly news reporters’ scorn. Many video games, especially violent shooters, such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Mortal Kombat, have earned notoriety within the gaming industry, and even outside of it, for some controversies that involves supposedly unacceptable content that isn’t suitable to any audiences, especially younger kids that play most of the games mentioned, despite the rating and warning of the game’s contents. Due to this, video games have been blamed by many figures, ranging from parents and teachers to even famous politicians, for being the direct cause of violence, at least within the United States, most notably in their supposed role of never-ending school shootings, which have increased since Columbine itself. Bonita Klemm, an assistant professor at the State University of New York, states that the equivalent of a classroom full of children is killed every two days by firearms. (Klemm, B, Video Game Violence, Jstor, pg. 1)
Klemm remembers the first time that Mortal Kombat was in her local store, being appalled at the gruesome gameplay, remembering the “kids were watching in amazement”. Klemm wrote to the manager, making a petition to write (Klemm, B, Video Game Violence, Jstor, pg. 2) However, there are others that believe that video games are nothing but a scapegoat for those trying to avoid blame, and that there is no evidence to support those claims that video games cause or even influence violence within the country or others. Another issue is considering what can be considered a violent video game. According to Christopher J Ferguson, one scholar himself stated that even games such as Pac Man might be considered violent video games, a notion most of the general public would likely consider absurd. With the research on playing violent video games, the experience of playing such games, and the history of video games, that the conclusion will be an effective argument against opponents of video games. (Ferguson, A Way Forward for Video Game Violence Research, EBSCOhost
By starting with the research, the claim that video games are a direct cause of violence in the U.S will be tested to see if there is enough evidence to support the theory. According to the authors of the article posted on the website SpringerLink, an experiment was done to test the neurological effects of playing violent video games in comparison to non-violent ones. (Carlo Lai, Violence in video game produces a lower activation of limbic and temporal areas in response to social inclusion images, SpringerLink, December 2018) Prior to this, the article states that there have been multiple research attempts in order to find a direct and casual correlation between video game violence, which “indicated where the use of violent video games may produce short-term consequences on the aggressive or impulsive behavior.” (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). However, there was also evidence that regardless if a game was violent or not, it was reported that the cerebral blood flow (CBF) was significantly decreased in the prefrontal cortex and increased in the temporal cortex equally after playing both. (Chou, Yang, Hsu, Wang, Lin, Huang et al., 2013). Furthermore, there were recent studies that showed no evidence of any neural desensitization in the processing of emotionally salient stimuli in long-term users of violent video games. (Szycik, Mohammadi, Hake, Kneer, Samii, Münte et al., 2017a; Szycik, Mohammadi, Münte, & Te Wildt, 2017b; Gao, Pan, Li, Weng, Yao, & Chen, 2017)
The conclusion reached was that the ‘hypothesis that the use of violent video game leads to a lower activation of the neural activity in limbic and temporal areas, in response to a successive social inclusion processing” can be supported with the results of the experiment. (Carlo Lai, Violence in video game produces a lower activation of limbic and temporal areas in response to social inclusion images, SpringerLink, December 2018). However, it doesn’t fully answer the question that it causes violence. Another research article by the American Psychological Association states that “more than 90% of U.S. children play some kind of video games; when considering only adolescents ages 12 – 17, that figure rises to 97%” (Lenhart et.al, 2008; NPD Group, 2011;). After doing research that has spanned several years, the APA concluded that while playing violent video games may cause an increase in aggressive behavior, there was no reported increase in violent behavior as such. They preferred to further their research, like Ferguson, in order to make it easier to find the connection between video games and violence.
This also leads to another question that has been asked: Do school shooters paly video game or even know much about video games? The next article is a research paper made by the U.S. Department of Education. The background was that after the Columbine shooting, the U.S. Department of Education and the Secret Service launched in order to make sure that an event like Columbine would never happen again. They did research on shootings from 1974 to May 2000, a year after Columbine, and had numerous findings, including one focusing on an interest in violence by any form of media, including movies, books, video games, and self-made poems, which were the four types mainly analyzed. According to the report, only 12 percent of shooters had an actual interest in violent video games. (Vossekuil, Bryan, et al., The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative, U.S Department of Education ,2004). Now the issue is the word interest, as it could be meant in multiple ways. It could range that people might heard from a conversation about the game from someone and only faintly remembering it, to just playing it due to your curiosity, and to fully outright playing the game, spending numerous hours on it like you were a hardcore gamer. Finally, according to Kevin Draper of the New York Times, he states “Researchers have extensively studied whether there is a causal link between video games and violent behavior, and while there isn’t quite a consensus, there is broad agreement that no such link exists.” (Draper, Kevin, Video Games Aren’t Why Shootings Happen. Politicians Still Blame Them, New York Times, August 5, 2019)
Are there even examples within games that can be considered unacceptable to the public to some extent? Admittedly, there are multiple games I’ve played that have such content within the game. One example is the “No Russian” mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. In the mission, you play as an undercover C.I.A agent, posing as a terrorist in a group led by the game’s main antagonist, Vladimir Makarov, attacking a Russian airport by killing civilians and security guards, and then engaging in a firefight with the F.S.B. The main reason, in storyline, was that the attack is meant to frame the United States for being assumed for supplying the terrorist attack. I recently played the mission again, and admittedly was sick to my stomach, as it was simply brutal. Another game I remember being controversial is Mortal Kombat (2011), which served as a reboot to the franchise.
However, due to its graphics and gore, it gained controversy due to its extensively updated and realistic graphics, and was even banned in some countries, such as Germany, Australia, and South Korea. A third game that was controversial was Grand Theft Auto V. While the other games in the franchise have objectionable content as well, I picked GTAV due to the game including a torture scene in a mission in order to extract information, which in my opinion, is well past the border of being unacceptable. However, it’s not like the content was to make people that play the game sadistic. Mohammad Alavi, who was the man responsible of making the “No Russian” mission, stated that “the aim was simply to build up the game’s villain in a memorable and player-driven fashion.” (Evans-Thirlwell, Edwin, From All Ghillied Up to No Russian, the making of Call of Duty’s most famous missions, PCGamer, 2016) Another interesting fact is that the controversy didn’t affect their status in the industry and their sales. Mortal Kombat is still one of the best-selling fighting games of all-time, Call of Duty has sold over 250 million copies and made over $15 billion in sales as of 2015 (Activision Blizzard Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2015 Financial Results ,BusinessWire, February 11, 2016) and GTA selling over 250 million copies as of 2016. (Cragg, Oliver, Grand Theft Auto life-time sales hit 250 million, GTA 5 and GTA Online ships 70 million units, Variety, November 3, 2016).
However, this leads to others question: ‘If there is absolutely no link to prove that video games do not cause any violence for the last two decades, then why are video games still being blamed for it?’ It is stated by others that video games are being used as a scapegoat to avoid blame, mainly due to the gun laws. Some say that all forms of media are causing violence to spread in the country. By looking back at the Safe School Initiative article, we must look at the findings of the other forms of media as well. However, the main issue that opponents have with the claim the media causes violence is that while 59 percent of shooters take an interest in violence by all forms of media, none were a common interest in relation to other shooters. The findings reported that for movies, books, and self-made writings.