Within society, the video game industry is hugely successful, with “sales of video games and consoles reaching $50 billion in 2008” . Video games are considered as “one of the leading forms of media consumption, with sales rivalling the most successful Hollywood blockbusters” . However, certain violent video games have proven to be a serious concern with audiences such as parents, who are urged by the media to do more to protect their children from playing these games. The media blames gaming institutions such as Infinity Ward, Ubisoft and Rockstar Games for creating games which endorse violence and result in aggression within the audience. In this essay, I will discuss why video games are becoming violent and whether or not they are a concern.
Generally, video game institutions such as Infinity Ward and Rockstar games make games which are violent, due to the audiences’ preferences. Gaming institutions may target these violent video games at males, as biologically men have more testosterone, which makes them behave more aggressively, as shown at a young age where boys tend to engage in play fighting, in contrast to girls who play less aggressively. Another reason would be that the audience want to play games which feel real. Games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a FPS (First Person Shooter) allows the audience to become “intentionally and actively involved in the action.” Also, the audience are able to “interact with the virtual environments in a more personal way” and are able to “mentally insert themselves into the action" and “practice violent scripts” . Within the game, American soldiers are accurately represented as the Proppian heroes, as signified by their behaviour and the fact that they carry weapons. However, the game subordinates the enemy; Afghans and Russians, as stereotypically in the media they are groups which are evil and threatening, as evident with the Taliban.
Similarly, violent video games may be becoming more violent because they offer “varying levels of difficulty”. The audience may play these games, in order to progress to the next level and come across enemies which are harder to kill. In Grand Theft Auto IV, players have to complete missions in order to progress, with rewards and special items available such as health packs, which enable the audience to play the game longer, and offer “instant gratification” . The audience can identify with the dominant and character in the game, as seen with Niko Bellic in Grand Theft Auto IV. Bellic is represented as a modern gangster, as signified by his Eastern European accent , as well as his fingerless gloves and casual clothing which connotes that he is ready for action. Males may play violent games in order to fit into the crowd, as they can play with friends and family and feel that they are part of the mainstream. Also, the audience may play these games for escapism, as they can play in virtual environments and divert from their everyday problems.
Most importantly, video games tend to be more violent due to many different factors such graphics, player activity or the algorithm of the game. The marketing of these violent video games has an effect on the audience, as games such as Mafia 2, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days are involved in controversy, as they seemingly condone violence and inject immoral ideologies in the audience. Therefore, “rather than limiting sales, controversies often fuel demand for such games, as teens and older children flock to stores to purchase mature rated games”.
The level of violence, sexual references and drug references within violent video games results in a wider moral panic, as the media arguably injects ideologies into the audience which corrupt children and cause aggression. Therefore, audiences such as parents may have oppositional readings to violent video games and may feel that video game manufacturers have ‘gone too far’ and should “agree to stop making games that portray extreme violence or sexual activity”. Though, regulation has been implemented on video games, as “the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in 1994 enforced age recommendations… as well as content warnings, such as language, sexual themes and violence”. Yet there was still controversy surrounding violent video games, as “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, featured corrupt cops, racism, drive-by shootings, pipe beatings and explicit sex”. Grand Theft Auto IV’s ideologies condone violence and inject messages into the audience that killing is acceptable, as the audience can be liberal and can murder pedestrians, steal and be chaotic. Similarly, “the killing of Stefan Pakeerah in February 2004 was believed to be inspired by the game Manhunt, which put the games industry back in the spotlight”. The withdrawal of the Manhunt games can arguably seen to be a moral panic, as retailers, “such as Dixons stopped selling the game” due to concerns surrounding the game’s ideologies and effects it would have on younger audiences, as players could suffocate and mutilate opponents in the game. Likewise, Manhunt 2 was banned in Britain in 2007 due to its "unrelenting focus on brutal slaying". “The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rejected the game as it encouraged “visceral killing". Therefore the regulation and control of violent video games is often demanded by politicians and parents of children who play violent video games, as they feel that the control of these games will result in less crime and deviance in society.
In conjunction to moral panics, the media such as the tabloid press may exaggerate and sensationalize news surrounding violent video games, in order to inject messages that video games cause the audience to become violent, without any sufficient evidence to support their claims. Professor David Buckingham believes that the “audiences should be informed about what they're letting themselves in for” and understand about the risk posed by violent games, rather than to avoid it. It can be argued that video games are not a concern, as there is insufficient evidence to prove that violent video games cause violence in the long term. Professor Bruce Bartholow states that “the challenge now, is to determine how violent gaming might affect players over the long term."
However, scientific research has been conducted by Professors Craig Anderson and Karen Dill, to show how video games are a concern, as they cause aggression in the audience. Their experiments concluded that "...in the short run, playing a violent video game appears to affect aggression by priming aggressive thoughts. “Longer-term effects are likely to be longer lasting as the player learns and practices new aggression-related scripts...for use when real-life conflict situations arise." The experiments suggest that violent video games are a concern, as the audience can be affected mentally in the short run, but may use violence in real life conflicts, if they play violent games regularly. Games such as Grand Theft Auto IV channel the player’s aggression, as they can kill civilians such as hot dog sellers and take on the police. As the player is given power in the game, they may gain sadistic pleasures out of killing civilians; therefore the game may perpetuate aggression due its liberal values.
Many people believe that “the potential effects of video games on aggression are similar to those of television violence,” as the video games like television contain references to violence, as evident with shows like WWE wrestling. The “fantasizing and rehearsing the wrestling moves appears to either create, or at least reinforce, the aggressive attitudes and behaviors of children”, as they are more impressionable by what they see on television and may be injected with the ideology that violence is acceptable and may consequently become desensitised.
The experiments carried out by Professor Bruce Bartholow and Dr Cheryl Olsen show a link between video games and desensitization. Professor Bruce Bartholow’s experiment involving students being shown violent and non violent images proved that teenagers are desensitised to violence, as “the players of violent video games showed a significant diminution of p300 (electrical impulses) amplitude when viewing violent images.” The findings also concluded that "... violent game players' p300 levels did not change when they encountered the neutral or negative, non-violent images". Therefore, the participants were less sensitive to the images, due to exposure to violent video games. Similarly, Dr Cheryl Olsen’s experiment into desensitization found that “teenagers who enjoyed watching gore or violence in video games and not seeing the consequences... may result in them having less empathy for the victims”. Consequently, the audience may not understand the effects of violence and the moral consequences of killing in real life. Different audiences might have oppositional readings to violent video games, as the contemporary media landscape is described as “an effective systematic violence desensitization tool” . The amount of violence and explicit content such as swearing may result in audiences being unable to question what they see in the media, as there may be too much content to regulate or complain about.
In conclusion, video games are becoming more violent, as the audience demand games which are more realistic and offer gratifications to the player, for example collectibles. The audience would want to play violent video games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, as they are involved in the action and would want to experience playing in fictional settings. Though, violent video games would be a concern, as they cause aggression and may lead to desensitisation. Similarly, the games would be a concern to young males than adults, as the games can “change young people's personalities...for the worse" and make them more impressionable. The fact that “parents are less likely to actively participate in video game playing” results in them being “relatively unaware of the kind of images seen in these games". This can be a concern, as children can access higher age rated games and can be prone to explicit content; such as murder and sex. However, there is little evidence to suggest that these games cause long term aggressive behaviour and psychological effects. In many ways, the media exaggerates the links to violent video games and aggression and creates a moral panic, resulting in parents feeling worried and against these games. Yet, parents fail to understand that violent video games “encourage persistence at difficult tasks” and allow the audience to “... hone their skills such as navigation, spatial awareness, as well as coordination and teamwork” . Evidently, in Grand Theft Auto IV and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the audience can play with different people via an Internet connection, and work together to defeat their rivals. Also, these games “offer clear objectives and goals which the player must complete”. Therefore the audience can adapted their skills and knowledge by playing violent video games.
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• Newman, James. Playing with videogames. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.
• Signorielli, Nancy. "violence in the media." Violence in the media: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2005. 36, 37. Print.
• Vorderer, Peter, and Jennings Bryant. Playing video games: motives, responses, and consequences. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006. Print.
• Wesley, David, and Gloria Barczak. Innovation and Marketing in the Video Game Industry: Avoiding the Performance Trap.. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2010. Print.
• Willoughby, Teena, and Eileen Wood. Children's learning in a digital world. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008. Print. Chapter 3: How and What Do Video Games teach? Pages 64, 65, 66
• Tapscott, Don. Grown up digital how the net generation is changing your world.. Concordville, Pa.: Soundview Executive Book Summaries;, 2009. Print. Page 298
• Oppliger, Patrice A. Wrestling and hypermasculinity. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Print.
• http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Auto_IV - Information on Grand Theft Auto IV Wikipedia
• http://www.raisesmartkid.com/raise-smart-preschool-kid-articles/the-good-and-bad-effects-of-video.html - Useful article on both the good and bad effects of video games, Raise Smart Kid.
• http://illumination.missouri.edu/spr06/pro1 - Profile on research by Bruce Bartholow into video game violence, Charles Reineke, Published by the Office of Research, 2006
• http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/article/video-game - Violent Video Games: How Can They Increase Aggression in Me? Craig Anderson and Karen Dill, Published on 11/25/08
• "Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviour in the Laboratory and in Life," Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., Iowa State University of Science and Technology & Karen E. Dill, Ph.D., Lenoir-Rhyne College, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 78, No. 4.
•http://www.mediaawareness.ca/english/parents/video_games/concerns/violencevideogames.cfm - Link on violence in video games, Media Awareness Network
• http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/parents/video_games/concerns/index.cfm Information page on the concerns of violent video games, Media Awareness Network
• http://psychcentral.com/news/2006/07/28/video-games-desensitize-to-real-violence/137.html - Violent video games and Desensitization, Rick Nauert PhD, July 28, 2006
Moving Image Texts
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHjtVkuEx08 – YouTube clip on Dr Cheryl Olson on violence in video games, 4 February 2010
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9LpUuGLMUU&feature=player_embedded – YouTube video of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Search and Destroy mission
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhjWDuug4BA&feature=player_embedded – YouTube video of game play from Grand Theft Auto 4
Magazines, Newspapers and Research Papers
• http://www.houstonlawreview.org/archive/downloads/44-2_pdf/5_Byrd.pdf - Research paper on video game controversy, Patrick Byrd, 2007
• http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/aug/28/conservatives.ukcrime1?INTCMP=SRCH – The Guardian article on the background of violent video games, James Sturcke, Tuesday 28 August 2007
• http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2008/jan/09/gamesgetpolitical?INTCMP=SRCH – The Guardian article on the political concerns of video games, Aleks Krotoski, Wednesday 9 January 2008
• Carter, Cynthia, and C. Kay Weaver. Violence and the media. Buckingham [England: Open University Press, 2003. Print.
• Rosser, James. Playin' to win: a surgeon, scientist and parent examines the upside of video games. Garden City, NY: Morgan James Publishing, Llc, 2008. Print.
• http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_of_Duty:_Modern_Warfare_2 – Information on Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Sales and Revenue, Wikipedia
• http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activision - Institutional information- number of games by Activision
• http://www.buzzle.com/articles/harmful-effects-of-video-games.html - Buzzle.com article on harmful effects of videogames, Chandramita Bora
• http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html - Article on the myths of violent video games, Impact of Gaming, Henry Jenkins, MIT Professor.
• http://www.gamepro.com/article/news/215790/academic-study-says-violent-games-reduce-stress/ - Contrasting view on violent video games reducing stress, Dave Rudden July 12, 2010
• http://www.i4u.com/35589/2009-video-game-sales-eclipse-25-billion-us - Video game sales figures, Jordan Cressman, May 11 2010
• http://www.vgchartz.com/article/83208/2010-year-on-year-sales-and-market-share-update-to-december-18th/ - Marketing information on video games, VG Chartz, 27 December 2010
• http://vgsales.wikia.com/wiki/NPD_Fastest_selling_video_games- Table showing the NPD’s fastest selling video games of all time on the major consoles
• http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7814272.stm - BBC article on record sales of video games in the UK, 7th Jan 2009
• http://media.edusites.co.uk/index.php/category/c/timeline/ - Video games timeline from Media Edusites, Rod Munday , May 22 2009
• http://media.edusites.co.uk/index.php/article/ocr-as-g322-section-b-the-games-industry-teacher-notes-and-revision-handout/ - Information on the video games industry, Media Edusites, Huw Davies , Tuesday August 24, 2010
• http://media.edusites.co.uk/index.php/article/understanding-video-games/ - Information on the key elements of video gaming, Media Edusites, Rod Munday , Thursday September 24, 2009
• http://media.edusites.co.uk/index.php/article/understanding-video-games/ - Information on the video gaming audiences, Media Edusites, Rod Munday , Thursday September 24, 2009
• http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4594376.stm - BBC article on violent video games, 9 January 2006
• http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/11479041 - BBC Newsbeat article, Sima Kotecha, 6 October 2010
• http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8453043.stm - BBC article on negative effects of video games, Maggie Shiels, 12 January 2010
• http://www.gamecouch.com/2008/02/interview-dr-cheryl-olson-co-author-of-grand-theft-childhood/ - Interview with Dr Cheryl Olson on video game content and the effects on audience, February 29, 2008,
• http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65841B20100609 - Article from Reuters on the view that video games are harmless for most kids.
• http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16099971/ns/technology_and_science-games/ - Article on the psychological effects of violent video games, MSNBC, Kristin Kalning, June 28 2010
Newspapers and Research Papers
• http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2010/feb/10/games-controversy - Article on Supernanny and violent video games, Keith Stuart, Wednesday 10 February 2010
• http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/best-selling-video-games-of-2009-modern-warfare-2-beats-nintendos-wii-1888662.html - The Independent article on video game sales in UK, Wednesday 3rd February 2010
• http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/gamesblog/2009/nov/11/modern-warfare-2-sales-record -Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 sales record, The Guardian, Charles Arthur, Wednesday 11 November 2009
• http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1535948/Video-game-violence-harmful-to-brain.html - The Daily Telegraph article on violent video games and desensitisation ,4 December 2006
Moving Image Texts
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDCSgpM3FSw&feature=related – Violence in video games, UK extract from documentary , 14 September 2007
• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP2jI0BVG0w – Video on the game play in Doom (1993) – Historical example