Controller in hand, I celebrate my hard-earned ‘kill’ in Call of Duty with an excessive fist pump. Seems rather concerning that one would gain such satisfaction in committing virtual slaughter. However, as soon as my finger makes contact with the power button to turn the TV off, the virtual realm of manslaughter that had consumed the last 3 hours of my life turns into a vague memory of enjoyment. I subsequently make my way up to my room to continue working on my homework just like on every other day. However, these video games do bear great significance to modern society. Since their rise to popularity in the 1970s, video games have profoundly revolutionized the technological world, as well as the youth culture in society. Initially mere arcade games to accommodate one’s visit to an otherwise uninteresting tourist destination, video games have progressed to such an extent that users can now experience “virtual reality” or an artificial sensory experience of a virtual environment. Despite the drastic and significant evolution of video gaming, however, violence has remained a pervasive characteristic of many video games. The use of violence in video games has raised controversy as its effects on those who play those games has been questioned. Many claim that violent video games cause those who play them to commit criminal violence. Others, however, argue the opposite extreme in that they claim that such an argument is unfounded and that there is no correlation between the playing of violent video games and violent behavior. Neither extreme bears complete truth as there is no conclusive proof of either. So what effects do these violent video games that I play have on me? One must see a gray area between these two extremes in order to see the true effect of violent video games. Essentially, these video games cause those who play them to be more prone to exhibiting aggressive behavior. However, it is naive to claim that they directly lead to horrific criminal violence.
In 2015, the APA conducted a formal research review that concluded that there is some sort of correlation between aggressive behavior and playing violent video games. (2) However, they explicitly stated that this research does not point to violent video games leading to criminal violence. (2) Such significant conclusions are fundamental in understanding the true effect of violent video games on those who play them. Violence in video games desensitizes individuals to violence as such behavior is rewarded in these games. For this reason, a correlation between violent video games and aggressive behavior is explainable. However, criminal violence is a completely different story. As the APA stated, “No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently. Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor.” (2) Other risk factors include mental disabilities and parental negligence. If your parents are failing to provide for you and accommodate your needs, you are at risk for committing criminal violence. Thus, one can’t claim that these video games are the be-all and end-all in prompting malicious criminal acts.
Along with my own personal experience, the media played a significant role in shaping my interest and opinion on this highly controversial topic. One infamous example of criminal violence that seemed to support a direct correlation between violent video games and criminal violence is the Sandy Hook shooting. A horrific incident which entailed the murder of young children, the Sandy Hook shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. The police investigation revealed that the shooter, Adam Lanza, played a lot of violent video games throughout his life. (3) For this reason, many people immediately placed blame on the video games for prompting such a horrific act. However, there were many other factors that could have contributed to his ultimate downfall. For one, his mother allowed him to disregard his Asperger’s medicine which immediately leaves him socially unstable. (3) Beyond that, his parents exposed him to guns by taking him to shooting ranges. (3) Along with other factors, these aspects of his life could very easily have contributed to his mental instability that led to his horrific acts. However, as proven by the APA research review, the video games most likely did contribute to his aggressive inclinations to some extent.
Another example of a criminal having a history of playing violent video games is the Isla Vista killings on May 23, 2014. Near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara, 22 year-old Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured fourteen before subsequently killing himself. He, like Lanza, played a great deal of violent video games which, once again, prompted outcry from those who believed that video games can incite such behavior.(5) However, in a manifesto that was discovered, Rodgers described the negligence that he felt by the role models in his life. He described how his parents separated when he was seven years old and how that had very adverse effects on his life.(6) Once again, this just goes to show that a complete evaluation of these criminals is required in order to identify the true underlying issues behind their upbringing. Did the video games exacerbate his aggressive nature? No doubt. However, it was the familial and social issues that left him predisposed to be significantly affected by the video games that he played.
From the examples presented, it is extremely difficult to claim that violent video games directly lead to individuals committing criminal violence. In fact, one can even go as far as to say that they have led to a decrease in criminal violence. Throughout time, a negative correlation has been examined by CNBC between video game sales and violent crime frequency. Total US sales of video game hardware and software increased 204% from 1994 to 2014, reaching $13.1 billion in 2014, while violent crimes decreased 37% and murders by juveniles acting alone fell 76% in that same period.(4) Although this is not conclusive, it is strong evidence to support that violent video games are not solely responsible for violent crimes.
Given all of this information, why is the idea of violent video games still such a prevalent issue in our society? All evidence points to the fact that violent video games have no direct correlation to criminal violence. We need to look beyond this one common factor between these people who commit horrible acts. There are clearly other factors that should be of greater interest to our society. For example, we should seek to mitigate issues such as parental negligence and abuse as they clearly bear adverse effects on the development of the youth. If we fail to look past violent video games as the sole reason for someone’s malicious behavior, we will remain blind to the truth behind why such people commit such horrific acts.