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'Do violent video games produce violent people?' : Researchers, gamers have mixed thoughtscomment (0)

May 9, 2013

By Grace Thornton

'Do violent video games produce violent people?' : Researchers, gamers have mixed thoughts

In 1994, Peter Brown Hoffmeister got caught carrying a loaded, stolen handgun at his Tennessee high school.

“Since the owner of the pistol didn’t want to press charges, I simply forfeited the handgun to the local sheriff’s deputy, then was promptly expelled from the school,” wrote Hoffmeister, a former Huffington Post columnist, on his blog. “No arrest. No counseling. No follow-up.”

A year later, he carried a sawed-off shotgun to his new school, also frequently packing a sheath-knife and a framing hammer.

“Thankfully I never shot or stabbed or bludgeoned anyone,” Hoffmeister wrote. 

And with support, he “grew up” and “moved past my tendencies toward violence.”

Today he’s a well-adjusted high school teacher, but as a high school student, he had a lot in common with school shooters, he wrote. “But there is one significant difference between me at 16 and 17 years of age and most high school shooters: I didn’t play violent video games.”

He never practiced what he thought about, never “walked into a room and killed everyone inside” virtually on a screen in his living room.

And he’s sure that made a world of difference.

Hoffmeister’s story isn’t scientific, and studies and opinions exist to back both sides of the question, “Do violent video games produce violent people?”

A number of lab experiments support “what any gamer knows in his gut,” the New York Times reported, saying that playing games like “Call of Duty (COD),” “Killzone 3” or “Battlefield 3” can “stir the blood.”

In a recent Iowa State University research project, 47 undergraduates played a violent video game for 15 minutes then were asked to pressure a peer into drinking hot sauce. The students who played “Mortal Kombat” were hands down more aggressive than the ones in the control group, who had played a nonviolent game.

The study is one of many to find that violent gaming makes a person more hostile for at least a few minutes after exposure, the New York Times reported.

Opponents of violent video games tout these facts and back them up with poignant stories. Anders Breivik, who gunned down dozens of teenagers at a camp in Norway in 2011, said he trained by playing COD. Adam Lanza reportedly played the same game for hours before killing 20 children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.

“None of these extreme acts, like a school shooting, occurs because of only one risk factor; there are many factors, including feeling socially isolated, being bullied and so on,” said Craig A. Anderson, director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University. “But if you look at the literature, I think it’s clear that violent media is one factor; it’s not the largest factor, but it’s also not the smallest.”

Matt DeLisi, a professor of sociology at Iowa State, agreed.

When Iowa State’s research controlled for things like antisocial behavior, age, sex, race and past record of delinquency, “the video game measure still mattered,” DeLisi said, according to WOWT Channel 6 News in Nebraska.

But some researchers contend that violent video games may actually lower the crime rate, perhaps by keeping potential troublemakers off the street by giving them something to do or providing “an outlet” for violent behavior, the New York Times reported.

“We found that higher rates of violent video game sales related to a decrease in crimes and especially violent crimes,” said Michael Ward, a researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington, noting that they controlled for seasonal game sales and other factors in their study conducted in 2011.

Other researchers say that even though shooters and other violent criminals are often involved in violent gaming, it doesn’t mean that the games cause the violence. They cite the thousands of other gamers who play without committing crimes, the New York Times reported.

With the mixed research conclusions, parents may decide violent media isn’t a big enough problem to spend time monitoring their teens, Anderson said.

“What parent would go through the pain and all the effort it takes to really control their child’s media diet, if they don’t really think it makes any difference? That is why it is so important to get out the simple and clear message that media violence does matter,” he said.

Donnie Sisk, pastor to students and recreation at First Baptist Church, Pelham, said that even if people who play violent games don’t become “serial killing psychopaths,” parents shouldn’t be “comfortable allowing them to sit in front of a screen shooting up a scene or grabbing a fake car so they can drive it like they stole it.”

Sisk said he is against our society being so technology obsessed that youth can practically live in false realities.

“We are teaching them new life is just a click away. Redo, reset, no harm — just start over,” he said. 

“In the world there are consequences for our actions. Our choices affect the lives of others.”

Hoffmeister wrote that he worries most about his “troubled male students” who play violent video games and brag about “violent actions that they’ve never done in the real world.”

He recalled walking down the hall behind two teenage boys and hearing one of them say, “I just came up behind him, pulled out my knife so quietly and cut his throat.”

The second boy said, “Yeah, then I killed everyone else in less than, like, 10 seconds. Just slaughtered them.”

Hoffmeister talked to one of them later, and the teen confessed to playing COD at least 40 hours a week.

“Is this what we want angry adolescent boys to do? Do we want to give them this practice?” Hoffmeister asked. 

“Especially with teenage boys, we have to decide what we want them to do, what we want them to love, what we want them to emulate.”

Even if they aren’t preparing to carjack or kill someone in real life, he wrote, what is it that they actually are preparing to do?

“Will these video-game practice sessions make them better husbands or fathers? Will these boys become patient and understanding friends? Better coworkers?”


10 violent games to avoid

1. Dead Space 2

This takes players through a scary battle for their lives in an alien-infested world.

2. Mortal Kombat

It’s a wildly popular franchise in the violent video game category that includes the most realistic and gory graphics that go way beyond what you’d expect.

3. Medal of Honor

Hyper-realistic graphics recreate modern-day war zones in Afghanistan, soldiers’ bodies crumple authentically and gush blood when shot, kill counts are often high enough to populate a small town, not to mention the rampant profanity.

4. Call of Duty: Black Ops

Set during the Cold War in the late 1960s, its urban and rural firefights are among the most frenetic and intense ever created for a video game.

5. Fallout: New Vegas

Players can select dialogue options that may be rude or result in sexually suggestive conversations. They also choose which part of their enemies’ bodies they want to shoot in slow motion, potentially wounding or blowing off specific limbs.

6. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

The game’s hero, a member of a brotherhood of holy warriors, wields a crucifix-shaped whip handle that contains a long length of chain blessed with holy water that he uses to lacerate enemies, creating fountains of blood in the process.

7. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Lifelike sword fights see players slashing and skewering foes with realistic blood.

8. Dead Rising 2

The violence is wildly over-the-top; a motorbike with chainsaws duct-taped to its handles is just one of the scores of weapons used to dismember the dead.

9. Halo: Reach

It’s all about finding your favorite weapon and using it to tear holes in your enemies.

10. Naughty Bear

A sociopathic bear spends his time choking his peers with golf clubs, slamming their heads in car doors and frightening them until they commit suicide.

To read a related article, click here.

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