The question has been repeated more frequently than ever in the last decade – do violent video games give impressionable minds incentive to act out violently? With recent tragedies like the Sandy Hook school shooting still weighing on the public’s mind and reviving horrible memories such as the Columbine school shooting, there is continuing need to place blame for such senseless crimes. It has been pointed everywhere from guns to parenting, to graphic media. More recently it has shifted towards video games.
As with comic books in the 1950s and television in the 1960s, new media that entrances younger audiences is always a source of controversy. In a 2005 article by Alex Pham of the Los Angeles Times, a lecturer in sociology at USC by the name of Karen Sternheimer puts the idea of new forms of media effecting generations into perspective by saying,
'With just about any new medium, there has been concern about the negative effects it might have on young people. From movies to television, to comic books to music and now video games, society tends to project its fears onto newer forms of pop culture. There’s a generational divide that makes people on the other side nervous.'
She also recalls,
'There was this belief that comic books led young people to kill. The parallels between video games and comic books are eerie.'
One important fact about video games that most people tend to forget is that each game is given a rating by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). The game ratings are as follows:
- EC – Early Childhood (Ages 3 and older)
- E – Everyone (Ages 6 and older)
- T – Teen (Ages 13 and older)
- M – Mature (Ages 17 and older)
- AO – Adults Only (Ages 18 and older)
These ratings come complete with descriptions of the game’s contents listed such as ‘cartoon violence,’ ‘blood and gore,’ ‘use of drugs,’ and so on. But not everyone is abiding by the ratings system. While some retailers are required to check a customer’s ID, many will not. This allows games to fall into the hands of underdeveloped and highly impressionable children.
Perhaps even more distressing is that most of the time these games are not purchased by the underage players, but purchased for them by parents and relatives. In a 2005 article by Marc Saltzman in Electronics Gaming Monthly, Henry Jenkins (who argues that violence among America’s youth has actually fallen with the rise of gaming popularity) says,
'There is a misperception among parents about what games are. Parents still assume they’re for kids, and they buy them for their kids. The reality is that [games] appeal just as much to adults at the present time and much of the content is inappropriate for kids. But still, parents are buying something called ‘Grand Theft Auto’ for their kids, with gangsters and prostitutes on the box, so maybe this isn’t the best thing for your 9-year-old? Parents need to bear some responsibility. It’s a challenge.'
The way violence is glamorized in video games (and other media, such as movies), can give the wrong impression to youth. Most of the time there are no consequences for violent actions, making them feel routine and even sane to younger audiences. For the most part, responsibility falls to the consumer. Parents need to monitor the games that their children are playing, and to not conclude that all games are created for children. They should also sit down with their young ones to explain the consequences of violence, and to firmly state that everything they see on television is not real. Even in our fast paced world, parenting is part of being a parent.
It remains that there is no conclusive evidence video games are the cause of violence as there are many factors that attribute to such crimes, but education is the key to prevention. That, and if retailers would aid in the efforts by properly checking ID before selling graphic media, perhaps violent acts like school shootings could be reduced if not eliminated altogether.