In an article by Karen Sternheimer, titled “Do Video Games Kill?,” Sternheimer seeks to better inform the public regarding the misrepresentation of video games in media effects research. I agree with her many opinions, one being that it is hard to determine if media violence causes aggressive behavior, or if it is just that more aggressive people seek out violent entertainment. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? For a team assignment last week, we were required to research the effect of violence in video games; I was pleasantly surprised by the findings. Most of the research contradicted that the effect was a negative one, except in the case of people with mental illnesses, who were found to be more easily misguided.
People, politicians especially, are quick to point the finger and try to single out a scapegoat. They are fixers and in order to fix, it is necessary to pinpoint the source of the problem — video games are an easy target. The politicians can be seen as ‘helping the children,’ no matter how off-base their proposed propaganda may be. “Blaming video games (for mass shootings) is like blaming a tree for a forest fire,” said Doug DeMotta, owner of Microplay Video in Muhlenberg Township, “They’re looking for a scapegoat. … I think the government should keep their nose out of it” (Urban, 2013). I agree!
The number of violent crimes has been falling, but the public’s perception is that violence has increased. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall violent victimization rate (eg. rape and assaults) decreased by 40% from 2001 to 2010. Similarly, the murder rate in the US has dropped by almost half, from 9.8 per 100,000 people in 1991 to 5.0 in 2009 (Kaplan, 2012). A popular first-person shooter game, Doom, was released in 1993. “…in the ten years following Doom’s release, homicide arrest rates fell by 77 percent among juveniles. School shootings remain extremely rare; even during the 1990s, when fears of school violence were high, students had less than a 7 in 10 million chance of being killed at school. During that time, video games became a major part many young people’s lives, few of whom will ever become violent, let alone kill” (Sternheimer, 2007).
Well there you have it; the proof is in the statistics. So then why are we still wagging the finger? It may be that we are trying to find excuses for why our children are going off the beaten path. As Sternheimer points out, the video game explanation constructs middle-class shooters as victims of the power of video games, rather than fully culpable criminals. When boys from “good” neighborhoods are violent, they seem to be harbingers of a “new breed” of youth, created by video games rather than by their social circumstances. White, middle-class killers retain their status as children easily influenced by a game, victims of an allegedly dangerous product (Sternheimer, 2007). Are we ashamed of ourselves? It seems so.
We can blame video games for killing and violence in the real world, no more than I can fault my 38 week old unborn baby for my excruciating back pain. There are many other (deeper) issues to be dealt with here. In my opinion, the fingers need to be pointed at ourselves (i.e. self, the parents) and accountability for the individual also (i.e. self, teen, younger child). Douglas Gentile, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University, said it best, “…media violence is not different from other risk factors for aggression. It’s not the largest, nor the smallest,” he said. “If there is any important difference at all, it is simply that media violence is easier for parents to control than other risk factors, such as being bullied, having psychiatric illnesses, or living in poverty” (Kaplan, 2012).
Kaplan, A. (2012). Violence in the media: What effects on behavior? Psychiatric Times, 29(10), 1-8,11. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1151083524?accountid=13158
Sternheimer, K. (2007). Do Video Games Kill? Contexts. 6(1). Winter 2007. pp. 13-17. Retrieved from: http://www.theesa.com/facts/STERNHEIMERCONTEXTSARTICLE.pdf
Urban, D. K. M. (2013, Jan 12). Violence in video games. McClatchy – Tribune Business News. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1268802096?accountid=13158