Some psychological research on the effects of violent video games; a video interview with David Grossman on how understanding the behavior of soldiers in combat reveals the risks of media violence; some important links on socially responsible gaming.
The Effects of Violent Video Games
Violence is a complex phenomenon with multiple causes; to create a more peaceful society, we need to address all of them, and, pay particular attention to how they interact together. Some of us may indeed be at greater risk of engaging in violence, whether due to biological factors or to early experiences of parental neglect, but societal factors play a dominant role. At its essence, violent behavior is learned and popular culture’s embrace of violence — its messages that violence is normal, effective, and even fun — represent a powerful form of socialization.
Media violence has been studied for over 50 years, and among researchers there is a consensus that it plays a significant role in promoting violence in society, Indeed, some researchers now refer to media violence as a cause of violent behavior, while stressing that it is a factor that is neither necessary nor sufficient. However, this does not minimize the significance of media violence, and indeed it has been argued that statistically-speaking the relationship between media violence exposure and increased aggressiveness is larger than the relationship between lung cancer at work and passive smoking, condom use and protection against sexually-transmitted HIV, and calcium intake and bone mass, and only slightly smaller than the relationship between smoking and cancer (Bushman and Anderson, “Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation.” American Psychologist (June/July 2001): 477-489).
As our understanding of the human brain advances, we are also gaining a better understanding about how media violence and violent video games influence us. We are learning, for example, that much of our thinking occurs at an unconscious level, and that the more frequently we are exposed to a particular world view that values the use of violence, the more certain neural connections are reinforced at the expense of others. Aggressive behavioural scripts thus become cognitively more available and increasingly linked to positive emotions, and are then easily activated unconsciously to interpret new situations and shape our responses. Concurrently, the accessibility of nonviolent scripts and the normal negative emotional reactions humans have to conflict, aggression and violence are reduced. (See, for example, Anderson, “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 4.3 (December 2003): 81-110).
To read some important articles from the leading researchers on media violence, click here
Watch an interview with Lt. Col. David Grossman as he discusses his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, On Killing. The book examines how military training is designed to break down our innate inhibition against taking human life, while raising the disturbing implications this has for our popular consumption of violent media. To watch the video, check out our
Towards Socially Responsible Gaming
An important response to the popularity of violent video games is to develop alternative gaming experiences. Rather than develop games which perpetuate in the virtual world the worst of what we can do to each other, why not use games to transform our thinking, promote empathy for others and show us that cooperation and new ideas can lead to the creation of more just and caring societies?
To see some of the best of these, check out the following links:
- Games for Change is a nonprofit organization that seeks to facilitate the creation and distribution of social impact games. You will find a number of games which are ideal for young adults, including Darfur is Dying and Climate Change.
- World without Oil is an on-line collaborative game where one must learn to live for 32 weeks in a world without oil; the site includes 10 lesson plans to help teachers integrate the game into their teaching.
- Evoke is a social network game to help empower people worldwide to find solutions to today’s pressing problems.
- Superstruct was played by more than 8000 people from September to November 2008, who had to come up with ways to save the planet; you can have a look at the archive which offers a fascinating look at the potential of gaming to inspire solutions.
- Spent invites players to make hard decisions around poverty and unemployment and uses facebook to encourage players to reach out to their community to find solutions.