"Video games made me do it!" | A Brief Insight to Video Game Controversy
As many of you are well aware, with anything in the entertainment department, there's a cult of concerned soccer moms, congregates of Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), and even the occasional radio personality who weigh in on controversial subjects and often either rally for change or piss and moan until the cows come home. Without a doubt, one of if not the most controversial topic in the entertainment industry, as well as that of which is targeted at teenagers and young adults, are video games.
Controversies over video games generally tend to shed light on [excessive] graphic violence, partial or complete nudity, drug and alcohol use, sex and sexism, and naturally, the portrayal of criminal behaviour. Such themes in video games usually garner the attention of focus groups and advocates such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) who dropped a weight on Grand Theft Auto IV prior to its release, Parents Television Council, radio personality Glenn Beck and disbarred attorney Jack Thompson, who has filed lawsuits against the makers of violent games, alleging the simulated violence causes real-world violence.
To start us off, I'll analyse a popular video game of its time as well as possibly one of the most publicly controversial video games, Grand Theft Auto IV. As I mentioned above, the now disbarred attorney, Jack Thompson had filed several lawsuits against Rockstar Games and rallied for the prevention of the game's release because of his opinion of the game being a "murder simulator." As such, Thompson stated that he would "take various measures to prevent the sale of the game by Rockstar to minors." On the side of contradictory irony, Thompson had claimed his only goal was to prevent the sale of the game to minors; however, when he was questioned on how exactly he planned to do such, with a given counter-claim that there will always be that parent who doesn't care what their child plays, Thompson decided to try to have the game banned altogether.
Long story short, all Thompson really achieved was pissing off the court enough with his consistent pissing and moaning that they ended up just expelling him, preventing him from practising law henceforth, in a permanent manner of shutting him up. Thompson then exercised his rights as a citizen by attending several unsuccessful protests and the world heard nothing about video games from him since. In 2009, he filed a $40 million lawsuit against Facebook for causing him "great harm and distress" in lieu of the comments made about him by angry members of Facebook groups. He dismissed his lawsuit less than two months later when Facebook responded reminding him of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which provides that companies such as Facebook have no liability for what users do with their services in most cases.
In short, Jack Thompson was just a petty whiner who got what he deserved in the end: an official invitation to shut the hell up.
Aside from the Grand Theft Auto series, which naturally seems to be a cesspool of controversy, there were several incidents of real-life crime that was claimed to have been inspired by video games such as Counter Strike, Call of Duty, and even Tony Hawk: Ride. However, should one take the time to read into these cases, one can logically conclude that such crimes were committed by bored, immature gamers who decided to blame video games hoping for an easy out. Shame. They should have read up on their law first.
Several theoretical approaches, fuelled by the effects or lack thereof, of video game violence, have surfaced over time. These theories go head to head in an attempt to explain how the effects are applied to the human psyche, or how they're not applied in the event they do not affect an individual. In a piece written by Christopher Ferguson, the "Catalyst" theory states that "with aggression, such feelings are funded by a combination of genetic risk and environmental strain." Further text reads that with the aforementioned stress, combined with anti-social or distant personalities is orchestral in aggression. However, the "Catalyst" theory firmly states that "media influences are too weak and distant to have [much] influence."
Countering this, was a piece written by Thomas A. Kooijmans, who states that the General Aggression Model theory (GAM) models video games as having an influence on people, proposing that "a participant's thoughts, feelings and physical arousal can be affected by simulated violence." The GAM states that this creates an effect on an individual's interpretation of an aggressive or violent act. The theory claims that while video games have both long term and short term effects, the "overall total of influence had upon the individual is varied depending on the total exposure to the material." In layman's terms, the more you play, the more severe the effects are. Fellow authors claim violent video games promote violent behavior, attitudes and beliefs by desensitizing an individual to aggression. This belief is the most popular.
On a lighter note, numerous researchers have proposed potential positive effects of video games on aspects of social and cognitive development and psychological well-being. Several studies have explored the possible benefits of multiplayer video games in a family setting. The most recent study (a news release by Brigham Young University) found that girls 11-16 who played video games with their parents had better mental health and less aggressive behavior, with a stronger connection if they played age-appropriate games.
Some authors also suggest that video games have many healthy and positive aspects; for example, they can be a safe outlet for aggression and frustration. I, myself, can personally vouch for this theory.
In the end, the overall topic is up for individual determination.