Note: This was a short research paper that I had to do for an English class in college. This Blog seems like the perfect place to "resurrect" this paper as this whole issue will never seem to go away.
It was July when Charles Whitman, who was 24, killed both his wife and mother. He then took a “footlocker full of ammunition, shotguns, rifles, Spam sandwiches and water” to a clock tower at the University of Texas. In the next hour and half, he shot 46 people, killing 16 of them before finally being shot to death by police. Charles Starkweather was 19 when he led Caril Fugate, 14, on a “weeklong killing spree across Nebraska and Wyoming in which 11 people were shot, stabbed, and strangled to death.” Before this, however, Caril had shot her mother to death with a shotgun for threatening Charles (Lovinger 18,19).
Are these the newest acts in a seemingly endless rash of teen violence? Were these teens influenced to kill by Marilyn Manson, violent video games, or R rated movies? The answer is a sound “No!” These acts occurred before the advent of violent media. According to Lovinger, Whitman killed all those people in the summer of 1966, while the killing spree of Starkweather and Fugate happened during the year of 1958 (18). Violence has always been among the population. Violent video games do not encourage nor induce our kids to commit acts of brutality. People have been killing each other since the dawn of time. Society cannot use violent video games as a scapegoat for its ills. Violent video games do not cause violent behavior in today’s youth, contrary to popular belief.
One of the biggest arguments against the selling and creating of violent video games is that kids are not able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, that when they pick up a fake gun and shoot at pixels and animation that fly across the screen, the game is teaching them to kill in real life. People argue that these games would cause a kid to become a “video gamer trained to kill efficiently by the hyperviolent games he played” (Thompson 36). If these games are really teaching kids to become violently trained weapons of destruction, then society should be seeing a lot more violent acts then it does. According to Joshua Quittner of Time magazine, video games are a 5.5 billion dollar industry, beating out even movies. They have also become the “second-most popular form of home entertainment after TV.” On top of this, Quittner also points out, “9 out of 10 U.S. households with children have rented or owned a video or computer game.” He also goes on to point out that almost a third of the top games in 1999 had some violent content (50). It should be mentioned here, however, that “Doom” and “Quake”, two games known for their violent content, have a combined sale of only 4.7 million copies. Take a look at “Myst” and “Riven,” both very non-violent; they have combined sales of 5.5 million copies (Miller 3). So while a third of the 100 games are violent, the top sellers are not. This does not mean that they are not being sold, just not in the ludicrous amounts that the media leads people to believe. Now if kids are that influenced by video games, the public should be seeing even more violence than what it is seeing now. There is a reason why society is not seeing more violence. That is because children can actually understand the difference between a violent fantasy video game and going out and doing the same thing in real life.
David Grossman, a retired army lieutenant colonel, says that these violent video games prepare kids to “kill and even enjoy the experience” (Quittner 50+). He then equates video games to cigarettes. Kids themselves have even said that they know the violence is fantasy and could never carry out the violence portrayed in real life. Peter Horan, 16, talks about one of his favorite games entitled “Grand Theft Auto.” This is a video game in which killing police and stealing cars will gives the best score. When asked why he plays it, he says, “Because it’s fun. I know that cops aren’t bad. It doesn’t make me want to go out and steal cars. Video games don’t influence me” (Quittner 50+). Look at Brian Wisotsky. He spends hours a day killing online people in the game “Quake.” Brian, or Phlendar, as his soon-to-be victims know him, is one of the best Quake players in Brooklyn. The violence does not bother his dad, Mike, who says, “Anyone with half a brain in their head can’t take it seriously” (Sandberg R4). There also many more testimonies like these in which both parents and kids mention that they can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Still another one is a gentleman known as "Thresh." He was "the first professional gamer" and a "living legend." He has even won a Ferrari in a “Quake” tournament. He attests that "When you hit someone in the game, it's a cartoon. It's cowboys and Indians, that's all” (Howe 36). The writer, Jeff Howe, also agrees with this. He states, "I don't know why shooting games are fun, but however absorbing they may be, they haven't damaged my psyche, or made me more violent, and Thresh would hardly call them a negative influence on his life” (37). Are parents really raising their kids so badly that they are not able to see the line between what is a game and what is real life? If this is the case, should not society focus more on destroying bad parenting than these games?
These are not the only people who say that video games do not affect them. Harry Jenkins, a professor at Michigan Institute of Technology, has studied games for years. He laughs at the idea that any "element of popular culture could act as a motivational factor in a case like the Littleton killings." He says, "According to industry figures, 90 percent of American boys play these games, so connections between Doom and the shooters aren't very meaningful for the simple reason that the games are so ubiquitous" (Howe 36+). The music and media that Klebold and Harris used as their supposed inspiration were dark. But kids everywhere are using supposed dark media in a positive way. Jenkins talks about a young girl who publishes fictional stories on her website based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This show owes its idea to video games. "You can't say that popular culture did something to [Klebold and Harris],” says Jenkins. "It's more accurate to say that they did something with popular culture” (Howe 36+). Society needs a scapegoat, and since most parents either do not understand or fear video games, it is easy for them to blame video games. Even the Surgeon General of the United States says that video games do not affect kids in the ways we are led to believe in their report, which was filed on January 17. David Satcher, the Surgeon General, said, "In the report, while we point out that exposure to violence in the media - especially television - can significantly increase aggressive behavior in youth, it is not a major long-term factor in violent behavior. (Asher 28)."
As shown in the paragraph above, most kids are not affected by video games at all. However, there is always an exception to the rule. For there seems to be some "subgroups within the population of children who may indeed be 'at risk' when it comes to playing video games." Those who play video games "heavily" are more inclined to be at risk then the "casual gamer." Other research also suggests that children with "low self-concepts or low mental age" are also at risk (Van Horn 173-174). That is when the parents should step in. If they think their kids might be easily influenced by these games, it is up to them to prevent their kids from playing them. The parents should not buy the games for them and then blame the games if their kids go wrong. It is up to the parents to regulate what their kids see and play. Parents should also realize that video games could have a good influence. Tom Horan sees it as good that his kids are playing these games. He says, "I'd rather have them and their friends playing video games here than out roaming the streets” (Quittner 50-59).
Now society must come to realize the good things that can come from video games. Not every video game out there is a shoot-them-up, kill-them-all “frag fest.” There are some genuinely beautiful-looking games and games with storylines that rival today’s best sellers. These games can even be conduits for emotions. David Costikyan said it best:
They're blowing up pixels. They're killing bitmaps. They're shooting at software subroutines. They're not a threat to public order ... What they are doing makes them less likely to be a threat do public order. They're getting their jones -- they're satisfying their antisocial impulses in a completely harmless way. Violent computer games don’t spur violence; violent computer games channel antisocial behavior in societally acceptable ways. (Van Horn 173-74)
Violent video games and media have never been the problem. Violence has always existed, even before any form of “media” even existed. Society cannot use these media as a scapegoat for kids’ problems. Parents also cannot use computer games to make up for their bad parenting. It has been shown time and time again that these games are not the reason why society has problems with violence. The violence has been and will always be inside all people; it is just what they decide to do about it that will decide society’s future.
Howe, Jeff. “The Great Video Game Shoot-Out.” The Village Voice 11 May 1999: 36. ProQuest Direct. ProQuest. J.D. Messick Learning Resource Center, Tulsa. 26 March 2001 (http://proquest.umi.com/).
Lovinger, Caitlin. “Violence, Even Before the Internet.” The New York Times 25 Apr. 1999: 18. ProQuest Direct. ProQuest. J.D. Messick Learning Resource Center, Tulsa. 26 March 2001 (http://proquest.umi.com/).
Miller, Stephen C. “Most-Violent Video Games Are Not Biggest Sellers.” The New York Times 29 July 1999: 3. ProQuest Direct. ProQuest. J.D. Messick Learning Resource Center, Tulsa. 26 March 2001 (http://proquest.umi.com/).
“Press Start.” Electronic Gaming Monthly May 2001: 36 uittner, Joshua. “Are Video Games Really So Bad?” Time 10 May 1999: 50-59. ProQuest Direct. ProQuest. J.D. Messick Learning Resource Center, Tulsa. 26 March 2001 .(http://proquest.umi.com/)
“The Surgeon General’s Report.” Computer Gaming World May 2001: 30.Van Horn, Royal. “Violence and Video Games.” Phi Delta Kappan Oct. 1999: 173-174. ProQuest Direct. ProQuest. J.D. Messick Learning Resource Center, Tulsa. 26 March 2001 (http://proquest.umi.com/)