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Violent Video Games And Aggression Defined Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5506 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Video games are a form of entertainment enjoyed by many adults and children on a daily basis. There are sports, dance, and mystery games that often provide hours of entertainment. However, there are also controversial violent video games that have made headlines and have been the subject of many protests. Numerous studies on whether these violent video games are associated with aggressive and hostile attitudes in children have been conducted, and the results are often mixed.

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One of the first violent video games was released in 1976 and was known as “Death Race” (Ferguson, Rueda, Cruz, Ferguson, Fritz & Smith, 2008). The object of “Death Race” was to run over tiny gremlins, which looked similar to humans, with a car. The release of this video game caused an outrage and many protests against the game occurred. It was soon discovered that the game’s original working title was “Pedestrian”, and this only served to anger those who were against the game even more (Ferguson et al, 2008).

Since the release of “Death Race” numerous other violent video games have been released such as “Mortal Kombat” and “Grand Theft Auto”. With the release of each new violent video game, the court cases that aim to prevent children from getting their hands on these games follow. In one such case, for example, an argument for opposing the sale of such games to children was held under the belief that the games are associated with aggression (Brown. v. Entertainment Merchant Association, 2010). In this particular case, Brown (2010) cited the research of Dr. Craig Anderson whose research claims to show a connection between violent video games and aggression in children. However, since it is highly difficult to prove that video games are actually the cause of aggression in children, the court threw them out (Brown v. Entertainment Merchant Association, 2010). The case was eventually decided stating that banning the sale of violent video games to minors was a violation of the first amendment.

Since it is often difficult to provide evidence that video games are actually the cause aggressive attitudes in children, numerous research experiments have been conducted to showcase the correlation between violent video games and aggression. For example, a study conducted by Cooper and Mackie (1986) found that the girls who played an aggressive video game engaged in more aggressive free play. This study had children play either a high-violent game or a low-violent game for around 8 minutes (Tang, 2008,). Upon playing either of the games, one group of children were then asked questions about hypothetical situations, the behavior of other children, as well as punishments and rewards for said behavior. Another group was lead to a room with toys to play with for a few minutes. The girls who had played the violent video game often chose to play with the aggressive toy, in this case it was a “Shogun samurai that spits, fists, and darts” (Tang, 2008, para. 13). Results also found that both genders who were exposed to either video game had a longer punishment and reward system when asked questions about the good or bad behavior of other children (Cooper and Mackie, 1986). Again, this is only an example of correlation between the two variables of video games and aggression; it in no way proves that the video game was the cause of the aggression.

Often there are no significant links to be found in the correlation between violent video games and aggression. A study conducted by Scott (1995) found no significant increases in aggression after participants played nonaggressive, moderately, and severely aggressive games. However, results found that there was a big change among the men who had played the nonaggressive game. These men showed a considerable amount of aggressive behavior overall after playing the nonaggressive game. This suggests that perhaps the degree of aggression one feels after playing a violent video game depends on the personality of the player. The men who had played the nonaggressive game were less aggressive both before and after playing than the men in the other two groups (Scott, 1995). Although the men who played the nonaggressive games did experience heightened aggression afterwards, it was generally less significant than the moderate and severe groups. The amount of aggression the men who had played the nonaggressive game did not compare to the amount aggressiveness the men who had played the moderately and severely aggressive games. Not to say that the latter group consisted of very aggressive men, there just wasn’t a significant change. The men who had played the nonaggressive game were not very aggressive to begin with, and experienced a higher degree of aggression upon playing the game. Not that the men were extremely aggressive, the change was more significant in this group as compared to the other two groups.

Another study conducted by Wiegman and Schie (1998) was interested in not only finding the effect of violent video games on aggression, but on pro-social behavior as well. This study focused on the amount of time spent playing video games each day. The study was based on Bandura’s (1961) social cognitive theory. The results for Wiegman and Schie’s (1998) first hypothesis were positive, it was found that those who played video games frequently displayed higher levels of aggression as compared to those who did not play as much. However, since the difference between moderate players and nonplayers was insignificant, the first hypothesis was no supported (Wiegman and Schie, 1998). Therefore, the results concluded that those who do play video games for a longer time do in fact display heightened aggression but the same could not be said for those who play those nonviolent games and no video games at all.

A more recent study in 2005 was interested moving past the hypothesis that video games are associated with aggression in general, but took a closer look into whether specific characters trigger aggressive attitudes. Lachlan, Smith, and Tamborini (2005) wanted to decipher whether players who were similar to either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ characters would imitate the aggressive or nonaggressive attitudes of such characters. This specific study cited the social cognitive theory in which people are attracted to characters who remind them of themselves, therefore they are more likely to imitate the behavior of these characters (Lachlan et al, 2005). Later studies conducted by Levermore and Salisbury (2009) and Ferguson (2011) also cited Bandura’s (1961) social learning theory in attempting to understand the association between violent video games and aggression.

Brand new violent video games are released every year, and adolescents continue to play them. Numerous studies have been conducted and will be conducted searching for a link between violent games and aggression. With new, sophisticated technology video games are becoming much more realistic. As of yet, there is no strong evidence that aggressive attitudes in youths are directly caused by violent video games. However, there is a continued effort to identify this direct link if it exists at all. Furthermore, various studies have only been able to prove an association between violent video games and aggression (see Lachlan et al, 2005, Scott 1995). The debate on how much of an impact violent video games have on aggressive attitudes in adolescents will continue for years to come.

Statement of the Problem

Violent video games are popular among children today, yet relatively little is known about how much of an association these games have with youth aggression. On one hand fierce opponents of violent video games argue that video games are definitely associated with aggression, even going so far to argue that violent video games are the cause of aggression in most children (see Carnagey & Anderson, 2004). On the other hand, violent video game proponents argue that there is no such relationship between violent video games and aggression at all. With two extreme sides in the violent video game debate and the rising sales of violent video games, it’s important to know how much of an association, if any, these games have with aggression.

Violent video games have been the subject of numerous lawsuits. These lawsuits range from banning the sale of violent video games to minors to developing a requirement for video game companies to include specific labels stating “18+” on violent games. In the case of Schwarzenegger versus Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), the EMA sought to overturn a law which banned the sale of violent video games to children. The reasoning behind the law was the belief that violent video games increase the chance of violent and aggressive behavior in children, thus directly causing harm to minors (DeWeese & Rumpf, 2010). Conversely, the EMA argued that banning the sale of violent video games to children violated the First Amendment by restricting free speech. The court ended up ruling in favor the EMA, stating that although there a correlation between violent video games and aggression, there was not enough evidence to prove that violent video games ultimately caused aggression (DeWeese & Rumpf, 2010). Thus, banning the sale of violent video games was found to be a violation to children’s first amendment rights.

Much of the evidence brought forward on the anti-video game side was very weak and could simply not prove causation between violent video games and aggression. On the side of the State of California & Schwarzenegger, the research of Craig Anderson was brought forth citing a direct causal link between violent video games and real life (See Iowa State University, n.d.) . However, the rebuttal to the above statement was that in order to show that violent video games were the direct cause of aggression; a study would need to be conducted in which a minor would be isolated from all other forms of violence (see brief for Schwarzenegger Vs. EMA, 2010). A minor would need to be exposed only to violent video games in order to prove the direct causation between violent video games and aggression. Since no such study has ever been conducted, it is difficult to prove that video games are the direct cause of aggression. The first amendment rights of children could not be taken away when it could not be proven that video games were the cause of aggression.

Therefore, a problem lies in determining just how strong of an association exists between violent video games and aggression in youths. In some cases, research points to a strong correlation between games and aggression while others find a weak association. For example, take the research of Anderson and Bushman (2001) who argue that violent video games, without a doubt, pose a threat to children. Note that the above research of Anderson and Bushman (2001) was used as evidence in attempting to prove that video games cause aggression in children in Schwarzenegger vs. EMA. However, a meta-analysis conducted by Ferguson (2007), which was not used as evidence in Schwarzenegger vs. EMA, found that violent video games have no relationship to aggressive behavior at all. As such Ferguson (2007) even argued that violent video games have been associated with positive reactions and prosocial behavior. As noted with two differing studies, it’s very important to determine whether or not violent video games are associated with aggressive behavior. The work of two different researchers has led to differing results and thus, it is important to get a clear understanding on this relationship in order to avoid further confusion.

With all the opposing views, debates, and court cases, researchers ought to be focusing simply on the relationship between violent video games and aggression. Researchers on both sides of the debates are eagerly trying to prove or disprove that the association exists or does not exist, with much of the information ending up as very ambiguous. Perhaps researchers ought to apply concepts such as Bandura’s (1961) Social Learning Theory and modeling in order to understand the relationship between the two

Definition of Terms

Aggression – Hostile or destructive tendency or behavior (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012).

Behavior – The way in which one acts either alone or around others.

Debate – A discussion between two sides on an issue where both sides disagree.

Entertainment – Something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, especially a performance of some kind (Dictionary.com, 2012)

E.M.A. – (Entertainment Merchant’s Association) Protects right the right to sell and promote entertainment products (entermerch.org, 2012).

E.S.R.B. – (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) Assigns age and content ratings to video games and mobile applications (esrb.org, 2012).

First Amendment – An amendment to the U.S. constitution, ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, prohibiting congress from interfering with freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or petition (Dictionary.com, 2012).

Free Speech – Being able to openly say anything one wishes without the fear of punishment either by authority or the government.

Hostile – Acting or behaving a negative or intimidating way toward an individual, animal, or property.

Lawsuit – A prosecution of a claim in a court of law (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012).

Media – Outlets such as television, newspapers, or magazines that provide information about current events and trends.

Observational Learning – The ability to acquire a new response as a result of observing a behavior model (Bandura, 1968, as cited in Carey, 2011).

Parent – The genetic or non-genetic Mother or Father of a child, a protector or a guardian (Dictionary.com, 2012).

Politics – The art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy (Merrium-Webster.com, 2012).

Prosocial – Behavior which is positive, helpful, and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012).

Social Cognitive Theory – How a person views and responds’s the one’s social environment, the idea that individuals are more likely to imitate those who they identify and are familiar with (Chegg.com, 2012).

Video Game – An electronic game usually played on a gaming console or home computer.

Video Game Addiction – Excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games that interferes with daily life, to the point of isolation, neglecting of relationships, and extreme anger when unable to play video or computer games. (inspirationyouth.com, n.d.).

Violence – Physically causing harm or abuse to another individual, animal, or property.

Youth – a person who is young.

Limitations of the Study

Video games are a relatively new form of entertainment and today they are more popular than ever. Violent content has been found in video games since the late 70s. Violence is a recurring theme in some of the most popular video games today. These violent video games are often associated with aggression and hostility, while opponents of violent video games going so far to declare that these video games cause aggression. It is often a very political issue, with both sides arguing that either violent video games do have a relationship to aggression or that no such relationship exists. In some cases, researchers have even argued that violent video games are associated with positive behavior (Gentile et al., 2009). Most of the research available contains differing research from one another, with often confusing results.

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A limitation of this study is that much of the information concerning violent video games and aggression is often ambiguous, even vague in some cases. One article may argue that violent video games cause aggression while another argues that video games have no association with aggression at all. A lot of the research appears eager to prove or disprove that violent video games and aggression have an association, without emphasizing other factors that may play a part in this argument. For instance, Vessey and Lee (2000) have argued that exposure to violent video games not only leads to aggressive feelings in the short-term, but also contributes to juvenile delinquency in the longer term. In order to be certain that the sources are accurate and unbiased, extra research in to the author of the article and journal needs to be done. Also, extra attention should also be paid into the funding sources of where this research is coming from. Researchers ought to focus on the association and whether it is exists at all. Instead of being solely focused on proving or disproving, attention should be paid to observations, effects, and other factors that increase or decrease aggression upon playing violent video games.

There are no longitudinal studies that measure children playing violent video games and aggression over time. It’s difficult to determine if aggression in teenagers and adults can be associated with having played a large amount of violent video games while growing up, or other factors. Often studies associated with this topic may last only a few years, for example while a child is in high school. No such study has examined the relationship between violent video games and aggression in children from childhood to the teenager years. Longitudinal studies would provide an excellent amount of information on how much of an impact violent video game play has on aggression over time.

Another limitation of this study is the fact that this topic is often a political issue. Politicians have their own opinions on this topic and often push for legislation outright banning the sale of violent video games to children. This is where the information starts to become ambiguous since most of the research is used as evidence in pushing this legislation and in the lawsuits that result. Most of the research that is used is heavily focused on proving whether or not violent video games ultimately cause aggression. It’s very difficult to determine causation in this case, and researchers ought to focus on simply the association. Rather than trying prove whether something absolutely does or does not exist, focus on the association between the two and observe the effects.

Theoretical Foundation

The relationship between violent video games and aggression is one that researchers are still trying to understand. For this project, the relationship will be looked at through the use of the social cognitive theory and behavior modeling. In social cognitive theory, it is argued that behavior is the outcome of outside influences and choices made by oneself (Bandura, 1991). As such violent video games have been considered an outside influence, with children imitating the actions of an aggressive character. Bandura (1986) suggested that in social cognitive theory individuals will identify with and imitate characters that are liked and similar to themselves (cited in Lachlan, Smith, & Tamborini, 2005). Children can recognize characters that are likeable, remind them of themselves, and in turn imitate the behavior of that character. In some cases a child will imitate the positive behavior of a character, while other times a child may imitate the aggressive behavior of a character. Determining whether or not a child will imitate the behavior a specific character depends on the gender, ethnicity, and social acceptance of a character (Lachlan et al, 2005). For example, a Caucasian boy will more likely imitate the behavior of a Caucasian male character over that of a Caucasian female character.

Behavior modeling, also known as observational learning, is also another theory applied to this relationship. Albert Bandura (1961) conducted a bobo doll experiment in which children viewed a video of an individual violently hitting and yelling at a bobo doll with the children later being led in to a room with an identical bobo doll (Isom, 1998). After viewing the video, the children were immediately led to a first room filled with toys, the children were told not to touch any of the toy(Isom, 1998). Later the children were sent to a second room that was filled with attractive toys, however what had caught the majority of the children’s attention was the identical bobo doll that had been featured in the film. Around 88% of the children had violently hit the doll just as they had seen the model do in the video. (Isom, 1998). The theory of behavior modeling can be applied to understanding the effect of violent video games on aggression in children. Although it is difficult to prove causation between violent video games and aggression, a concept such as behavior modeling can provide insight in to aggressive actions upon playing violent games. Behavior modeling is a useful tool in understanding why children sometimes imitate the behavior of individuals who they view in movies, television, and video games.

Albert Bandura’s (1961) social cognitive theory and the use of behavior modeling can help to greatly understand violent video games relation to aggression. Although much of the information regarding the two theories is based of work regarding television and movies, the same concepts have been applied to video games (i.e. Lachlan et al, 2005). It will be interesting to determine if the outcome changes when the theory is applied to violent video games.

Literature Review

Violent Video Games and Aggression Defined

In 2011 violent video games sales have soared over the sales of nonviolent video games (Vgchartz.com, 2011). In 2011, violent titles such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and Gears of War 3 all made the top 10 best selling games (Vgchartz.com). Violent video games are very popular on video game consoles as well as on computers. With access to online multiplayer, individuals can face off against other people from all over the world. No doubt, access to multiplayer contributes to violent video game’s popularity.

It may seem as though the ability to partake in a video game with individuals from all over the world is a good idea, however that is not always the case. A search on the internet for ‘video game raging’ can lead one to find dozens of videos of both teenagers and adults alike angrily yelling at their televisions. One is lead to wonder about the implications of these games and what long term consequences they may have. In some instances, video game addiction can occur, leading players to neglect all other responsibilities in order to dedicate as much time as possible to the game (Van Rooij et al, 2010). However, violent video games have not been associated with video game addiction alone. Often, violent video games are associated with increased aggression and hostility in adolescents.

It’s very difficult to prove that violent video games cause aggression. One would need to prove that aggression is directly caused by video games alone; as such no research has done this hefty task. Anderson & Bushman (1998) argue that there are at least four ‘active’ types of human aggression including physical, verbal, direct, and indirect. This paper will consider physical and verbal aggression in the context of violent video game play. Many research attempts to measure aggression have been conducted. Attempts include the use of electric shock to study the effects aggression and learning (Anderson & Bushman, 1998) as well as the use of observational learning, more specifically Bandura’s (1961) Bobo doll experiment and the social learning theory.

To continue, the release of one of the first violent video games Death Race did not go unnoticed; it sparked on outrage among consumers (Ferguson et al, 2008). Some consumers were so outraged that the video game was protested, some went so far as to pull Death Race machines out of arcades and subsequently burn them (Ferguson et al, 2008). Before the release of Death Race video game titles were rather tame, including hits such as Pac-man and Pong. Death Race was the first of its kind, but it wouldn’t be the last. A long line of violent titles would follow which would include Mortal Kombat, Counter-Strike, Grand Theft Auto, and the popular Call of Duty series.

Violent video game titles will continue to be released year after year, with much of the research about these video game titles resulting in mostly ambiguous information. It’s important to gain a clear understanding of the effects of these video games on aggressive and hostile behavior. This paper will take a look in to the appearances violent video games have made in the news, including the link to the Columbine Shootings as well as the Virginia Tech shootings. This paper will also take a look in to the various court cases violent video games have been a part of, including Schwarzenegger vs. EMA as well as Brown vs. EMA. Various legislation from banning the sales of violent video games to minors to requiring an 18+ title will also be considered, as will the Entertainment Software Ratings Board and their reasoning behind rating various titles M for Mature. Last but not least, this paper will also focus upon various research efforts that have been put forth in order to understand the association between violent video games and aggression.

Violent video games in the news

Local News Stories

Violent video games have made headlines numerous times. Whether news surrounds the release of the violent video game title or the consumers who play them, controversy isn’t too hard to find. For instance, take the story of Daniel Petric who had planned to murder both of his parents because they would not allow him to play the shooting game Halo 3 (“Ohio teenager,” 2009). Petric proceeded to shoot both his parents in the head, his Father survived. Judge James Burge (2009) who had presided over this case stated that Petric had become so obsessed with this particular video game, he had come to believe that like many of the characters in the game, death was not real (as cited in Martinez, 2009). In the end, Petric was sentenced to 23 years in prison but could have faced life without parole.

According the Judge Burge’s statements, Petric had falsely believed that his Mother would not have died when he shot her. Having become so addicted to the game, Petric believed that his Mother would continue to be alive. As in many video games when the character an individual is play dies, the character will simply come back to life a few seconds later as if nothing had happened. Halo 3 is such a game, it is a shooting based game and when the player’s character dies, the character will come back to life a few seconds later. Petric had become obsessed with this game, to the point where he was addicted. When his parents forbid him from playing the game, he reacted violently. One cannot argue that Petric’s violent reaction was caused solely by the video game; however there is definitely an association between the two. For instance Judge Burge (2009) continued “I firmly believe that Daniel Petric had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents, they would be dead forever” (as quoted in “Ohio teenager”, 2009). Petric may have been confusing fantasy with reality, thinking that his parents would not be dead forever but instead reappear as a live a few days later, just like in the video game.

Similarly to Daniel Petric, take the case of Crystian Rivera who killed his baby sister after becoming frustrated with a video game. 13 year old Crystian Rivera was apparently playing a video game while his baby sister had fallen and began to cry, Rivera had gotten so frustrated with the video game that he picked up his 9-month old baby sister and shook her (“Police: Frustrated, 2011). Rivera had reportedly said that he had become frustrated with the video game when the character whom he was play as was killed (“Police: Frustrated, 2011). No doubt Rivera had experienced an extensive amount of frustration while playing this video game and acted aggressively towards his baby sister. It can’t be said that the video game was the cause of the aggression, as other factors might have played a part. Consider the fact that Rivera was only 13 years old while watching a 9-month old. Some adults get frustrated watching a 9-month old and a distracted 13-year old may have experienced an unnecessary amount of frustration when dealing with a crying child. Rivera would go on to be tried as a youthful offender because of his age (“OKC Boy”, 2012).

Columbine Massacre

These are just 2 of many local news stories that have a link to video games. However, video games have made appearances in national news stories as well. The Columbine Massacre took place on April 20th, 1999 in Littleon, Colorado. Students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris entered proceeded to shoot at other students and staff. The two students had originally planned to murder hundreds of students with a variety of guns, knives, and bombs (Rosenberg, n.d.). Twelve students, one teacher, and the two shooters were dead by the time the massacre was finally over (Rosenberg, n.d.).

There are many theories, ranging from depression and bullying, that have been used to decipher what may have prompted the two shooters to carry out this massacre (Mears, 2007). One popular theory is that the video games the two shooters played may have in some way contributed to the actual massacre. The two shooters were reportedly avid players of the first-person shooter video game “Doom” (Saldana, 2012). The two even made custom levels and characters to share with other “Doom” players over the internet (Mears, 2007). In the “Doom” video game players assume the part of a single soldier who roams corridors and shoots at different space creatures with a number of different weapons (Ward, 2001). “Doom” is very similar to many violent video games of today coinciding with a military theme.

Jerald Block (2007) has argued that a sudden restriction from access to the computer and subsequently the video games may have triggered the Columbine shooting (as cited in Mears, 2007). For instance, parents of Harris and Klebold may have suddenly taken away access to the computer, which may have sparked extreme anger in both and eventually resulted in the school shooting. While researching this area Block (2007) had found evidence that computer use was restricted at home and at school for Harris and Klebold, while threats and violent grew more with each restriction (as cited in Mears, 2007). Both Harris and Klebold were obsessed with the “Doom” video game and reacted violently when it was restricted. It is important to note that Block (2007) feels that the content in the video games is not what prompted the shooting (as cited in Mears, 2007). Both the computer and video game “Doom” were outlets for Harris and Klebold, without these outlets they proceeded to unleash their aggression on the real world (Mears, 2007).

The video game “Doom” was subject to much controversy as a result of the Columbine shooting. The video game was highly scrutinized and it was noted that the shooters in the school shootings of Paducah, KY and Springfield, OR were also avid players (Sternheimer, 2007). Since the Columbine shooting, a plethora of newspaper articles were released around the nation alleging that video games were the cause of the shootings (Sternheimer, 2007). Sternheimer (2007) argues that aggressive people have a high chance of buying violently content, but it is difficult to prove that violent content actually causes real life violence. It is difficult to prove causation in video games and real world violence, only that the two exist together (Sternheimer, 2007). Sternheimer (2007) states that many news articles concerning video games and violence ignore other factors that might have played a part in the shootings:

News reports of the shootings that focus on video games ignore other research on the meanings that the audiences make from media culture. This may be because its qualitative findings are difficult to turn into simple quotatio


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