Are Video Games Actually Desensitizing Us To Violence?

Mark DeNicola | collective-evolution

Growing up, video games played a big role in my life at times, as they were often the go to source of entertainment. Whether I was spending time with friends or unwinding on my own, there was little “fun time” spent -aside from playing sports outside -without a Nintendo or Sony controller in my hand. And for good reason, as there is no denying that for many of us video games can be incredibly fun to play.

Are Video Games Actually Desensitizing Us To Violence

I still remember to this day how immersed I became in games such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and the Metal Gear Solid franchise -all of which managed to preoccupy countless hours of my childhood and teenage years. To this day I still on occasion play video games and in the right environment and/or mood can have a lot of fun doing so.

With video game console capabilities consistently improving I found myself curious to explore just how big of a role video games play in our modern society and whether or not they are having any lasting effects on those who play them.

Video Games By The Numbers

According to a dossier released by statista in September of this year global video game revenues exceed $100 billion US, with $6.1 billion of that being generated by video game sales in the United States alone.(1) These already staggering numbers become even more surprising when one takes into consideration the state of the US economy. How much of that $100 billion is being spent by families and individuals who cannot comfortably afford to buy that $59.99 game or that $349.99 console?

In terms of time -arguably our most precious resource -in 2013 the average US gamer over the age of 13 spent 6.3 hours a week playing video games -which is up from an average of 5.6 hours spent in 2012.(2)

What Type Of Games Are We Playing The Most?

kidgamingViolence, in some way shape or form has been a predominant theme in the world of video games for quite sometime. The numbers support that conclusion with the action and shooter genres accounting for a combined 51.9% of video game sales in the US in 2013.(3) Even if masked under the intentions of playing a hero whose sole purpose is to destroy a series of “enemies” to save the world, violence is violence and we seem to love to engage in it virtually.

The top 5 selling games in the UK in 2013 are further proof that this trend is global, with 4 of the top 5 being from the action and/or shooter genre.(4) Atop that list is the latest instalment from the ever-popular Grand Theft Auto series a franchise synonymous for gratuitous violence, sexuality and mature themes -as evidenced by its M for Mature rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

“Currently there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing computer and video games at least an hour a day — and 183 million in the US alone.” – Jane McGonigal, Game Designer & Author

So, with so much violence being engaged in virtually by so many of us worldwide is it having an effect on us? And more importantly is it desensitizing us to these mature themes? There seems to be two opposing points of view.

View #1: Violent Video Games Reduce Brain Response To Violence

A 2011 study out of the University of Missouri-Columbia looked at the long recognized belief held by many scientists that playing violent video games can cause players to become more aggressive in their daily life. The study involved 70 young adult participants who were randomly assigned to play a violent or non-violent video game for 25 minutes. The researchers then measured brain responses as they showed the participants a series of neutral and violent photos. The final stage allowed the participants to compete against an opponent in a controllable task that allowed them to choose how aggressively they would blast their opponent with sound. Researchers found that those who played a violent video game were more aggressive in their blast by comparison to those who played a non-violent game.(5)

Another study in the publication Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that aggression triggered by video games can last for up to 24 hours after the game is played -if the player continues to think about the game.(6) Thinking back on my own video game experiences I can often recall times where the game lingered within my mind long after I had put the controller down, making this study personally quite interesting for me to read about. The authors of the study noted that violent gamers often play for a lot longer than the 20 minutes they were allotted in this particular study, making it more likely that they let thoughts of it ruminate within their mind habitually.

View #2: No Causal Link Between Video Games & Violent Behaviour

Several authorities, including the US Supreme Court, the US Surgeon General, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission all stand on the side of there being no causal link between violent video games and violent behaviour. Any theories to the contrary they state are a myth, and in response have compiled a list of research to support this stance.(7)

They do advise however that individuals -especially parents -make informed decisions about what they do and do not choose to expose themselves to. Each game is subject to a rating and suggested age range, and all major gaming systems are required to have programmable parental controls.

How To Decide For Yourself

As with so many other things in the world these days I’m finding that the best solution always lies within. When deciding whether or not to expose yourself to violent video games, observe how you feel when you play them. Are they purely an entertaining experience that you are easily able to disconnect from? Or are they an escape that allows you to release frustrations, feelings and emotions?

I’d also advise to look within when deciding whether or not play video games at all. Observe your behavioural patterns to see whether you are simply engaging in an available form of entertainment or if it has become a habitual decision. Be sure to be honest with yourself when analyzing this as well, as you won’t be doing anyone a favour by masking how playing as much as you do makes you feel.

I personally do not think that video games are inherently good or bad. They aren’t for everyone, and there is a time and place for them for those who enjoy them. It’s up to us to decipher just how much and when that is, if at all.

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