Video games have been a rapidly expanding industry since their inception in the 1970s. Along with their growth have come concerns about violent video games and their effects on aggression and violence in young people. The shootings in Columbine and other schools pushed this issue to the forefront, since the two shooters were avid players of video games. These events brought about the question: do violent video games induce aggression in youth? That’s the question I set out to answer by looking at research. The research shows that there is a link between playing video games and increases in aggression in adolescents. What implications does this fact have ethically? It means that video game producers and distributors need to be held responsible for their releases and the way they end up in the hands of kids.
Video games are a rapidly growing industry. There are nearly two games sold for every household in America each year (Anders 271). The vast majority of these are sold to adults, but there is no national law that prohibits minors from buying violent video games. A few states have legislation pending that will prevent this, but the fact is that minors do have access to violent video games. There is a voluntary rating system implemented by the ESRB, where games are rated based on their content. The games that are rated Mature are not supposed to be sold to anyone under seventeen and Adults Only titles, but “some retailers do not impose such limitations” (Anders 271). The bottom line is that minors do have access to these violent games.
One article points out that video games have a big impact on children’s lives and that many of the games played are violent. Researchers have found that “nearly all children spend time playing video games” and studies have found that “8th graders spent an average of 17 hours per week playing video games” (Tamborini 336). Moreover, 68% of the most popular video games contain violence (Tamborini 336). So it is clear that many children have access to violent video games and they have a big impact on their lives simply because of the amount of time spent playing them.
The shooters at Columbine high school, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold frequently played violent video games such as Doom, and Harris even created a modification for the game. The modification allowed two shooters to use a large arsenal weapons to shoot unarmed civilians (Anderson 353). Is seems eerily close to the actual events that took place. But just because individuals who were involved in school shootings frequently played violent video games, it does not mean that video games increase aggression in people. We have to look to research to see if a link between the two exists.
Unlike television and motion pictures, violent video games are a relatively new invention and studies on their impact are not as numerous. There has been a lot of such research on the effects of movies and television. Over five decades, research has shown that “even brief exposure to violent TV or movie scenes causes significant increases in aggression, that repeated exposure of children to media violence increases their aggressiveness as young adults, and that media violence is a significant risk factor in youth violence” (Anderson 354). These types of media do increase aggression and violence, but how do violent video games compare to these forms of media? This is the relationship that researchers Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman studied.
After 33 independent tests that involved 3,003 participants, these researchers have found that “video-game violence was definitely associated with heightened aggression” The effect is so high, that it is in fact “as strong as the effect of condom use on risk of HIV infection” (Anderson 357). The research shows that exposure to violent video games poses a threat to young people. Exposure to these games is “positively associated with heightened levels of aggression” and “negatively associated with prosocial behavior” (Anderson 358). The bottom line derived from these studies is that violent video games do in fact have negative effects on youth since they cause aggression and increase antisocial behavior.
Not only are violent video games made available to kids, they are also heavily advertised to them. There is a loophole that allows games to be advertised before they are rated. One article notes that PlayStation magazine, which has 40% of its readers under 18, ran an ad for a game called Evil Zone, encouraging players to “get a lesson in Pain 101.” The game’s rating was pending. Moreover, “Sports Illustrated for Kids ran an advertisement for Resident Evil 2 before it was rated ‘Mature’” (Anders 271). Mature games are intended for those over 17, but magazines for kids are advertising them. Ratings are also sometimes left out of ads completely, or printed so small that one can hardly read them (Anders 272). There is clearly a moral issue with advertising these games to kids.
Video games, even violent ones, also have a positive impact on people. For example, they increase dexterity since playing them takes good hand-eye coordination. Another important property of video games is how they drive technology. From the Atari 2600 to the PlayStation 3, video games have driven technology and computing to be faster and more advanced than ever. Finally, video games provide enjoyable entertainment to millions of people worldwide. So how do we reconcile the positive effects of video games with the negative effects of violent ones? I will try to do this by making use of my best plan of ethics.
I utilized many moral theories in my ethical best plan. However, I think that two theories really apply to this dilemma: utilitarianism and social contract theory. My best plan of ethics indicated that I would try to do the most good to the most people in a utilitarian approach. There were other considerations I would make, but this is an important attribute. Violent video games have a negative impact on society because of their impact on the aggression of young people. So does the utility of video games outweigh the problems they create?
This is a hard argument to make from a utilitarian perspective. This is because the benefits that video games provide a benefit to many more people than they harm. Millions of adults enjoy all types of video games and the games have a positive effect on their life. The effect they have on youth is much smaller. Fewer kids play video games and of course not every one of them is affected in the same way. So under this theory, the benefits of video games outweigh the problems. However, utilitarian theory has a problem with looking at the future because it focuses on the immediate effects. Therefore, this theory is not enough, and another one must be used to look at future effects of violent video games on youth.
One other point in my best plan is that acting in a “good” way is in the best interest of people. This is the social contract theory, a theory that allows us to look at the future effects of violent video games. The theory states that we should be good to others, because that will help better society as a whole. It is as if we had signed a contract that we will abide by the rules of society. Having kids play violent video games, and become more aggressive has a negative effect on kids and therefore it will have a negative effect on society in the future. It is a sort of breach of the social contract to allow youth to play these games, since that will create a negative impact on society, and would not be in our best interest.
Therefore, we must be careful of the entertainment we create, because it can have negative effects on our society in the future. Game creators and distributors need to realize that creating and marketing violent video games for kids is not in their best interest in the end. Living in a society where kids are shooting each other at school because of a game they played is not the best direction for society, and game producers, marketers and distributors need to realize this.
Everyone in the game industry needs to be responsible for the release of violent video games. Game designers are artists and I believe in their right to express themselves through their art. However, they need to realize that what they create will have an impact on kids and the society in the future. While I favor the freedom of expression, there must be accountability of those who are making and distributing violent games that kids play. Even assuming that everything is permissible according to the law, game creators must take personal responsibility in what they are releasing to the nation’s youth.
One big problem seems to be with marketers advertising violent video games to kids and the lack of responsibility by stores selling those games to minors. There is already a rating system in place, and it helps keep parents informed about what their kids are playing. One recommendation I would make is for retailers to have to be responsible for limiting the sale of Mature rated games to minors. Ratings should be prominently displayed in all game advertisements, and games that do not have a rating yet should not be advertised at all.
There is already a rating system in place that gives a good indication of what age group should play which game, but the federal government has not stepped in and made a law that requires this be enforced, as they have with tobacco and alcohol. There are strict penalties for the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors, but there is no such legislation for video games. Such a national law needs to be enacted, or game distributors need to step up and require that all stores verify the age of anyone buying Mature rated games. This could be a required part of the deals publishers have with stores: either they verify the age of buyers, or they cannot sell the games.
I do not plan to be a game designer in the future, but my field is close to it. I am in the computer science field, which is related since video games always need programmers. Therefore, it is possible that I may work on games in the future and I would take my own recommendations to heart in creating games. I would realize that video games do in fact affect young people, and that violent games do indeed make them more aggressive and the ethical implications of that fact.
If I were to be the programmer of a violent game, I would first like to know whether kids would have access to it. What rating are we aiming for? Who will the game be advertised to and targeted at? If the game were to be a mature, violent one, and was to be marketed and sold to kids, I would think twice about my decision to work on the project. I would realize that video games probably more good than harm in a utilitarian approach, but I would also take into consideration the social contract theory and ask, “would I like to live in a society where people are more aggressive because of something I helped to create?” I hope that I would make the right decision in that situation.
Anders, Kelly L. "Marketing and Policy Considerations for Violent Video Games."
Journal of Public Policy and Marketing 18 (1999): 270. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. DePaul Library. 7 Mar. 2008.
Anderson, Craig A.; Bushman, Brad J. "Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive
Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: a Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature." Psychological Science (2001). EBSCO. DePaul Library. 7 Mar. 2008.
Tamborini, Ron ; Eastin, Matthew S. ; Skalski, Paul ; Lachlan, Kenneth ; Fediuk, Thomas A. ;
Brady, Robert. "Violent Virtual Video Games and Hostile Thoughts." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (2004). EBSCO. DePaul Library. 7 Mar. 2008.