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Are Violent Games Linked to Violent Crimes?

  • Suzanne Presto

As video game images become increasingly more realistic and graphic, policy makers are debating if there is a link between the violence depicted in those games and violence in real life.

A 20-year-old gunman's shooting spree at a school in the northeastern United States this month has reinvigorated discussions about violence, prompting lawmakers to call for greater examination of brutality in video games.

But evidence does not suggest violence in games causes violence in life, says Virginia Tech's James Ivory, a professor in the university's department of communication who researches the effects of video games.

"The agreement is pretty well universal among social scientists that there is not a clearly established link between actual violent crime and violent media usage," says Ivory.

He adds that it is possible, though debated, that exposure to violent video games could make a person think or respond more aggressively in the short term, or, in Ivory's words, "might even make you potentially more of a jerk to somebody." But, he emphasizes, temporary aggression and violent crime are worlds apart.

Graphic games are popular. Eight of the 20 best-selling video games in 2011 contained intense violence, language or sexual content deemed suitable only for players 17 and older.

Criminal defense attorney Rene Sandler says she has represented clients who played violent shooter games, gaining points with each kill.

"Violent video games are an enormous problem in this country, and violent video games have been at the core of violent behaviors after watching these video games or cumulatively playing games," Sandler says.

Video games differ from movies or other media because game players are active participants, not passive viewers.

"People have argued that violent video games should influence you more because you're taking on the role of someone violent," explains Ivory. "Conceptually that all makes sense, but empirically, there's not a lot of evidence for stronger effects of games than television."

Players don't confuse games with reality, a high school student and gamer told VOA.

"I'm not saying it's right, but it's just virtual people," he said. "It's not real people. It doesn't have any intentions of killing anyone in the real world."

Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, disagrees.

"There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games," LaPierre told reporters this month.

He named the popular game 'Grand Theft Auto' as an example.

One of the creators of 'Grand Theft Auto,' Navid Khonsari, says he grew up playing video games in Iran, Canada and the U.S., where video games were enjoyed by people of all ages.

The discerning factor among the countries, says Khonsari, "is that while video games have been readily available, what has been limited is the accessibility to weapons."

The focus on virtual violence might be limiting substantive discussions about firearm regulations and mental health treatment.

"When we talk about violent video games and actual violent crime, we're chasing something that hasn't really been observed and we're not talking about other things that have been observed," says Ivory.

Despite the renewed focus on video game violence, investigators of the most recent U.S. school shooting have not said whether the young gunman was a player of violent video games.

Interest in video games continues to grow around the globe. Analysts estimate people spent about $70 billion worldwide on video games and components in 2012. North America, Western Europe and East Asia remain key markets, while gaming is on the rise in India, Brazil, Russia and Southeast Asia.

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