The video game industry has fast become a major player in the entertainment industry, making up to $24.75 billion dollars in revenue in 2011 (Entertainment Software Association 2012). With video games taking up such a large portion of our society’s leisure time, many have come to question if there are substantial negative impacts on those who indulge in them, especially youths. This issue has become more and more prevalent as video gaming becomes more widespread in today’s society, not to mention the tragedies of events such as the Columbine school shootings of 1999. But are video games actually causing an epidemic of violence and anti-social behavior in today’s youths or is it merely a miscommunication of wrong information spread by the mass media? In order to answer this question we need to analyse the effects that video games have on youths and examine they are reported on in popular media.
The media of today is quick to blame the video game industry for violence in male youths, often increasing the stereotype that video games are played solely by children and teenage boys. However data gained by Entertainment Software Association shows that the average age of video game players is 34 years old, with the most frequent video game purchasers being 40. The number of gamers over the age of 50 makes up 26% of the total gaming population which is 1% more than those under the age of 18. Also women make up 40% of gamers, with women over the age of 18 representing 33% of the gaming population. It should also be noted that the average gaming adult has played video games for 12 years. Two of the most important facts that came from this study is that 93% of the time parents are present when games are purchased and 64% of parents believe that video games are leaving a positive impact on their children’s lives (Entertainment Software Association 2012).
The video game industry has gained a very bad reputation in today’s society due to misconceptions spread by the mainstream media. Ferguson (2007) argues that in times mass panic and moral outrage regarding youth violence, he uses the Columbine shootings as an example, that there is a desire among policy makers and the general public for answers. He says that“…it has become tempting for the public and scientists alike to place responsibility for these crimes on external determinants rather than on the individuals who commit the crimes.”After the Columbine shootings, violence in virtual media and popular culture became the 2nd most discussed cause of the Columbine shootings in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times whilst only 1% of news stories focused on the accountability and ethical character of those responsible (Ferguson 2007).
Video games have thought to have been linked to violence in youth in recent years, with the conservatives and families often speaking out in the media against video games. However much evidence contrary to this has continually come to light only to have little to no recognition by the public or the mass media. In Fergusons and Kilburn’s (2009) study titled ‘The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-Analytic Review’ the concluded that there was not a causal or correlational link between violent media and aggression, also posing the question“Why the belief of media violence effects persists despite inherent weaknesses of research is somewhat of an open question.”Similarly Kutner and Olson (2008) stated that any correlation between video games and an increase in violence in children is non-existent and is not supported by any current research. They also conclude in saying that“After all, millions of children and adults play these games, yet the world has not been reduced to chaos and anarchy” and that any links drawn between the two are “drawn from bad or irrelevant research, muddleheaded thinking and unfounded, simplistic news reports.” Other articles have also come across similar findings; often stating that “there was no evidence in either study to support a direct link between video game exposure and aggressive or violent behavior” (Cruz, Ferguson, Ferguson, Fritz, Rueda, Smith 2012) and that “…the research results on the effects of violent video games have been inconsistent and equivocal” (Sternheimer 2007). It has even been ruled by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during Brown v. EMA/ESA that exposure to violent video games do not cause minors to act in an aggressive manner.
Even though video gaming has received such a poor reputation in the mass media, studies have shown that playing video games may actually be beneficial to those who do. A group study conducted in 2012 shows that video games can be used in a clinical setting to help improve both physical and psychological results. Video game usage helped improve the outcomes of 69% of psychological therapy cases and 50% of physical therapy cases (Carroll, Cham, King, Klem, McNamara, Primack and Rich 2012). It has also been shown that video games can be used as a form of cognitive training which can lead to improved memory and critical. These effects were documented to have lasted up to three months after the end of the trials (Buschkuehl, Jaeggi, Jonides and Shah 2011). Another test concluded that video game playing can be beneficial for adults diagnosed with clinical depression. The study showed that those who were playing video games showed a significant reduction in depression levels. The study also showed a 57% decrease in measurable depressive symptoms and a 55% decrease in anger levels (Fish, O’Brien, Russoniello, Pougatchev and Zirnov 2011, Russioniello, O’Brien, Parks 2009).
Judging on the evidence presented it can be argued that video games not only do not pose a risk for the mental health of young people but in fact may have the potential to help improve the mental state of youths both emotionally and psychologically. These studies also show that video game representations in mass media are often misconstrued and manipulated to suit the viewing audience, often reporting on false information as well as increasing the social stereotypes of video gamers.
Buschkuehl, M, Jaeggi, S, Jonides, J & Shah, P 2011, ‘Short- and long-term benefits of cognitive training’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, viewed 13 September 2012 via the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Carroll, M, Cham, C, King, B, Klem, M, McNamara, M, Primack, B & Rick, M 2012, ‘Role of video games in improving health-related outcomes: a systematic review’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 42, no. 6, viewed 13 September 2012 via the American journal of Preventive Medicine.
Cruz, A, Ferguson, C, Ferguson, D, Fritz, S, Rueda, S & Smith S 2012, ‘Violent video games and aggression causal relationship or byproduct of family violence and intrinsic violence motivation?’, Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 35, no. 3, viewed 13 September 2012 via SAGE Publications.
Entertainment Software Association 2012, 2012 sales, demographic and usage data: essential facts about the computer and video game industry, viewed 13 September 2012, < http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/esa_essential_facts_2010.pdf>
Electronic Software Association 2012, Industry facts, viewed 13 September 2012, <http://www.theesa.com/facts/video-game-research.asp>
Ferguson, C 2007, ‘Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: a meta-analytic review’, Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 470–482, viewed September 13 2012 via Science Direct.
Ferguson, C & Kilburn, J 2009, ‘The public health risks of media violence: a meta-analytic review’, The Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 154, no. 5, viewed 13 September 2012 via Science Direct.
Fish, M, O’Brien, K, Russoniello, C, Pougatchev, V & Zirnov, E 2011, ‘The Efficacy of Prescribed Casual Video Games in Reducing Clinical Depression and Anxiety’, viewed 13 September 2012, < http://www.theesa.com/facts/research_0211_3.asp>
Kutner, L and Olson C 2008, Grand theft childhood: the surprising truth about video games and what parents can do, Simon & Schuter, America.
O’Brien, K, Russoniello, C & Parks, J 2009, ‘The effectiveness of casual video games in improving mood and decreasing stress’, Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehbilitation, viewed 13 September 2012 via East Carolina University.
Sternheimer, K 2007, ‘Do video games kill?’, Contexts, vol. 6, no. 1, viewed 13 September 2012 via Sage Publications.