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Should Violent Video Games Be Banned?

Video gaming has impacted our culture. Kids and adults alike are very much drawn to video gaming, especially the violent ones. Should we turn a blind eye or be cautious?

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The concept of play has been evolving. Several years back, before the deluge of video games, the notion of entertainment was more outdoorsy than indoors. Kids wanted to ride their bicycles outside, play in the park, on the playground, play in their backyard, etc. The concept of play or the idea of sports and gaming was more tactile than ever. Today, the ideology of frolicking is defined by virtual reality via the defining instrument of video games and other forms of eSports. The evolution of video games has been astronomical. We have seen the metamorphosis of gaming from the Atari 64s, Commodore 64s, DOS, Nintendos, Megadrive of the 80’s to the PlayStation 5s and Xbox Series X and S of recent years. Development and advancement have been astronomical. The realism has been unreal and very phenomenal, to say the very least.

“Every age has its storytelling form, and video gaming is a huge part of our culture. You can ignore or embrace video games and imbue them with the best artistic quality. People are enthralled with video games in the same way as other people love the cinema or theatre.” ― Andy Serkis

The realism in today’s video games is next to none. You cannot compare the highly pixelated graphics of game console platforms of the 80s to the verisimilitude that we see today in the current game systems (i.e., console games) that are available. We also see games available on different platforms (e.g., Mobile, Personal Computer (PC), and Cloud games). However, with all these advancements through the years comes the question of censorship and appropriateness of content in some of these games, especially when it comes to violence. Concerning these two questions, the conversations centered on banning violent video games have been ongoing since the early ’80s. Many articles written on this issue weigh the pros and cons of the effect of violent video games on the psychology of human empathy and behavior. This conversation will, in my opinion, be like that of the wide elephant in the room. 

Do violent video games encourage violence in society?

I first wrote this article in 2018. Some of the data I collected at that time is reflected in my writing. Hence, according to the data released by Newzoo Global Gaming Marketing Report for 2018, it stated then that the global game market revenue estimate in 2017 was at $121.7 Billion. However, the report for 2018 showed a marked 13.3% increase from the 2017 forecast, bringing the forecasted turnover for 2018 to $137.9 Billion.3 This report indicated that the gaming industry is a huge market! The Newzoo analysis placed the U.S. gaming revenue forecast at $32.7 Billion in 2018 with a +10.0% increase year-on-year.3 By this report, the United States stands as the second-largest video game market next to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China is currently at $37.9 Billion―it is pretty fascinating to see that the PRC is a vast video game consumer. By this data, the global game market is experiencing an exponential growth ratio from being a small market segment in 2012 to a formidable industry in 2018.

Fast forward to 2020, and I still look to Newzoo as my source for gaming data, analyzing the latest trends and numbers in this sphere. Newzoo has a comprehensive 2020 Global Games Market Report. It goes in-depth in analyzing key trends, market sizing & forecasts special focus topics and rankings―an interesting read, to say the very least. However, analyzing the whole document would be a complete digression from my focus on this article. However, I will still go ahead to mention some facts from the record. Later, I will take the time and liberty to do a complete review of their dossier. The final global game revenue forecast for 2018 and 2019 was $138.5 billion and $145.7 billion, respectively.1 It is projected that “the world’s 2.7 billion gamers will spend $159.3 billion.” Newzoo forecasts that the games market will upend from 2018 with a +7.7% CAGR to cross the $200-billion mark by the end of 2023, reaching a mindboggling $200.8 billion.1 As you can see from the trends, the gaming industry is on a fast-track path towards growth and aggrandizement. 

The global game market is on an upward growth trajectory

As we look at the revenue that the gaming industry is raking in from the Newzoo Report’s research, this industry doesn’t seem to be stopping its growth anytime soon. It then makes sense to say that the argument over the influence of violent video games, if it should be banned, is nothing but a white whale! This assertion means that the conversation looks very promising, especially during research and conferences et al. However, the question is this, will violent video games ever be banned? Some psychologists believe that violent video games negatively influence behavior, while others think it does not. However, it seems like psychologists could be having this argument for a very long time to come in the foreseeable future. I do not think those whose wealth comes from this industry can lie down quietly at night and watch their livelihood destroyed by assertions, researches, and potential arguments. Everyone is up for a fight in the video game industry. So, the debate will go on for a while, as it seems. Thus, the question that arises is, “Do we censor or not censor violent games?” 

Censorship or Not? Thoughts

Do we censor or not censor violent games? 

For the sake of argument, let’s discuss a few points to note for parents who would rather censor the video games’ content in their homes. Metacritic, a gaming review website, reveals that the top-selling video games like Grand Theft Auto, The Last of Us, God of War Uncharted, etc., are made up of violent content. It seems like the higher the level of violence, gore, and death-infused scenarios the game has, the more returns the new game might have once released to the market. Does this depict the mindset of our current generation? Is this the generation that is now defined with so much harshness, cruelty, brutality, and violence? It’s left to us to ponder on these things. In our world today, where mass school shootings, bullying, and all forms of addiction and violence towards women are rampant, some critics argue that these violent video games are part of these issues’ blame. Advocates of censoring violence in video games will gladly embrace the notion that violent video games are partly responsible for making violence more appealing today.

However, despite some clamor for censorship of violent content in video games and whether minors should have access to it or not, there are a few schools of thought at play on this issue. Recent research published on the website Science Daily on January 16, 2018, by the University of York claims that “…researchers have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.”  After surveying 3000 participants, the conclusion drawn from this article that video game concepts do not ‘prime’ players to behave in particular ways. This study posits that violence in video games does not necessarily increase players’ aggression in real life. (NB. Priming is the exposure of concepts (e.g., violence) that makes it easier to use in “real life”).2 This proposition debunks the foundation that clamors for the ban of violent video games. 

Do violent video games prime people to become active shooters?

On the other hand, some critics believe that those who develop these games promote violence and embed some neurotic waves that trigger players’ violent tendencies, especially with the recent spate of school shootings witnessed in the United States. Since the Columbine High School (CHS) shooting in Columbine, Colorado, United States, “25 fatal, active school shootings at elementary and high schools in America” have occurred since that event on April 20, 1999. This recklessness by the gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, has sparked a societal protest that violent video games contribute to youth violence and should be banned. This follows similar calls made by the Florida Lawmaker, Jared Moskowitz, after the Florida High School Valentine’s Day shooting early this year.

On the confronting end of the spectrum, video game producers will plead their right to the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution that they have their right to free speech as enjoyed by other art forms. The Brown vs. EMA was a ruling by the United States Judiciary protecting free speech for the video game producers and the consumers. The fact remains that some of these shooters played video games and may have been primed by the content of the games that they played to exhibit the heinous acts that they perpetrated. However, the question arises concerning millions of other kids and even adults who also play these seemingly violent games but don’t manifest any violent tendencies. Should they be punished for the atrocious acts of the few? Brown vs. EMA also considers that a lot of work still needs to go into the complete understanding of the effect(s) and impact(s) of video game science. Both sides of the spectrum make valid points to state their case. Hence, is there really a role that violent video games play in youth violence?

The Role of Violent Video Games in Youth Violence

Do violent video games and violence go together?

However, let’s ask again. What role do violent video games play in contributing to youth violence?

Yes, there have been cases that stated that perpetrators of mass shootings played violent video games. However, as stipulated above in the preceding paragraph, millions of youths play video games full of gunfire, hand combat, wrestling, martial arts, mixed martial arts, etc. However, does that have any relationship between committing the dastard deed of cold-blooded murder and playing recreational entertainment? What percentage have re-enacted what they watched beyond shooting friends with imaginary guns or water guns in their mother’s backyard? Do we justify the action of complete censorship of violent video games because of a few miscreants’ activities? A full ban would infringe on the 1st Amendment rights of those that maintain their sanity amongst other video game players. Also, the artistic rights in conjunction with the video game producers’ 1st Amendment rights would likewise be infringed upon.  

Several types of research have shown that only a tiny fraction of the consumers become violent. The United States (US) Secret Service and the US Department of Education reported that 88% of the perpetrators were interested in violent movies and books. In comparison, only 12% showed interest in violent video games. (NB. This information is contained in the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. This report is an effort to ensure student safety in schools). The release also did not find a substantial correlation between playing violent video games and school shootings when reviewing the portion about “Characterizing the Attacker.” Neither did it determine that playing violent video games harmed youths. Hence, it would be a generalist point of view to conclude that playing violent video games eventually causes all players to commit mass shootings. It is a nightmare to even think about these miscreants’ pain level on a side note. Our primary goal is to see our kids protected in their schools and everywhere else.

The protection of the populace is paramount.

Some studies allegedly found that violent video games that cause people to become desensitized to human empathy and violence are more likely to spur individuals to commit a violent act. We can assert that this comment may not hold 100% validity from our previous assertions in the article. Not everyone who plays video games, even the violent ones, play with the intent and mindset to commit a crime. Both adults and children who play video games do so because it helps them relax and escape into a make-believe virtual world (i.e., escapism). Children also resort to video games as an outlet to experience fantasies of power, to explore and master what they perceive as exciting, and in environments, they have control over. Adults also play video games as an outlet to relieve stress. Researchers also point to the reasoning that video games’ purgative effect is a possible reason why there might be a reduction in crime rates. This assertion could be because children spend most of their time playing games in their make-believe world instead of committing violent acts in the real world.

Violent video games reinforce fighting as a means of dealing with conflict by rewarding intense action with increased lifespan, weaponry, moving on to higher levels, etc. This might be what primes individuals to commit violent acts in the first place. Violent games allow youths to experiment and educate their minds concerning moral issues such as war, violence, and death without real-world consequences. Moral lessons are learned here. War-themed video games like Call of Duty WW2, Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Metro Exodus, Steel Division: Normandy 44, Enemy Front, etc. require players to take the roles of soldiers from different sides of a conflict, making players more aware of the war strategies and its consequences. Some of these games could also motivate young people in a positive light. For instance, some people elect to join some military branch to serve their nation in real life because of playing some war-themed video games. This is usually a one-off occurrence most times. 

Military video games can motivate people to join the military

Some researchers have tried to link the feeling of guilt that leads to increased civic engagement and decisive actions that benefit others in the real world to playing violent video games. I am not sure about this, possibly due to the team-oriented multiplayer options in many of these games. However, it is arguable that children are more likely to imitate the behaviors of characters in video games and have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. By age seven, children can recognize illusion from actuality and tell the difference between a video game and real-life violence. Some Video game players might have a clear understanding that they are playing only a game. The difference between the effect of a video game and reading a how-to-book on murder is that video game players know the difference between fact and fiction. This ability prevents them from emulating video game violence in real life. As a result, most children mostly behave appropriately in the real world for the most part.

These studies purporting a link between video game violence and real-life violence are flawed because they fail to consider other factors that contribute to children becoming violent, such as how-to-books, family history, peer pressure, and mental health. Most studies do not follow children over long periods (i.e., a prolonged longitudinal analysis) to have more robust research data representing how and if video games influence real-life behavior. In other words, doctoral students of psychology or established psychologists need to conduct more longitudinal studies to help them ascertain the changes that occur in the lives of their variables (i.e., people) after a protracted period. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court also ruled that states cannot ban the sale or rental of ultraviolent video games to minors. These arguments are flawed because many children’s cartoons also have the same level of violence in them, if not more, when compared to these games. Hence, this very fact negates the reason for the proposed ban that did not pass. So, suppose violent video games negatively influence children and adult players; most of the cartoons that children watch and adult movies do the same thing. These could also be classified as also having a similar negative influence, if not more, on the children and adults that watch them too. If one form of artwork is banned, then all other artwork forms should also be prohibited.

The video game market continues to grow

The protagonists calling to ban violent video games might be of the older generation who have no understanding of video games and had no experience playing them. They would unfairly disdain video games believing that these games contribute to laziness and crime. The exaggerated public concern, fear, and anxiety over violent video games might continue to threaten the global game market. However, these concerns have multiplied the overall interest in video games, thereby contributing to the revenue growth that we see in the game market. The video game market is on an upwards trajectory. According to the Newzoo Global Gaming Marketing Report for 2018, the Global Games Market is going to be a $180.1 Billion market in 2021.3 As previously mentioned; the market will surpass $200 Billion by 2023.1 Concerned parents can actively monitor what video games their children are playing and see to it that they play games meant for their age group. Also, parents who are bothered about video games’ effects should limit the amount of time their children play on the mobile, PC, or console versions. Parents should not disregard other causes of violence like music, books, television, drugs, and even family friends whose children might influence their wards.

I don’t think banning violent and ultraviolent video games can solve the issue of violence in society. As we have seen in the preceding paragraph, there are so many other factors contributing to violence in the community. I would suggest that the content can be regulated and not allowed to run riot just like movies. The goriest video games must be censored for adults only and only bought or rented under strict regulations. This will serve the industry better, rather than pushing for complete censorship of violent video games. Ergo, there is no infringement of the 1st Amendment rights of the producers of the games and the consumers. The game producers can also incorporate positive cues into the games, encouraging players not to try what they are playing at home. This will serve as a reminder to players. The government also has the right to require a “violent label warning” on violent and ultraviolent games, just as we have the Surgeon General Warning on Cigarette packs about the dangers of smoking. The same can go for violent video games―it could be called the Game General Warning. It could read, “Violent Video Games Can Cause Minors and Adults to Become Primed for Violent Behaviors If Not Cautious. You Can Become Desensitized to Human Emotions. Play with Care. Not for Minors.”

Game General Warning—This could be a future possibility

If we want to go overboard with the whole deal of establishing some regulation, we can set some paper trail from the purchase of violent and ultraviolent video games. For instance, just like gun purchase, there should be a paper trail for acquisition, especially for customers whose taste run to the deadliest games. However, what will we say to those that state, “Hey! I like to watch action movies, and intense thriller flicks at times, horror films occasionally, and crime and investigation channel from time to time―this doesn’t mean that I am prone towards murder or violence.” By the way, I have played God of War some years back; however, I am not desensitized to human empathy. I believe that it is a thing of the mind―especially for the mature soul who can coordinate their emotions and govern their sensibilities and behavioral tendencies.

Folks, not everyone who plays the games turns out a menace to society. Therefore, giving much attention to the overstated argument that violent video games contribute to youth violence and the protest to ban these games is neither here nor there. There have been instances like we have seen that violent video games have primed some youths into violence. However, the actions of a few miscreants who inflict harm to others should not rob game producing companies and consumers of their 1st Amendment right of free speech and expression. These people’s activities are not tolerated and should never be taken lightly, to say the very least. If we censor violent video games, we should be ready to control all media forms that promote violence.  

In the light of regulations, the government can make it a requirement for video game companies to put warning labels on violent games so that buyers are aware. As a form of establishing social-good credibility, video game companies can also include fierce highlights and warnings inside their games of things that players should never try at home. We also need more longitudinal research to see the prolonged impact of violent and ultraviolent video games on people. This will help the video game industry and society of video game players understand the impact of the games they make and play respectively. Like we have seen, the video game industry is on an upward trajectory of growth and profitability. New innovations are redefining the concept of video gaming (e.g., virtual reality gaming, cloud gaming, mobile gaming, etc.). Who knows, we could see Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) Reality Gaming in the future. A future where we incorporate robots in vivid life-game scenarios.  

The merging of the virtual and the real will become the future of video gaming

The gaming experience is a fun world of fantasy that translates us into heights of euphoria. We see new levels of realities and technology-infused gaming platforms and experience gaming dominance with every passing day. We enjoy the feeling that we get when we sit down solo or with friends to play our favorite games. The exhilaration is electric. Playing our favorite games helps us in relieving stressful conditions in our lives. The gaming evolution is not slowing down too. We have seen how games have evolved from the early days of gaming in the ’80s. The realism that we see today in gaming is nothing but stellar and mind-blowing. As earlier mentioned, the future of gaming will even get better as technology continues to evolve. Who knows what the future would like several years down the road from now? Only time will tell. 

Finally, in every industry, concerns arise. Today, the attention we have seen about the gaming industry focused on the debate regarding censorship or no censorship of violent and ultraviolent video games. Like I earlier said, several decades from now might still find us propagating this argument while the game market mops up profit like water to a sponge. Hence, should violent video games be banned? From the facts that we have seen, we do not have enough evidence to back this notion. We may not be able to institute a complete ban without having to infringe on people’s 1st Amendment rights. So, this question is still up in the air and will remain open for more debate. However, we have explored the facts, and a ban might not come to fruition anytime soon.

“This generation is so dead. You ask a kid, ‘What are you doing this Saturday?’ And they’ll be playing video games or watching cable, instead of building model cars or airplanes or doing something creative. Kids today never say, ‘Man, I’m really into remote-controlled steamboats.” ― Jack White

Video gaming has impacted our culture. Kids and some adults are very much drawn to video gaming. We must tow the paths of caution regarding the kind of games played, especially ultraviolent games. However, we must always remember that “We become our preoccupation.” We become our habit. We become what preoccupies our every passing moment. Whatever we infuse becomes what we diffuse in some way or form. Because of this, let us moderate ourselves. Moderation is the heartbeat of all sanity. Moderation is the force that will keep us grounded in equilibrium. Let us watch what we make become habits as it affects what we become. So, as we play video games―non-violent, violent, ultraviolent―let us do all things moderately. All things may be ascribed as needful. However, not all things are necessarily expedient.

References

  1. Newzoo. (2020). Newzoo global games market report 2020. Retrieved from https://newzoo.com/insights/trend-reports/newzoo-global-games-market-report-2020-light-version/
  2. University of York. (2018, January 16). No evidence to support link between violent video games and behavior. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180116131317.htm
  3. Wijman, T. (2018, April 30). Mobile revenues account for more than 50% of the global games market as it reaches $137.9 billion in 2018. Retrieved from https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/global-games-market-reaches-137-9-billion-in-2018-mobile-games-take-half/
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Ogbonnaya Agom-Eze is an entrepreneur and the Founder, CEO, Editor-In-Chief of Oaekpost, LLC, a U.S.-based online media company and the parent organization of www.oaekpost.com. He is a multi-niche writer with a wide range of interests in various genres. Agom-Eze is based in the Greater Seattle Area, Washington, and can be reached at ogb@oaekpost.com.

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