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Not a Game: Violent Video Games Damaging Adolescent Minds

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Last updated on October 16, 2023

Civilians scream as cars race through the streets. Deafening gunshots fill the air. Flames rage through buildings in the background. Dead bodies line the streets. A TV screen illustrates this graphic scene in great detail. What is being televised? A news broadcast of a country afflicted with war? A terrorist attack upon innocent citizens? No, this is what a standard scene from one of today’s most popular video games, like Grand Theft Auto, usually resembles. Concerningly, one of violent video games’ biggest demographics is teenagers. A substantial number of students play video games, with one survey finding that “97% of youths ages 12 to 17 played some type of video game, and that two-thirds of them…contain violent content” (McCarthy). Innumerable studies have concluded that playing violent video games takes a catastrophic toll on adolescents’ minds. The most effective way to lessen the harm to teenagers’ brains is to warn them and their parents about the dangerous side effects of graphic games. This increased awareness will slow their popularity. Warning of the dangers of violent video games will reduce their destructive psychological outcomes.

Teenagers develop more violent and unempathetic personalities from brutality-encouraging media, especially violent video games. According to child psychologist and professor Dr. Jeanne Brockmyer, “The research is getting clearer that over the long term, people with more exposure to violent video games have demonstrated things like lower empathy to violence…Initially, people are horrified by things they see, but we can’t maintain that level of arousal. Everyone gets desensitized to things” (Bilton). Engaging with violent games entails constant use of cruelty, often directed towards innocent animated civilians, without real-world consequences. This conditioning leads to players exhibiting emotionless reactions toward violence and their characters’ cold personalities in their actual lives. More specifically, in the ever-growing debate about the effects of violent video games on youth, “Many psychologists argue that violent video games “socialize” children over time, prompting them to imitate the behavior of the game’s characters, the cartoonish machismo, the hair-trigger rage, the dismissive brutality” (Carey). The unrealistic environment of most video games and the psychotic behavior of its characters push children toward becoming more aggressive and unstable. Imagine someone in an especially violent environment and witnessing incredibly terrifying and brutal daily events. Eventually, they will become desensitized, expect these scenarios, and if they mold to their environment, even become vicious themselves. This is essentially what playing violent video games does to adolescents’ brains. In short, partaking in morbid video game playing has devastating consequences on the player’s mind.

But what are some actual examples of these mental and psychological repercussions? To start, an experiment conducted by a psychologist at Iowa State University had one group of students play a violent video game and the other group play a non-violent one. Afterward, the team “tested whether the students would behave more aggressively, by having them dole out hot sauce to a fellow student who… did not like spicy food but had to swallow the sauce… compared with a group who had played a nonviolent video game, those who had been engaged in ‘Mortal Kombat’ were more aggressive…they gave their fellow students significantly bigger portions of the hot sauce” (Carey). The controlled environment of this experiment irrefutably supports the claim that violent video games negatively impact their players. The immediate and obvious emotional differences between players who played violent and nonviolent games are greatly concerning. Participants also exhibit these disturbing habits outside of experimental settings. Namely, multiple studies have found that “in schools…digital warriors get into increasing numbers of scrapes with peers — fights in the schoolyard, for example…longer periods of violent video game playing among high school students predicted a slightly higher number of such incidents over time” (Carey). The link between video game players and getting in trouble during school demonstrates how game-playing can create destructive behavior. These games either transform nonviolent adolescents into aggressive ones or awaken urges in trouble-making teenagers that would otherwise never have been explored. Unconcerning behavior, like a high school brawl, can later lead to more serious events. For instance, as in the case of the Columbine school shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were “immersed in their violence-filled Doom video games…they are deliberately programmed to make the player a “first person shooter”…no sense of detachment when you play…you are not controlling a character, you are the character” (Moore). This immersive and realistic technology forces players to imagine themselves in similar real-life situations. Their mindset becomes more violent, and they fantasize about tormenting innocent people from the constant morbid stimulation. Although these situations may remain hypothetical in some players, for many people like the Columbine school shooters, these elements of video games pose huge threats to society.

As it would be impossible to eradicate violent video games through censorship, the only way to minimize their consequences is by spreading information through public awareness campaigns and more transparent age ratings. As a researcher from the Indiana University of Medicine, Vince Matthews, said, “parents should be aware of the relationship between violent video-game playing and brain function” (Kalning). This notification of parents should be carried out by increased informational meetings or seminars for parents at schools and other community centers. Also, as the dangers of smoking and drugs are often broadcast to students, attention should be spent on the risks of violent video games. Because of parents’ influence, many teenagers may give up violent video gaming. Older players, or even some teenagers, might even stop playing of their own volition. Parents simply discussing the dangers of violent video games with their children may have enough impact to sway them toward decreasing their screen time.

Furthermore, a separate study has found that “more than half of all video games rated by the ESRB [Entertainment Software Rating Board] contained violence, including more than 90% of those rated as appropriate for children 10 years or older” (McCarthy). The rating of obviously inappropriate games as suitable for children should also be corrected. Video games being more truthful about their violent content will raise awareness. Currently, parents cannot rely on filtering systems like age ratings to shield their children from dangerous media. A more accurate age rating on video games will make it easier for guardians to monitor the games their children play, to protect them from devastating psychological effects. Broadening the message of the dangers of violent video games through schools and to parents will significantly decrease the number of players, and therefore negative outcomes.

Despite these glaring red flags, some still argue that violent video games are not dangerous but simply fun recreational activities. However, these sources cannot be trusted as these “studies aren’t credible because they were produced by ‘hired guns’ funded by the multi-billion-dollar game industry” (Kalning). Most studies defending graphic and inappropriate video games are sponsored by video game corporations, creating biased research. The countless experts warning against R-rated video games have no agenda; they are not selling a product. These experiments and studies were conducted because of concerning reports and to help the well-being of children.

Furthermore, the effectiveness of anti-violent video game campaigns may also be up for debate.

Nonetheless, the effectiveness of this program will be undeniably successful. As a result of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Tips From Former Smokers” national ad campaign, “An estimated 1.6 million smokers attempted to quit smoking” (CDC). Even if not as many players quit violent video games, a small percentage of players lost will greatly hurt the video game industry. This drop in sales and popularity will eventually lead to a gradual decrease in violent-video game playing, as many teenagers play because of their friends. Hence, the dangers of morbid video games can not be refuted, and the spreading of awareness for these dangers will greatly lessen their impact.

Violent video games present a great concern to our society today. They result in changes in behavior and can also produce murderous fantasies and thoughts. Teenagers are the greatest victims because of their impressionability and growing brains. Campaigns against violent video games, similar to ones opposing smoking and drugs, will help to significantly decrease their damage to adolescent brains. If only a few players quit, more will follow after a drop in popularity. We as a society must vow to end this seriously damaging practice. After all, how can there be peace for our world in the future if our children stay at home, causing destruction and “killing” others?

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