Video Games and Violence

When games in the arcade finally began to mirror the violence in real life, they began to take the blame for violent behavior. Pit Fighter and Mortal Kombat were among the first to have realistic graphics and bloody violence. The finger pointing has increased tenfold since the advent of 32 bit home systems and modern games such as The Grand Theft Auto series and Gears of War. Video games have taken the blame for behavior for years now. They have become a safe buzz word for the media and Washington – like gay marriage and flag burning. They are a non-issue that politicians can spout off during elections. Senator Joe Lieberman could have been Vice President of the United States – and if he had been elected, I can bet he would have had a huge impact on the levels of sex and violence in video games. If you were on the planet in 1999 then you knew about the shootings at Columbine. Yes, video games got some of the blame along with Marilyn Manson. In 2007, a slightly older and equally as insane moron decided to kill people at Virgina Tech. Again, people and the media searched for things to blame.

The point of this is not to decide why people commit acts of violence. After all, the Spanish Inquisition was rather violent and no one was playing Mortal Kombat II at the time. Having said that, I am going to take a look at the recent trends in research and in games as well.

Here is the reality. Adults who are proponents of video games will claim that they “grew up” playing games and they did not affect them. The violence in Double Dragon or Contra does not compare to the violence in Dead to Rights or Halo. Games have become more visually and mentally stimulating. The violence is realistic and stimulating – but this is hardly any life altering news.

The fact of the matter is that the games now have become more intricate and complex as well. There is a world of difference between games of today and what games are being called retro today. James Gee, Education Professor at the University of Wisconson, says “You get a group of teenage boys who shoot up a school—of course they’ve played video games,” “Everyone does. It’s like blaming food because we have obese people.” Not only has practically every young child or adolescent played a game at some point in his or her life, the games require more and more attention than ever before. Kids who cannot sit still for a math lesson can play a game for hours without moving. Games, are the modern cure for ADHD. Gee also says, “The games focus attention in a way that school doesn’t”

Not only do games require more focus to attention than ever before but they immerse the players into massive worlds areas and worlds where strategy, puzzles and life like challenges are presented before the players. You just do not jump through a platform level or collect rupees to buy enough bombs to to try every wall in a labyrinth. Some of these puzzles actually require players to be quite clever. MMORPG games such as World or Warcraft require play that essentially can have no definite end or beginning. Even Politicians have given speeches in Second Life. And while games might be able to increase a player’s ability to multi task and problem solve. So games can actually increase the level of problem solving and multi tasking making these new children a great breed of Uber-workers who will be able to do more work for less money or their jobs will be outsourced.

I am not so convinced that games themselves are an innocuous and innocent and people in the industry would like to claim.

In 2006, researchers at Indiana University placed subjects under an MRI Stoop test while they played video games. They had different adolescents play two different types of games for 30 minutes at a time. Some played The Need for Speed and some played Medal of Honor: Frontline. It seems that “Adolescents who had played violent video games exhibited more brain activity in a region thought to be important for emotional arousal and less activity in a brain region associated with executive functions. Executive functions are the ability to plan, shift, control and direct one’s thoughts and behavior.” Those who played The Need for Speed, showed more activity in the prefrontal portions of the brain. These areas control inhibition, concentration and self-control. In fact, the frontal lobe is what makes us “human.”

So, if you look at the grayish blob on the chart you can see where violent game players have one side of the grayish blob stimulated and non-violent game players had a different part stimulated.

Contrast that with the fact that the violent games seem to activate the so-called “reptilian” part of the brain where sexual arousal and the flight or fight response centers are located. In short, if you are playing a violent video game, you are stimulating the same part of the brain that is aroused when you think about sex. This is one of the reasons why games can be highly addictive and stimulating.

Let’s contrast this a bit shall we? Look at the next blob:

The chart above shows fMRI scans of two brains. One that was watching violent media and one that was not watching violent media. Can you guess which one was which?

I am not trying to claim by this that games cause violence per se; however, what the study goes on to illustrate is that they do not yet know the implications of hours and hours of activation in these brain centers. Much like A Clockwork Orange, maybe you can be changed.

What I would suggest is that if you are already a violent angry child with no sense of guilt, then playing games can heighten that stimulation and bring out your inner asshole.

The reality is that the world around you does affect you. Actions and words have shown to have an impact on your brain. Studies show that your subconscious replays what you last think of and do before you went to bed 17 times while you are sleeping.

Language mucks with you. The world around you shapes your reality. Forces your brain to do things you do not want it to do. The earlier an age children are subjected to traumatic violence and sexual abuse, the more it triggers the brain to behave in so-called “abnormal” ways.

The wiring of the brain is altered.

Here is a little science and Biology lesson (Oh shut the F!@#! up. You are still reading, then you are not a total dipstick and it will not kill you to learn something)

The systems of your body not only work together but the Nervous and Lymphatic systems actually work together. If you are angry and annoyed, your body releases adrenaline and your heart rate increases etc. This just does not simply go away easily. Even the slightest change can cause the release of the chemical. What happens is that you have an annoyed and agitated lymphatic system because it is so closely tied with the nervous system, the brain, and emotion.

Your brain cannot tell the difference between what is real and a vividly imagined event. Why do you think scary movies frighten us? After all it is just light on a screen. It is not real. But yet, your heart rate increases. If you suspend your disbelief enough, you may even sweat.

Try this. Close your eyes and try to imagine yourself standing at the top of the tallest building in the world. Now walk close to the edge and look down. What does the railing look like? Can you lean over it? How does the wind feel?

Negative emotions and situations can have a dramatic effect on the body over time.

We really do not know the implications of small events on a young nervous system.

An adult’s brain chemistry has pretty much been set by the time he or she picks up a game. So, while the same parts of the brain may be active when shown on a PET scan, they will not have the same impact as they do on a younger person.

However, an adult person can also combat this with a positive mental attitude and acts of love . . .well acts of love making. A small study has shown that oxytocin and DHEA hormone released during love-making may prevent breast cancer cells from developing into tumors. Frequent love-making has also been linked to longer life – may be due to the beneficial effects on the heart and immune system.

We know that people who are criminals tend to not experience guilt when they commit violent acts or even non violent crimes such as plain old theft. The do not respond in a way to where they feel bad for what they have done.

What are the implications if you are a child who is exposed to these things? Do you not recall that one kid in grade school who was always a trouble making little F*#%#$!? It seemed as if no matter what he or she did that it had no effect.

The reality is we do not yet have a clear idea to what a constant barrage of self induced chemicals will do to the brain.

Having said all of this, do I think video games are responsible for violence? No, probably not. I think a Father beating the shit out of his son, the son’s siblings, or the mother has a deeper impact than Resident Evil 4 will ever have. But, when you add the Drunk and Resident Evil togther, then you might be changing more than Capcom and society bargained for.

It is only going to get more interesting.