Fantasizing About Violence: Violent Video Games Promote Aggressive Behavior In Youth

According to recent research, it is clear that teens (as well as adults) are spending more and more time immersed in video game worlds. These virtual worlds of fantasy can challenge our minds to be creative, solve problems, and learn lessons like no other tool in history. Many of the games are produced so well that you can actually feel as if you are driving a racecar, flying through space, or feeling the recoil of a high powered rifle.

I started playing video games when pong first came out in the ’70s. I thought it was cooler than even my 8-track tapes! When Pac-Man came out shortly after my 16th birthday in the early ’80s, I could not imagine a better way to spend my time between classes at high school. In the late ’80s, strategy/role-playing games like Ultima and Balance of Power challenged me to think. I loved the thrill of winning after hundreds of hours of struggle.

However, in the early ’90s, action games like Dune and first-person shooters like Wolfenstein emerged. More recent games like Quake, Half-Life, and System Shock are so graphically real and mentally absorbing in their storylines, you don’t just play the games anymore, you are part of the game.

These game worlds have very few laws (if any!) governing what goes on inside them. It is a dynamic that is limited only by the imagination of the designer and the desire of the game player to be absorbed in the fantasy. No holographic policeman exists in the virtual world to enforce what is right. Gamers are left to do what is right in their own eyes. This freedom to influence our children has many parents concerned.

Two studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on April 23, 2000 (Read the article yourself at Violent Video Games Can Increase Aggression ) This article clearly demonstrates that violent video games do negatively affect the behavior of those who play them. One study demonstrated that graphically violent video games produce an immediate increase in aggressive thoughts and behavior. The other study found that violent game play not only increased aggressive behavior, but also produced a long-term, real life impact on the behavior and relationships of the players.

Psychology professors Craig Anderson from the university of Missouri, Columbia, and Karen Dill of Lenoir-Rhyne College, conducted the study on 227 undergraduate college volunteers drawn from the introductory psychology courses. They found that violent computer games affect the player in the following ways:

1. The player identifies with the aggressor. In “first-person” video games, the player assumes the identity of the shooter and sees the world through the character’s eyes. In effect, the game puts the weapon in the hands of the player to heighten the game’s impact as the player kills the enemy. They found that players became emotionally involved with their character and “enjoyed” killing the bad guys. (It is one thing to watch the “Terminator” work, it is another thing to be the terminator.)

As a result of identifying with the aggressor:

a) the player develops positive attitudes toward the use of violence;

b) the player develops expectations that others will behave aggressively;

c) the player assumes that others have similar attitudes of aggression;

d) the player comes to believe that violent solutions are effective and appropriate for solving problems in life.

2. The player actively participates in the violence. These studies found that playing violent video games is a way to rehearse violent behaviors and makes it easier to bring that behavior into real life. If you practice shooting basketballs thousands of times, you get better at scoring. If you practice killing thousands of times, you get better at that as well. The Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had been playing “first-person shooters” for more than a year before that fateful day. When the time came to “play the game” in the real world, they were ready.

As a result of actively participating in the violence:

a) The player develops a total disregard for societal norms, property rights, and even the general value of other lives;

b) The player see the world as a violent, unsafe place (everyone is out to get you);

c) The player learns that aggressive actions against others, such as fighting and shooting, may be appropriate, even necessary.

3. Violent video games have an addictive nature. For aggressive performance, players receive constant and immediate reinforcement in the form of visual and auditory (sensory) stimulation During a kill. With special effects such as exploding body parts, blood, gore, and general mayhem it provides an excellent environment for learning aggression.

As a result of the addictive nature of violent video games:

a) Excessive exposure contributes to aggressive personality traits in the player, and further playing can make an already aggressive person even more aggressive;

b) The player becomes more aggressive, changes his outlook on life and socializing, and tends to socialize with others who demonstrate similar attitudes of aggression;

c) The players socialization with teachers, parents, and non-aggressive peers are likely to degenerate.

The more realistic the games are, the stronger the negative impact. If you observe your child developing aggressive attitudes towards others, you may need to make an evaluation of his or her video games and other forms of entertainment. These two studies validate the probability that your child will become more aggressive, irritable and possibly even violent if he or she plays violent video games.

The Apostle Paul admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Paul warns us that submitting our minds to that which is counter to Scripture will undermine our Christian life.