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  • Fraidie Burshtyn

Violence and Videogaming

Updated: Jul 6, 2019



Most parents of male adolescent children would concur that their children spend way too much time playing video games or “gaming". But, is it only the time that their children spend playing games or is it the content as well? A common theme in gaming is "violence". Most of these games involve the active participation of the child rather than simply observing violent acts (on television or movies). Some researchers believe that this active participation may have an impact on a young person's thought patterns. For an example, popular war games, involve rewards or points depending on how many people are killed in the game. This may have a detrimental impact on how a young person views violence or may simply desensitise them to violent acts.


Anderson and Bushman are two researchers that in 2002 developed the General Aggression Model (GAM). In order to better understand how a young person interprets or is affected by violent themes, they identified three endogenous variables: thoughts, feelings, and physiological responses. Anderson and Bushman's findings suggested that after playing a violent video game, referred to as a "situational variable", there was a notable increase in the young person's level of hostility. Furthermore, young people who may have a predisposition to aggression were according to Dr. Anderson, "... especially vulnerable to the aggression-enhancing effects of repeated exposure to violent games." Dr.Anderson suggested that “repeated exposure to violent video games can increase aggressive thinking”.


But, can repeated exposure to violent video gaming create any changes to the young person's brain? Some researchers discovered that there was less activity in young peoples' brain activity in the areas of emotions, attention and inhibition of impulses following repeated violent video gaming.


Dr. Vincent Matthews and his colleagues at Indiana University discovered that the brain does change in response to playing a violent game. Furthermore, Craig Anderson and Karen Dill, both psychologists, discovered that exposure to violent video gaming did result in an increase of aggression in their players. This does not necessarily mean that all young people who play interactive violent games will become dangerous or violent individuals but it may serve as a catalyst to gratuitous acts of violence. One must be mindful of other extenuating variables such as the mental health of the young person as well as situational factors such as familial violence etc..,


The Columbine tragedy that involved the deaths of thirteen young people and adults and the physical and psychological injuries of many more has been studied over the past several years. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were young men from stable homes. They were both fascinated and actively played the video game 'Doom' that focused on random killing of people. Did this video game contribute to the corruption of these young men? Did continued exposure to violent acts alter their brain activity and/or teach them skills so they were able to carry out their horrific crimes? Dr. Anderson's opinion is that we need to be more vigilant about the power or influence of violent, interactive video games on young people.


Extensive research conducted by the American Psychological Association concerning the psychological and behavioural effects of violent video gaming on children and adolescents discovered that "violent video games can increase children's aggression". Even more concerning was that these young people were found to be less "caring and helpful toward their peers”. According to Dr. Phil, young people typically struggle with anxious feelings and thoughts. Rather than learning ways to reduce or manage their anxiety in healthy and appropriate ways, violent gaming teaches them to externalise those uncomfortable feelings through violent acts.


According to the National Institute on Media and the Family the adolescent brain is undergoing significant changes and growth. Young people are very impressionable and during this critical period of transition, it is vital that they are exposed to positive and healthy messages about relationships. The theme of most interactive violent video gaming sends inimical messages about violence, violence

against women and brutality. It also fails to teach young people how to manage their feelings and express anxiety, frustration and anger in healthy and productive ways.


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