The Effect Of Violence In Video Games On The Players’ Behaviour
In the current videogame market, one can’t go far without seeing violence whether that’s in the plethora of first-person shooters or fighting games like Mortal Kombat 11. Whether it’s hardcore bullets and blood or ‘friendly’ punches in Smash Brothers, violence is a common theme throughout many of our games in numerous different forms. With these games often being at a hand’s reach for all ages, the phrase ‘Think of the Children!’ is frequently thrown around when discussing whether violent video games have negative effects on players or not. Violence in games is often hard to pin down when discussing what’s ok and what’s not. Some games remove blood, vulgarity, even bullets or guns, but the result of the game could still be deemed violent. The popular game Fortnite, does not contain vulgar content or blood, but does contain guns with the objective to kill other players; although these players do not die, rather fade away as a hologram and blood being replaced by numbers of damage, people could still say it is a violent videogame due to the presence of guns and the objective to ‘eliminate’ or ‘kill’ other players. These are very minor cases of games with subjectively violent content, the main offenders are games mentioned earlier such as Mortal Kombat, major first-person shooters like Call of Duty, GTA and much more. These games feature varying amounts of violence, from shooting someone with a gun to unrealistic extremes such as those found within the Mortal Kombat 11. Known for its grotesque depictions of violence and fatality scenes, the character Johnny Cage can rip someone in half and use them as a puppet. This is common within the series with brutal and graphic dismemberment treated as a superior way of killing your rivals, you are rewarded for them. The problem with these titles is that with such violent acts being acted out by players, it has become an increasing worry that violence in video games are bringing out violent behaviour in players.
Video games, not just violent games, are an easy target of media outlets when discussing issues in our society, specifically violence and bad behaviour in young children. Although most of these cases are false with no connection between game violence and real-life violence being proven, the media have a large influence over companies who oversee regulation, censorship and classification; important factors in selling and handling games worldwide. However, violence in video games do not incite players to be aggressive in real life but rather provide them with healthy, positive benefits including catharsis, competition, cognitive / psychological benefits and help for the disorderly. Therefore, it is important for us to highlight these benefits, so we can hopefully avoid companies censoring and regulating violent games because of misinformed media outlets.
Throughout several tests and analysis of violent games, little evidence has been provided to show a relationship between violence in real life and video game violence. In an early 2009 figure from Christopher J Ferguson, showed that with the rise of video games sold, violence in youth declined. The possible reasons for this are how violent games can be cathartic and act as an emotional outlet for people in a risk-free environment. The way that games can challenge us and provide an escape from everyday life is different to any other medium of entertainment in its execution; games help us distinguish virtuality from reality as we must interact and participate in games for them to progress, rather than a movie. In a study conducted by Ferguson, a group of young adults played either a non-violent game or violent game after a frustrating task, Ferguson stated that “The results suggest that violent games reduce depression and hostile feelings in players through mood management”. This is good for lowering aggressive feelings or thoughts, but what about the other benefits, and pushing people up? In a study where a group of gamers were interviewed on why they enjoyed games, they said that they enjoyed the risk-free new worlds, mental stimulation sense of achievement and claimed video games increased hand-eye coordination. Violent games achieve these results as well, with one of the interviewees stating that,
'I no more feel that I have actually scored a goal than I do that I have actually killed someone. I know it’s not real. The emphasis is on achievement.'
The sense of eliminating people can be compared to obstacles and a sense of progressing through the level, giving an active sense of achievement as the players must do something to achieve it. Violence adds tension to the experience and often players concentrate on their own survival rather than the damage they inflict on others. These are all attributes of violent games, and games, that contribute to a cathartic experience, as people derive joy, relaxation and accomplishment from achieving goals and exploring these worlds. An in-depth analysis on the ‘effects of therapeutic catharsis seeking on aggression’ was conducted at the KonKuk University in South Korea which considered psychological variables, loneliness and depression, and both violent and non-violent games. After data analysis and research, the findings generally suggested that if therapeutic catharsis seeking was high, players who want to get catharsis out of playing, then the symptoms of aggression, loneliness and depression tended to be lower; additionally, that certain games can reverse these negative emotions depending on the player.
Video games, not just violent games, provide a plethora of cognitive benefits alongside the psychological ones mentioned before. Some of the cognitive benefits include improved; visual contrast sensitivity, spatial awareness, tracking of objects, reduced impulsiveness, decision making, multitasking and mental flexibility. In some cases, Amblyopia or ‘lazy eye’ showed great improvement when gaming to the extent of 20/20 vision, and in some cases dyslexic children’s test scores of reading improved better from video games more than a normal dyslexia training problem would help them due to video games drastically improving attention abilities. In a study that recruited people who hardly played video games to play shooter video games, they displayed similar cognitive improvements. With faster, more accurate attention, spatial awareness and enhanced mental rotation abilities (rotating mental representations of 2 or 3D objects). These advancements from playing the shooter video games were comparable to the effects of high school/university courses aiming to achieve the same skills. These cognitive benefits make sense in violent, first-person shooters where the player must keep track of and stay aware of many elements at the same time, an example of this can be seen in the Ubisoft title, Rainbow Six Siege. In this terrorist vs counter terrorist, shooting game players must either attack or defend certain objectives in the game while eliminating the opposing team. The game requires players to have high spatial awareness skills by monitoring visual and auditory stimuli. Players must also keep track of their health, bullets, the sounds they make, the enemy and their own location, cameras and many other elements. The intense nature of the game with walls, ceilings and floors being able to be broken, requires players to rapidly react to changes in the virtual setting. Apart from the gameplay, the game educates players details about modern military equipment, and emphasises communication between players for more effective gameplay. Games like Rainbow Six Siege and the studies mentioned earlier, show that there are many of cognitive benefits that players can learn from violent video games.
The nature of co-op and multiplayer games promote teamwork between friends and strangers around the world. In most games where players fight and play towards a shared objective, the game encourages players to communicate and be social with one another to complete the task. Often these cooperative experiences generate higher levels of enjoyment for multiple people, as the games can be vessels for fun interactions and new stories between friends. Even if the game is more competitive than cooperative, these same healthy and fun benefits can come out of gameplay. The element of ‘High Scores’ have been around for as long as games themselves, all the way back to arcade boxes. High Scores are meant to be beaten, scores of other players need to be beaten. In most first-person shooters, action and violent games in general, provide a leader board in multiplayer that tracks the statistics and progress of players as the game or match progresses. Leader boards have broad appeal amongst different types of players, achievers, socializers and killers, from achievers focusing on a level of success in points, material possessions and prizes. Socialisers attracted to the social aspects of the game, and the killer types focusing on the competitive elements of the game. For the social and killer types, the leader board can often encourage friendly competition between players, to beat each other’s score, with some games, rewarding the player with auditory stimulus and positive reinforcement. An example of auditory stimuli encouraging this friendly competition is seen in the Halo series. The famous Halo announcer is known for his announcements during the game and phrases that are said to the player to reward their performance. Simple phrases such as “Gained the Lead!”, “Lost the Lead!”, “[Time left until a player wins King of the Hill] to win!” update the player on how the game is progressing and how their team is performing, encouraging the team to up their game. When a player is killing a large number of enemies without dying, the legendary voice of the announcer will shout things like “Killionaire”, “Overkill”, “Killimanjaro”, edging the player. When these two auditory stimuli are combined, the player is positively encouraged to perform and compete at a higher level. From this violent game, the player is encouraged to perform better with positive reinforcement, therefore promoting healthy competition between friends and teammates, which encourage prosocial behaviour and skill development. In addition to the in-game aspects of competition, the existence of the multibillion-dollar E-Sports industry is based upon competition, often in violent, action games such as Halo and Overwatch. A business where competitive play is rewarded with large prizes of money, showing that the social, competitive aspect of playing video games can be elevated to a professional level.
Apart from videogames providing cognitive benefits and general enjoyment for players, games containing violence can sometimes help people with mental disorders. With videogames becoming increasingly immersive, people can experience things that they cannot experience in real life. Specifically, in Virtual Reality where people with disabilities can experience (to some extent) having limbs again with adapted controllers, and people who have particular fears or traumas can face them in a virtual space, perhaps trying to confront them. An example of how virtual reality has helped with disorder is with Chris Merkle, an American war veteran who suffers from PTSD. One may be thinking that the last thing a soldier with PTSD would want to do is to go through and re-live their painful memories, and for some that may be true, but with Chris it was a significant “lead forward in his progress.” Chris was put into a virtual reality simulation that resembled the environment he lived in during his time in Iraq. In this virtual world, Chris’ interactions where controlled externally as a way of recreating sounds and situations that Chris had gone through. This treatment is described as VR exposure therapy and aims for patients like Chris to find closure from their traumas through exposure in a risk-free environment. In Chris’ case, the theme of violence in his simulation therapy is crucial as it mimicked his multiple sufferings but ultimately helped him with slowly overcoming his condition. As touched upon earlier, games have also seen to aid those struggling with dyslexia, a learning disorder, and helping those with mental illnesses like depression.
However, these benefits don’t outweigh the potential for risks, as a lot of the benefits talked about in this essay do not apply to every player. The main promotion of video games and violent games is the catharsis players seek from playing them. However, a common worry and argument for this point is that when players are seeking catharsis, to let out emotions or calm down, the belief that violent games will give them what they need will attract angry people to violent games, often doing the opposite of what was intended. However, this is not a common theme and not a solid counter argument as most video game players can judge what kind of games will provoke them and what games will relax them. The same thing can be said for the element of competition in violent games, it could go either way if the player approaches the game with an already aggressive mindset, sometimes it could go well with the player performing well, calming down or being more positive as a result, or if the player does not perform well and dies over and over, it is likely that their aggression will not subside and in some cases may increase. However these factors depend on the person and it is often unfair to blame the game when it could be certain elements, competition or controls that irritate or infuriate some but not others.