VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE
A BOOK REVIEW BY STAN DAVIS
I just received and read the new book
*Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory,
Research, and Public Policy* by Craig A. Anderson, Douglas A. Gentile
and Katherine E. Buckley (Oxford University Press, 2007
This book, coming at the same time as the news coverage of the Virginia
Tech shooting, a shooting at the NASA headquarters, and a threatened
shooting at a Walmart near my home, pushes me to realize that we are at
a choice point in this
country: we will either pay attention to the research this book
summarizes so clearly or we will someday look back at the early 21st
century with horror, wondering how we allowed the continued marketing
and sale of killing simulators (violent video games) to children and
young adults in the face of such clear evidence that such games cause
violent behavior. The book summarizes decades of research on the effect
of violent television and movies on children and young adults which
point out the unmistakable link between watching violence and violent
behavior. This link holds even if the child or young adult has no
predisposition toward violent behavior. It holds for males and females.
The amount of violent TV and video watched in childhood predicts
assault, aggression toward partners, and arrest records.
Then the book goes on to summarize past and new video game research in
depth, making it clear what what we already know about all types of
human learning is true with violence: that practicing an action teaches
and conditions that action more powerfully than watching it. The authors
document study after study showing past doubt that 'playing' violent
video games is even more likely to result in violent behavior than
watching violent TV or video. This is true *both for children and for
young adults*. As I see it, this book, and the new research it
summarizes, settles the questions about the effects of violent video
While I was preparing this book review, I looked at an online article
which echoes some of Anderson, Gentile, and Buckley's findings. The
article is called "'Violence is fun' say gamers: -Gamers opt for maximum
gore, study shows"
Two quotes from the pcadvisor article reinforce two of the book's
messages: that young people will often choose violent gaming when it is
available, and that these games are not innocuous catharsis.
"Gamers said they "appreciate seeing blood and having choices about how
characters are to be killed". Elimination of the enemy is seen as the
central activity in many games and the violence is necessary for the
game to exist.
One Medal of Honor fan said: "In the games I play it needs to have that
violence...it needs to have the killing and the death. That's part of
the reason why they were made". Interestingly, although a lot of action
games enable players to decide how much gore they would like, the gamers
participating in the BBFC's study all said they would choose to maximize
blood and guts if given the option. The individual appeal of violence in
gaming is difficult to pinpoint, the study said, as many "key rewards
and satisfactions of gaming often depend on the violence". The research
shows that gamers enjoy the opportunity to behave in exhilaratingly
dangerous ways they would not in real life, therefore feeling a sense of
escapism. However, alongside this, interactivity was also stated as an
important appeal, with gamers saying that "being responsible for it is
what makes the violence enjoyable".
"Although many gamers, young males in particular, feel violent games are
fun due to the action and consequent tensions, the BBFC also found a lot
felt uncomfortable about the degree of violence. There was even some
reference made to games affecting dreams. "Sometimes if I play gory
games, I have nightmares. I woke up crying once because I was so
worried," said one gamer. "
Two findings from the new Anderson/Gentile/Buckley research stand out
for me in my first reading of this book:
- Total screen time (TV, games, etc) is negatively correlated with
grades- the more screen time, the lower are students' grades.
- and the following chart from the end of the book, retyped here:
Anderson/Gentile/Buckley reviewed research on the factors that research
has found lead to aggressive behavior in young people (Surgeon General's
2001) and added their own research data.
When that is done, the forces or influences most likely to lead to and
predict violent behavior, in order of impact and predictive value, are:
1. Gang membership (most strongly correlated with violent actions) *2.
Video game violence* 3. Psychological condition of the young person 4.
Poor parent-child relations 5. Being male 6. Prior physical violence *7.
Media violence* 8. Antisocial parents 9. Low IQ 10. "broken home"
13. Abusive parents
14. Substance use.
The placement of video game violence second on this list stuns me.
What should we do?
1. The new research summarized in this book makes it clear that relying
on the rating system created by the industry will not help us, for two
a. ratings often ignore elements of the 'game'
b. Anderson/Gentile/Buckley studies show that even *cartoon* violence,
which is allowed in 'games' with E ratings, lead to violent behavior.
2. The Anderson/Gentile/Buckley studies do show a somewhat protective
effect of parental involvement in young peoples' choice of games, in
young peoples' use of games, and in keeping game machines in the public
parts of homes instead of in young peoples' bedrooms.
3. How else are we to keep these killing simulators out of the hands of
our children and young adults?
The authors suggest advocacy with retailers and public education. I have
found the David Grossman clip from : "Game Over Gender, Race & Violence
in Video Games
the most persuasive tool I have used to help parents see the effects of
4. I would also suggest an idea that hatched in a conversation I had
with school staff in a school in Pennsylvania last week: community
buybacks of these killing simulators. Community gun buybacks have been
documented to reduce gun violence; I believe that parallel programs in
which businesses donate gift certificates and merchandise to be used in
buying back violent video 'games' could both raise public awareness of
the research and risks involved in the widespread use of these 'games'
and remove some of these 'games' from the hands and brains of children
and young adults.
I welcome your thoughts.