“Up until now, the biggest question in society about video games has been what to do about violent games,” said Shigeru Miyamoto, a Representative Director at Nintendo and a former game producer and designer. “But it’s almost like society in general considers video games to be something of a nuisance that they want to toss into the garbage can.”
Richard Posner, and American jurist and economist who sat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago for over 30 years, looks at this subject matter like this. “Violent video games played in public places are a tiny fraction of the media violence to which American children are exposed.”
With the American culture struggling with the cause of mass shootings, school shootings, and general acts of violence even with an overall lower crime rate in the country, one of the suggested answers is that there are violent video games influencing the youth of today.
Are there are any advantages to playing games like this? Are the disadvantages as bad as some of the opponents of the media claim? Here are the critical points to review in the debate on playing violent video games.
List of the Pros of Violent Video Games
1. More adults are playing violent video games than children.
Even though the story of playing the video game “Doom” was a central part of the narrative in the aftermath of the Columbine school shooting over 20 years ago, the reality of the video game economy is that more adults play games than kids. The average age of a game today is 34 years old. Adults represent 70% of the entire video game-playing population in the United States, with 60% of them saying that they do so every day.
There are more adult women in the video game-playing population (33%) than there are boys under the age of 18 (17%). The number of people playing these games is going up, but the crime rate continues to go down.
2. Mature-rated video games are the smallest share of the sales market.
Violent video games which have a mature rating for their violence and carnage represented the smallest amount of sales in 2017 according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board assigned ratings. The data breaks down like this.
- Games rated E for Everyone represented 34% of the overall market.
- Games rated E10+ were 22% of the industry.
- Items rated T for Teen represented 31% of the video game sales for the year.
- M for Mature games brought in just 13% of the overall revenues.
3. Playing violent video games can improve an individual’s perception of their environment.
Gamers who play regularly have a greater ability to spot targets on cluttered screens with speed and accuracy compared to someone who does not play as often. Research from the University of Rochester discovered that people who play at least 30 hours playing an action game can find specific items when given a request about 4 out of every 5 times. Those who did not put in the time to play the game only had a 30% success rate.
When this trait extends to the environment around someone, then they can pick out different details of potential danger before they appear. There is more anticipation available in the perspective because of the experience in playing the game.
4. Being a gamer in this category can improve focus and concentration.
Iowa State University conducted research on a small group of laparoscopic surgeons, separating one group to play video games while the other did not. Their findings discovered that the physicians who played at least three hours of games per week could be up to 30% faster with their work at their hospital or outpatient facility. There was also a 40% improvement in the error rates for gamers compared to the other group, even when violent video games were included as part of the titles being played.
5. It can reduce the amount of pain a person feels.
The University of Washington looked at how playing video games can work on a person’s pain receptors and their perception of discomfort. Their research teams found that when any game, including ones with violence, require a complete mental focus for success, then there are fewer issues with individual pain during that time.
Burn patients were given a complex video game to play as part of this study. They reported feeling up to 50% less pain from their injuries during the experience, no matter what type of game it was that they were playing. There could be benefits to those with chronic pain issues as well from this work.
6. The number of serious violent crimes committed by youth has gone down dramatically.
The peak of violent crime in the United States for kids between the ages of 12-17 was in 1993 when there were about 1,100 incidents across the country in that demographic. The number of incidents in 2012 were less than 200 in comparison, with 2014 and 2015 staying below that threshold as well. Compared to the acts of violence in 1980, there are 25% fewer incidents occurring in the key demographic that violent video game critics track.
The percentage of teachers reporting threats of injury has gone down since 1993 as well, from just under 15% of the educational community to under 10% in 2016.
7. Juvenile arrest trends do not suggest that more kids are committing acts of violence.
During the 1990s, the juvenile arrest rate for all offenses reached its highest levels by climbing above 7,500 arrests per 100,000 kids in the 10-17 age demographic. The rate stayed above this threshold from 1992 until 1998, reaching its peak in 1996. Since that time, the arrest trend in this group has declined by over 70%. There are fewer teens and adolescents in the juvenile delinquency system today than there were a generation ago.
The number of high school students who say that they were in a physical fight on or off school property has gone down in a similar way, dropping from over 50% of ninth graders to less than 30% since 1993. Every grade level reports fewer fight incidents since the peak of violence in the 1990s.
8. Violent video games can trigger lucid dreams for some gamers.
Gamers in every age demographic who play for 50 hours or more per week can experience lucid dreams at night. People who have the ability to become consciously aware that they are dreaming and maintain that state are more likely to perform cognitive tasks with higher accuracy rates than those who do not. There are also benefits in the improvement of mental health concerns, such as depression-like symptoms, when there is an extreme level of gaming in a person’s life.
Denholm Aspy, a researcher on this subject working out of the University of Adelaide in Australia, told Medical News Today that there are multiple benefits to the practice worth considering. “If a person has a particular phobia, then their lucid dream environment… provides an interesting opportunity to do things like exposure therapy, where you gradually expose yourself to the thing you’re afraid of, in an attempt to gradually overcome that fear.”
9. Playing violent video games can help to treat dyslexic conditions.
Children who play action-based video games that may include violence can improve their reading speed with just 12 hours of total exposure. There is no cost to the accuracy of what they read, even with a dyslexic condition present. A group of 10 children spent nine 80-minute sessions playing games and the research discovered that the effort helped to train the part of the brain which is responsible for mobile reception. This outcome made it possible to improve word recognition, creating a better opportunity to extract information from written text outside of the game environment.
10. It can become a career opportunity for elite players.
The prize pool for e-sports is becoming significantly high in some games, including those which can include violence. Over the course of the 2017-2018 competitive season for Fortnite, there was a $100 million prize pool announced. That season had $24.6 million contributed to DOTA 2 tournaments as well. Overwatch League professionals must earn a minimum salary of $50,000, with the league offering health and retirement benefits, training support, and housing. Blizzard also requires team owners to provide the signed players with bonuses representing 50% of the revenue and winnings for the team.
11. Playing violent video games can teach kids how to communicate with each other.
There are three elements to a successful outcome in almost any situation: talent, skill, and communication. You can find partial success with one or two of those elements, but all three are necessary for consistent success – and communication is the one with which most kids struggle in developing. Although there is toxicity in some game environments towards noobs (inexperienced players), the goal of the team or clan-based activities is to encourage cooperative gameplay by working out problems together. When you can learn how to be on a team together with a violent video game, then that skill can translate into being a team player later in life when pursuing a career.
12. It allows for a safe place to cope with challenging emotions.
Even though the World Health Organization classifies gaming disorder as a mental health disorder, there are numerous risk factors for addiction and self-control that must come into consideration. For Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, playing a violent video game is similar to drinking alcoholic beverages. It is not a problem until it is.
“The issue is when the gaming begins to disrupt normal and healthy functioning,” Gentile says. “This may mean they’re getting worse grades, lying to people about time spent gaming, or they’re performing poorly at work.” For most people, playing video games is a healthy and normal way to relieve stress.
List of the Cons of Violent Video Games
1. Shooter games represent the largest share of sales in the video game industry.
Although games that are rated M for Mature represented the smallest share of revenues for the video game industry in 2017, the titles which involve first-person or third-person shooters were the biggest sellers. Almost 26% of the games sold that year where shooters, many of which never reached the 17+ age restriction. Another 22% of the games sold involved action of some type.
The best-selling game in 2017 in terms of units sold was Call of Duty: WWII. Half of the titles in the Top 10 involve committing acts of violence in some way, and that statistic holds true when you look at the Top 20 games that year for the industry as well.
2. More teachers report that they are being attacked in their classrooms.
The percentage of public school teachers who say that a student threatened them with injury may have gone down since 1993, but the actual number of physical attacks has increased over the same time. About 4% of teachers said that they had been physically attacked according to survey data published by the U.S. Department of Education in 1993, while that same survey reports that about 6% of teachers have encountered this problem each year since 2011.
Part of the reason for this data is the fact that violent video games create an urge to get revenge on others. The University of Missouri-Columbia found that consistent exposure to video game violence diminishes the response of the brain when it encounters real-life violent acts. The people with the highest levels of violent video game exposure would also have the most significant retribution responses when allowed to take vengeance against a fake opponent.
3. The number of violent school incidents is going up.
There were more acts of school violence recorded in 2018 in the United States than in any other year since 1970 when data on shootings was first collected. A total of 82 incidents took place on campuses across the country. Since 1970, Americans have heard above 1,300 school shooting incidents. There were 51 students killed in 2018 as well, when figures that include the shooter are included in the data.
California, Texas, and Florida are the three worst states for acts of violence in this category, with 669 incidents occurring outside on school property and 588 inside school buildings. That means over 1,200 of the 1,300 total incidents occurred in these three states.
4. Playing violent video games can lead to sleep disruptions.
When people of any age play video games as part of their bedtime routine, then the blue-light exposure from the electronic device can disrupt that person’s sleep patterns. Research from 2012 discovered that gamers who put in up to 2.5 hours of video games at night can experience up to a 40-minute delay when trying to get to sleep. Another 30 minutes of sleeping time is lost because of cycle disruption, including a critical 12 minutes of REM restorative rest.
When looking at how children react to video game and blue-light exposure at night, only 30 minutes of time can create similar disruptions in their sleep cycles.
5. It can impact the health of a gamer’s eyes to play violent video games.
Gamers who play long sessions of violent video games (or any other screen-based electronic) can suffer from symptoms which are similar to Computer Vision Syndrome. Although this disadvantage can be avoided if a 5-minute break every 30 minutes is taken while playing, some missions or events during the game can go beyond this threshold. Even PvP games like Overwatch can have a single competitive session last for longer than this recommended time.
Symptoms of this disadvantage can include neck pain, shoulder discomfort, headaches, blurry vision, and sensitivity to natural light.
6. Violent video games can teach aggressive tendencies to young children.
Science Daily released a research report from Dartmouth College in October 2018 which found that violent video game play by adolescents is associated with an increase in physical aggression over time. The team performed a meta-analysis of 24 studies from around the world which involved 17,000 participants over 7 years of work. Participants were between the ages of 9-19.
“Based on our findings, we feel it is clear that violent video game play is associated with subsequent increases in physical aggression,” commented Jay G. Hull, the lead author of the work and Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth.
7. Playing violent video games can lead to individual isolation.
Although many gamers are on headsets talking with other people while they play, there is a higher risk of social isolation in the gaming community than most others. About 3% of people who consider themselves an “avid gamer’ face a higher risk of isolation due to their playing habits. Some people even struggle to separate themselves from the fantasy world that the games create, bringing elements of their gameplay into their daily lives.
One of the most significant contributors to this disadvantage is the addictive nature of the video games. The International Gaming Research Unit consistently finds that about 12% of gamers suffer the symptoms of addiction from their playing habits. This urge can even cause people to play violent video games as the expense of going to work or getting their homework finished.
8. These games can lead to physical injuries.
Repetitive game play can lead to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis in the fingers, and other hand-based injuries based on the long-term grip on a controller. There can also be injuries that occur because of the lack of activity that happens when playing violent video games over a long time. Sitting on the floor, in a bed, or a non-supportive chair can lead to chronic back, shoulder, wrist, neck, and joint injuries over time.
There is also the issue of obesity in the gaming world which must be addressed as a potential disadvantage. Every hour that a teen plays a video game of any type contributes to a higher risk of obesity as they get older. Since some missions on violent games can last between 30-60 minutes without movement for the player, the lack of physical activity will quickly create the problems of a sedentary lifestyle for that person.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Violent Video Games
Do violent video games inspire kids or adults to commit acts of violence outside of the fantasy world of the game itself? Jack Thompson, an attorney and advocate against the publication of violent video games, thinks that there is one. He claims that titles like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto cause children to attack one another. Many people are inclined to agree with the idea that violence creating more violence makes sense, even if the data might suggest otherwise.
What American society has right now is an identity problem. There is a refusal to discuss gun control because “guns don’t kill people,” yet how can the fake violence in a video game be responsible for an outcome if the actual firearm is not?
The pros and cons of violent video games show us that this product is a tool, just like any other one we might use. If people are trained to use them properly, encouraged to separate fantasy from reality, and focus on the benefits that can occur, then positive outcomes are possible. It is when this separation cannot take place for some reason that gamers may face a higher risk of future violence.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.