Useful And Fantastic: The Effects Of Violent Video Games
People whose environment has no terror in it, do not copy the violence in terror-filled games, but people who live amid violence can learn to copy the violence they see in games which have a similar context to their own lives, writes Val Yule.
There are thousands of pieces of research on the effects of watching violence on TV or playing violent video games. Most of it is worthless, because it is flawed. It ignores the importance of context – the situation in which the violence takes place. It ignores the differences in watchers, from the nice teen who never hurt his toy bunny rabbit to the half-deranged victim of childhood physical terrors.
Yet the flawed research is the basis for legal permission for the most cruel games. The US Supreme Court has agreed with a federal court's decision to throw out California's ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, saying the law violated minors' rights to watch them (Adam Liptak in the New York Times,June 28, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/us/28scotus.html?nl=technology&emc=techupdateema2 . It would violate the rights of producers of video games to make whatever will make them most money.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has had to deny reports it is investigating whether Geneva Conventions apply to video gamers playing war games. It had been suggested games and gamers could risk Hague War Crimes tribunals for performing virtual battlefield exploits which are forbidden in real life.
Thousands of studies in other fields show the importance of context in learning. Context determines how the learning will be applied. Life-savers learn what to do automatically in life-saving situations from watching videos of life-saving situations. Surgeons learn what to do when operating from watching videos of operations. Car-driving simulation teaches manoeuvres only brought into action automatically in the real-life situations that resemble the simulations. Nice Greek boys were taught to be thugs by gradual exposure to practicing torture under the Greek dictators (reports by Greek psychologists to an international psychiatric congress, Dublin, in the 1980s). Bombing crews learn how to bomb by watching videos very like many video games. Indeed, some aerial bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan has been like mimicking the airmen's earlier entertainment.
Only a few videos demonstrate compassionate responses to situations where compassion is only one of the many responses possible.
Research on the effects of violent video games should distinguish between the resemblance of the game to real life situations. It should anlayse findings according to types of watchers. Long-term effects on children of watching adults performing cruel actions has most effect later when those children become adults. The gamer is induced to carry out the cruel actions later than when it is just observed, because he has carried the message ready for the opportunity.
Players of violent video games are immune to copying the action to the extent that they are living in a different context. Fairy-tales or science fiction do not make us copy the action in them, except for a few people whose fantasy-life is blurred with their real lives. We don't live among triceratops or goblins. But the constant efforts of video-game makers to make the action take place in realistic settings, looking ever more realistic, with actions that the viewers can emulate, is dangerous, although tempting to make because so financially rewarding to the producers.
People whose environment has no terror in it, do not copy the violence in terror-filled games, but people who live amid violence can learn to copy the violence they see in games which have a similar context to their own lives. The closer the video games resemble real life, the more likely players are will copy the action when their real lives resemble it.
This is another form of closeness. In video-games where the player must execute the violence is far more likely to be copied in real life than if the violence is only watched.
The context may not be relevant when a video-game is played, but when later people face a similar context, then the actions earlier played out can then be acted out.
But in the game itself, players face no consequences to all the mayhem they produce. Close to reality is the game called Drones, and real-life drones are closer still to the game because the initiators of the violence do not see the results of the engagements. As one military electronics engineer wrote, 'I can press a button here on this desk in Glasgow, play a little joystick game, say, "Oh, I'm finished now" . . walk away and have a nice pie, egg and chips and forget about what's actually happened. . you don't see the death and destruction. You might see the 9 o'clock news the following morning – and a whole area has been obliterated.'
What then is the difference between the game and the reality for the pressers of the buttons, which are so similar?
A child does not act out on a Bobo-doll the violence that he sees acted out by adults in an adult scenario. The violence is not relevant to him, unless his own life is filled with violence or symbolically relevant violence. But when he is an adult and faces a scene like that, he has been tutored how to act by the video. It is similar to the attempts made now to inculcate by video appropriate flood and fire behavior in people who may meet such scenarios in the future.
There is plenty of evidence that many young people are adopting callous attitudes. This is what they have learnt from watching violence in reality or in fantasy, unless the action shown is compassionate.
Terrible pictures of car accidents can frighten innocent viewers, but those sophisticated into watching blood sports or even just frequent watching can enjoy them with a frisson of horror. Those who have a twist to self-destruction can also see in them a way to encourage them.
Pornographic pedophilia does not make active pedophiliacs of those not predisposed to be pedophiliac but 'normal' pornography can teach ways of sexual behavior that cut out making love.
It is shocking that so much violence and crime in real life is first presaged in film, books and even in comic strips as entertainment. American films go all over the world - teaching violence. And violence as the solution.
Enormous sums are spent on research to show whether children hit Bobo dolls after witnessing violence - without observing whether America has been becoming a more violent society as the children grow up. Domestic rage, road rage, computer rage, airline rage . . all sorts of rage are analysed separately, as they increase in our society, but common factors to them all are ignored.
The weight of the negative messages that young people are being given in their entertainment far outweighs the positive. We see the results in their behaviour as adults.