Playing with Our Minds: Violent Video Games Teach Our Kids to Point and Shoot

Video games have been increasing in popularity and are widely available through the Internet, with dedicated gaming consoles, and on mobile phones. Video game revenue is projected to reach $174 billion in 2019 and as the popularity of video games increases, so does the concerns over kids’ exposures to violence.

Exposure to violent games for hours was also found to be detrimental to social skills. This alienation from human contact makes one anti-social and many studies have discovered that a dose of violent gaming makes people act a little more rudely than they would otherwise, at least for a few minutes after playing.

Games today are highly interactive and encourage role-playing. As such, many policymakers believe that video games which promote aggression and violence are particularly harmful and may serve as virtual rehearsals for actual violence. A German psychologist, Jürgen Fritz, described a mechanism called ‘transfer’ where information and values in games are transferred into the real world. The more the game tries to simulate reality, the easier the transfer will happen. Kids learn by observing, mimicking, and adopting behaviours. Hence, the exposure to violent video games for prolonged hours on a daily basis, can desensitise kids by numbing them emotionally, lead to a surge in aggressive thinking and conduct, bullying and affect prosocial behaviours.

There are studies that believed tragic school shootings in the United States have a link between such games and real-world aggression. The authorities in Austrialia and the UK said that young people seemed unable to understand the consequences of knife attacks because they saw life as a PlayStation fantasy land. In 2019, there were around 47,000 (selected) offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales. In London alone, knife crime hit record high with more than 15,000 offences in a year according to a report in 2020.

Laws were enacted in many countries to prevent children from purchasing violent games. Germany routinely bans video games that are deemed to contain ‘high impact violence’. In June 2009, after a string of shooting rampages, there was a ban on the production and distribution of all violent video games. The game ‘Medal of Honor’ was banned on the United States’s military bases because the game’s multiplayer mode gave players the option of playing as the Taliban.

More than 50 countries have banned or placed restrictions on ‘Grand Theft Auto’ series for their violent contents and glorification of criminal lifestyles. The fact that players get rewarded for killing and crashing people do not sit well with many policymakers and psychologists claimed that if a player were to indulge in ‘Grand Theft Auto’ for four hours, it would be difficult not to think about side-swiping or stealing other cars on the roadway inside a real car. In Thailand, every single title under the GTA banner has been indefinitely banned in the country ever since an 18-year old gamer stabbed a taxi driver in Bangkok.

In July 2019, the government of Jordan cited the negative effects of PUBG on the kingdom’s citizens and banned it. Though hugely popular, psychologists in the country had repeatedly warned that the game encourages violence and contributes to bullying among youth. It has a singular focus on shooting enemies to survive. Other counties such as Indonesia and Nepal had also banned the game on similar grounds. The Cuban government also criticised ‘Black Ops’, as the objective of the game is to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The Red Cross has told the BBC that it wants military-themed video games developers to adhere to real-life international laws and players should be penalised for carrying out actions such as willfully killing civilians or torturing enemy combatants, both of which are punishable under international law.

Some argued that games developers should not promote ideas like racism, misogyny or intolerance as they have a moral responsibility and social obligation to convey positive moral messages and not glorify vices. These have been refuted by many gamers and game-makers who feel that games’ sole purpose is to entertain and parents need to make informed decisions when making purchases for their kids instead of pushing the parenting roles to game developers.

Some psychologists suggested to parents that everything should be in moderation and only mature audiences who are capable of responsible contemplation can be exposed to violent games. Impressionable kids should avoid these games altogether.