Violent video games hold hidden benefits
When Australia banned the new Mortal Kombat video game in February for its excessive violence, the decision ignited debate over the function of violence in video games and whether they promote aggressive behavior in players.
The United States has had its share of speculation as well. In June, the United States Supreme Court rejected a proposal to ban the sale and rental of violent video games to underage children in California.
This hasnât stopped violent video game production. Every year, the best-selling video games in the United States are also some of the most violent. This year the nationâs best-selling games included the war-based Call of Duty: Black Ops and the more traditional fighter-game Mortal Kombat 2011.
October has brought us slick ambushes in Batman: Arkham City, and November promises first- and third-person shooters in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Uncharted 3.
With all these violent video games and no solid link to an increase in violent behavior â those that support the link have little convincing evidence â youâd think people would learn to stop stereotyping these games as so-called bad influences.
But parents canât stop worrying about their children. Though itâs possible young players would be more prone to imitative violence, itâs important to remember the most violent games are rated mature for a reason. Most adults arenât going to start running around shooting people and stealing cars after a session of Grand Theft Auto. Violence is just a single part of video gamesâ overall entertainment value.
What regulators fail to recognize is how violent video games can actually benefit adult gamers.
For one, violent video games allow a player to enter and control a fantasy world to act out scenarios he or she otherwise wouldnât.
â[A] teen can try out different identities â how it feels to be a hero, a trickster, a feared or scorned killer or someone of a different age or sex â in the safe fantasy world of a video game,â said Cheryl K. Olson in a New York Times article.
For older teenagers and adults, violent video games offer first-hand, mature-oriented adventures that fit their age better than those offered by non-violent childrenâs games. Violent video games allow for more direct interaction and control in environments significantly less structured than those found in movies, television shows and books.
Through the use of violence, video games can reduce stress by distracting adult gamers from the pressures of everyday life. College students attempting to juggle school, part-time work, finances and household chores, for example, might find button-mashing violence to be a safe and enjoyable way to release pent-up frustrations. According to a 2010 study conducted by Texas A&M associate professor Christopher Ferguson, violent video games can be used as therapeutic outlets for combat depression and anger.
With the popularity of violent video games, they have also become some of the best socialization tools. Many violent video games are successful because they share an emphasis on multiplayer features. The best-selling Call of Duty franchise, for example, uses online combat in a familiar war-scenario to foster competitive, fun environments.
According to a study published in Psychology of Violenceâs August issue, the degree of competitiveness in video games is more likely than the amount of violence to cause aggression in gamers. But how do we even measure competitiveness? How do we distinguish âsafeâ competitive environments from âunsafeâ ones? If competitiveness can cause aggressive behavior, should people stop playing sports? Or board games?
A little competition isnât necessarily an instigator for aggressive behavior. In fact, it can be one of the safest and healthiest ways for people to learn to channel their energies and cooperate with others in a rule-based environment.
Though the violence in Black Ops is grittily realistic and might cause an outburst or two, players must use their competitive mindsets to work together to win. This ultimately establishes a team atmosphere in which people can communicate openly and form or disband parties as they please. These features dilute the violence factor and make the game more about strategy and camaraderie than about brute killing.
Violent video games might have a bad reputation, but this isnât a good reason to deny the possible benefits reaped from playing them. After all, violence is everywhere these days â in movies, the news and on television â so why would video games targeted at having fun and relieving stress be the only form of entertainment stigmatized?
Hannah Muniz is a junior majoring in East Asian languages and cultures and creative writing. Her column âGame Overâ runs Wednesdays.