So I’ve got myself some hyper realistic graphics. Gore turned up to 11. Believable and interesting characters complete with a narrative that keeps you sat down for days. I’ve got realistic gun play, accurate sword-art, and a heap load of violence. I’ve gotta be getting close to being a killing machine, right?
Video Games and violence have a checkered past. Like two star-crossed lovers, they’re perfect for each other, but scrutinised and forced apart by outside forces. Why can’t they just love each other? Their relationship, though bloody and excessive, doesn’t hurt anyone.
Or does it?
This blog will not try to tackle such a large argument, nor will it add any opinions to it. It will instead elucidate the reasons why Video Games are often put forward as a cause for violence and suggest why this debate will probably never find resolution.
In fact, the roots of the argument against video games can be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece.
Plato – He knew
Plato was this Greek guy, he’s not really a big deal but he did some cool stuff.
Plato was, for want of a better term, an academic god. Known for pioneering critical thinking in the western world, his teachings (Delivered through narratives known as ‘Dialogues’) came to influence state, education, philosophy, justice, almost everything. What this blog post will recognise is his work with education, specifically through Mimesis.
Now, let me channel my postgraduate film knowledge as I talk about Mimesis. Mimesis is, simply put, ‘showing’. Opposite to Diegesis, ‘telling’, Mimesis has since come to define a lot of things. One of the them is the difference between good writing and poor writing. One of them was our relationship to art, whereby we can identify with something through the act of showing. For example, In ‘The Republic’ (one of Plato’s standout pieces of work) Plato stresses Mimesis’s role in education – specifically through simulation of models. A young person may see an accomplished model and undergo development to attain that same accomplishment.
Think of young Greek lad, Deimos. He’s just finished a game of ‘Petteia’ checkers and he’s feeling a bit of culture so he heads down to the local amphitheater where he see’s ‘Ajax’ is premiering. Ajax is pretty strong, stronger than that shmuck Odysseus who is now flouncing around in Achilles’ armour. Ajax has also got a play named after him and young Deimos thinks you have to be cool if you have your own play. So, young Deimos sets out to mimic the acts of Ajax so that he may also be strong, cool and worthy of greek tragedy. All the while, Plato is deep into his facepalm.
In Annas words;
‘He (Plato) is not concerned with the dangers of art imitating life, but with what happens when I identify with another person’
Plato believed that the provision of ‘bad models’ could lead the youth of Greece astray. These bad models would largely overlook the moral adjustment provided in greek tragedy. Instead of focusing on the consequences of Ajax’s actions, they would focus on the power. Deimos only see’s the rise, and not the fall.
Replace Deimos from Athens with Darren from Anglesey and Ajax with Agent 47 and you have yourself the lobbyists argument against video game violence.
The idea that youth could be influenced by bad models.
But does that still hold true today?
Bad Models or Bad Media?
Plato’s concerns are still prevalent in todays debate around the topic because the basic principles still apply. Take a mind in development, a ‘bad model’ in a medium that has participation, interaction and simulation at the core of their experience, and you have the lobbyists argument against violence in video games.
Below are a sample of a few studies conducted between the years 2015-2017, they provide the most recent conclusions on violence and video games;
Ellithorpe, M. E., Cruz, C., Velez, J. A., Ewoldsen, D. R. and Bogert, A. K. (2015) ‘Moral license in video games: when being right can mean doing wrong’ :
‘aggression was not uniformly affected, with some participants becoming more aggressive and others less. In addition, any effects were short-lived, as behavior reversed in the second task such that those who were aggressive in the first task became more generous on the second, and vice versa.
Gabbiadini, A., Riva, P., Andrighetto, L., Volpato, C. and Bushman, B. J. (2016). ‘Acting like a Tough Guy: Violent-Sexist Video Games, Identification with Game Characters, Masculine Beliefs, & Empathy for Female Violence Victims’:
‘violent-sexist games decreased empathy for female violence victims for boys who strongly identified with the violent game character, and did so by increasing masculine beliefs’
DeCamp, W. (2015). ‘Impersonal agencies of communication: Comparing the effects of video games and other risk factors on violence’:
On violent video games and hitting people;
‘Immediately it is clear that playing violent video games does not have a significant impact on the probability of hitting someone within these matched samples’
On violent video games and carrying firearms:
‘For males, violent gaming has a virtually zero impact with or without controls’
Albeit a small sample, all the above studies seem to conclude that the influence of video games on violence is virtually non existent. With that, however, It must be said that sceptics here are not trying to say that video games are the only cause of violence, they are simple trying to determine if it is one of them. If anything it should highlight how little we understand about human psychology. One factor being causality;
Ferguson, C. J. and Konijn, E. A. debated:
‘I sometimes get the idea that there is a lot of misunderstanding around causality. Often it seems that causality is seen as a one-to-one causality or one-to-one relationship, like “I put some media violence in and aggression will come out.” Obviously, this is not how causality should be understood.’
The fact of the matter is, it is never as simple as violent video games make people violent and the gaming community shouldn’t feel victimised by scholars who wholeheartedly understand this notion. Regardless, bad models will always be a concern, as long as children have eyes to see and ears to hear. It just so happens that video games are popular now, like Greek Tragedy was popular then.
So if thats the case, why don’t we all hold hands and sing kumbaya?
Well, what Plato and the Greek citizens didn’t have to contend with was a sensationalist, agenda fuelled media, but that’s a blog for another day.
Annas, Julia. 1981. Print. An Introduction To Plato’s Republic. Oxford [England]: Clarendon Press.
Ellithorpe, M. E., Cruz, C., Velez, J. A., Ewoldsen, D. R. and Bogert, A. K. (2015). ‘Moral license in video games: when being right can mean doing wrong’, Cyberpsychology, Behavior And Social Networking, 18(4), pp. 203-207.
Gabbiadini, A., Riva, P., Andrighetto, L., Volpato, C. and Bushman, B. J. (2016). ‘Acting like a Tough Guy: Violent-Sexist Video Games, Identification with Game Characters, Masculine Beliefs, & Empathy for Female Violence Victims’, Plos One, 11(4), pp. e0152121-e0152121.
DeCamp, W. (2015). ‘Impersonal agencies of communication: Comparing the effects of video games and other risk factors on violence’, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4(4), pp. 296-304.
Ferguson, C. J. and Konijn, E. A. (2015). ‘She said/he said: A peaceful debate on video game violence’, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4(4), pp. 397-411.