The negative effects on a child’s behavior due to violent video games have been an ongoing topic since video games have become more popular in the 20th and 21st centuries. Games such as Call of Duty, God of War, Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill are some iconic video game franchises commonly talked about when it comes to the violence within those games. Many claims such as making kids aggressive or causing children to not care about other’s pain are hot topics when it comes to the discussion of how these games affect children. However, violence in video games doesn’t necessarily have a negative effect when it pertains to a child’s unfavorable behavior.
To start, violence usually stems from social and environmental factors with lower IQ being a prevalence in the frequency of violence. In the journal by David O. Carpenter called Environmental causes of violence, he states that “violence is clearly coupled with poverty, and physical abuse of children promotes later aggression.” The correlation here is that violence and hardship often put onto a child during their early developmental years leads to aggression and violent tendencies later in their life. The strength of early childhood relationships and an unstable neighborhood are also big risk factors when it comes to violent behavior. Low economic status leads to poor academic performance and a lack of positive family support which in turn leads to aggression and violence.
Carpenter references a study done by Kandel et al using Danish men as the subject and he claims, “A higher IQ was protective against risk for serious criminal behavior among Danish men who were at high risk of such criminal behavior.” Having a higher IQ is a protective factor from violent tendencies as a higher IQ is also protective from developing mental disorders as told by Carpenter; “Increased childhood intelligence has been found to be associated with a significantly reduced risk of generalized anxiety disorder.” In another article by Paul G. Nestor called Mental Disorder and Violence: Personality Dimensions and Clinical Features, he asserts that “some mental disorders increase the risk for violence, with higher rates of violence now firmly established most prominently for individuals with diagnoses of substance abuse, followed by cluster B personality disorders, and to a lesser extent, schizophrenia spectrum disorders.” It is found that disorders such as drug and alcohol use, schizophrenia, and personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder have tendencies to lash out in violent ways because of their lack of handle on the world around them.
Violence is often a result of what is happening around us. There is no one cause for violence but many factors that contribute to the onset of aggressive and violent behaviors. Most of the time social factors with the combination of mental illness will lead children down a dark path to violence as they get older. Not being able to get the help they need whether that be mentally or socially can cause a child to feel some resentment and anger toward what is happening around them. Violent video games may draw inspiration from real-life violence but there is no causation to children becoming violent from those video games. Watching a horror movie such as the Halloween series does not make you want to go on a serial killing spree and most viewers have a stressed or upset reaction to the killings, it’s the same with violent video games. Violent children may seek what is happening in their real life and into a digital form as a way to destress and release what is happening to them in real life. Children without a good support system whether that be family or supportive peers, they have no way to get their emotions out other than through their learned aggression or through something much more peaceful as playing a video that may mimic their current situation.
Moving forward, there’s evidence of children playing violent video games where their empathy levels did not change after playing those games. In Long Term Exposure to Violent Video Games Does Not Show Desensitization on Empathy for Pain: An Fmri Study, authors Xuemei Gao, et al. did a study on players who were exposed to violent video games and those who were not. Players were screened before and after playing those games for differences in their brain receptors regarding empathy for the pain of others. Gao states, “The results showed that the perception of others’ pain was not significantly different in brain regions between groups, from which we could infer that the desensitization effect of VVGs was overrated.” This study is important because it shows that playing violent video games, even over a long time period such as in Long Term Exposure to Violent Video Games Does Not Show Desensitization on Empathy for Pain: An Fmri Study does not make you any less reactive to the pain of others in real life.
Ultimately, it’s easy to take violent video games and write them off as one of the reasons a child’s behavior is aggressive and violent but a bunch of real-world factors could be one of the reasons a child flocks to violent video games. Social environments that aren’t positive for the child such as parents being non-existent or a negative source in the child’s life or living in poverty, not being able to afford necessities like food, clothing, and a decent education can cause a seemingly nice child to a child that is full of resentment and aggression towards their life and situation happening around them. More aggressive children could be more interested in violent video games as either a way to destress from their current life or as a way to act on their aggression in a way that doesn’t harm or hurt anybody in real life. Children want to feel seen and heard and with violent video games, they can feel that way. Killing zombies like in Resident Evil or robbing banks in Grand Theft Auto, or even battling gods in God of War could all be outlets for a violent child, not the other way around that a non-violent child turns violent for playing a violent video game.
Gao, Xuemei, et al. “Long-Time Exposure to Violent Video Games Does Not Show Desensitization on Empathy for Pain: An Fmri Study.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 11 Apr. 2017, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00650/full.
Ma, J., et al. “Environmental Causes of Violence.” Physiology & Behavior, Elsevier, 14 Sept. 2009, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S003193840900300X?casa_token=F3wM_tuNnscAAAAA%3AQSg0-4UVh1wG2MuoSlBwJRys3dBH06DDik_piVd-blF48zOnEH4iJcP5WxkSKb4AUFt7Caa4nNs.
Nestor, Paul G. “Mental Disorder and Violence: Personality Dimensions and Clinical Features.” American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 159, no. 12, 2002, pp. 1973–1978., https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.12.1973.
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