Caught in the Crossfire: Video games’ addition to violence is still unclear

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Illustration by Sierra Lutz/ISLAND WAVES

Video games have often been thought of as a stress reliever, but they have also been seen as a recipe for disaster in recent news about active and mass shootings.

In the wake of the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, some have blamed insufficient gun laws. But, many have turned to video games as a reason why these shootings are happening. This isn’t a new point, dating back to the Columbine shooting in 1999.

“In terms of a shooting in particular,” said Department Chair of Communication and Media Dr. David Gurney, “a lot of people point to the Columbine shooting. The two perpetrators were depicted as video game-obsessed teenagers who were playing these first-person shooters.”

The Columbine shooters were fond of the games “Doom” and “Quake.” The shooter in El Paso mentioned in his manifesto the game “Call of Duty,” which major politicians pointed to being an issue.

“Politicians look for convenient, simple solutions to problems that often lead them to scapegoating things like video games,” said Gurney. According to the Washington Post, one  of the major critics is Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who stated that he sees the video game industry as something “that teaches young people to kill.”

Media Production major and gamer Adam Shelton feels that the notion of video games causing these mass shootings are not true and is just an easy scapegoat for finding something to blame.

“If something like a digital media is going to cause you to commit violence of any scale,” said Shelton, “then there is already a deeper problem than the person themselves.” Shelton compared the people who think these games are causing the mass shootings to the people who thought rock music was corrupting youth back in the 1980s.

Gurney also added that the news media also plays a factor in this, but they pick up on what these elected officials say, making it an oversimplification of it. He said that this is a global phenomenon, but is on a different level here in the U.S.

When some people are playing these violent video games, they often get too into the game and lose sight of reality, preventing them from thinking of the repercussions of their actions. Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Amy Houlihan explains more about how this seems to be the case with as some are primed with these thoughts.

“The research tends to show that playing those types of games changes your thought patterns,” said Houlihan. “It brings to mind aggressive thoughts and feelings.” Houlihan said that it is a subtle effect and creates a pattern when people are subject to overexposure from these types of games.

“There’s a repetitive nature to playing video games where acting out these aggressive behavioral sequences,” said Houlihan, “and the more that you rehearse it in the game, the more its likely to be at the forefront of your mind.”

In regards to a “monkey see, monkey do” effect of someone doing exactly what they did in the game in the real world, Houlihan said that the concept of that is too simplistic and is more about subtle mental shifts in a person’s mind.

Looking into research he has seen, History major Tim Richter doesn’t see much of a connection from gun violence and gaming.

“From what I’ve seen, there hasn’t been any (connection),” said Richter. “… I’m sure in some extreme cases, there might be, but in most cases, no.”

Houlihan said that not everyone who plays these violent video games are susceptible to these highly aggressive thoughts.

“The way most social psychologists look at it is that violent video games and media in general is one of many risks factors,” explained Houlihan. “If you’re an adolescent who comes from a warm, supportive home environment, you’re not impoverished in anyway. If you have all these other factors in your favor, then you can probably play the heck out of these games.”

It is difficult to research aggression in a laboratory setting because of safety issues and ethical standards. So, researchers have turned to correlational studies instead.

“If you look at media violence in general, there’s definitely correlational studies that show that the amount of violence that you see in the media as a child predicts your involvement in violent crime in life,” said Houlihan.

In drawing a conclusion for video games causing violence, Houlihan said that it is hard to pin it to a clear answer.

“Video games have an effect on people in the short term change, their thought process,” said Houlihan, “but at the same time, when we’re talking about extreme forms of violence, it can’t all be explained by video games.”

Richter also added that if guns were the main cause, it would be on a bigger scale.

“People just look at the violence in the video games and think people act what they see on television or video games,” said Richter, “but if that were the case, there would be millions of mass shootings because there’s millions of people who play violent video games.”