I have recently seen an upswing in comments on both social media and in society about how kids shouldn’t play violent video games, such as GTA, because it makes them violent and teaches them to rape women, rob banks and harass people.
That is simply not true!
People can learn a lot from video games, and what they learn is mostly abstract things, like hand-eye-coordination or process of elimination. The content can be whatever, that is not something that sticks in the learning process of the person.
A child that plays Memory learns the exact same process of finding targets and clearing the “level” as a child that plays Call of Duty or Bejeweled. A click may mean shooting a rifle, flipping a card or dragging a shape, but the process they learn is the same.
Slapping a prostitute in a game to get them to give you money teaches the child to do a deed to get to an objective in exactly the same way that dragging the 5 of clubs onto 6 of diamonds does in Solitaire.
Morals are not taught to the child through the game content, as little as morals are taught through the music they listen to or the shows they watch. If that was true, my generation would be a generation of murderers.
I was 7 when Doom and Duke Nukem 3D came out. Both of them depict very gory violence and the latter contained naked women in either bondage or as strippers. You could even pay the strippers to take off what little clothes they had left. Despite that, I have never bashed someone’s head in or treated any woman as an object, or attempted to bribe someone into taking their clothes off. Not even once!
The morals we learn growing up are the morals of the adults around us. If a father spends his evenings in front of the TV shouting “These damn immigrants are stealing our jobs”, that will stick with the kid. If the same kid instead heard that from the game they played, they wouldn’t associate those words with life lessons.
If the kid with the shouting father also was given lessons by their uncle at the firing range, with a rifle pointed at a photo of a person, with points awarded for kill shots, that would teach the kid how to kill a person with a gun. That does not make the kid a murderer.
If that kid grew up with rifles in the home in an area with immigrants, he would not automatically go out on the streets and start shooting immigrants left and right.
So why does so many people believe cartoonish violence in a game would create that killer?
There has been many studies on the subject and most of them point to the same conclusion: A child that plays violent video games will not automatically become violent. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, as rates of violence has decreased while the violence in video games has risen.
The same holds true for violence in films. During the mid-1900’s movies had little to no violence, while early cinema had a lot of violence in them. The later part of the 20th and the early part of the 21st century had an upswing in violence in cinema again. Once again, the violence rates shows an opposite in real world statistics. During the early and late 20th century violence rates fell significantly, while they were on the rise in the mid-1900’s.
Some studies have found that violent video games and movies can make a person aggressive, but not violent or a criminal. It is more of a decrease in tolerance to annoyance than anything else. Even biased studies, as the one performed by the APA Task Force on Violent Media that actively tries to find links between violent media and real life violence, agrees that the aggressive behavior that could be caused by violence in games is still not enough to make someone a criminal or even a violent person.
Another study made by Oxford University found no link between content of games and aggressive behavior. However, they did find that children who spent much time playing games (more than 3 hours per day on average) were more aggressive than children who spent less time. Children who spent around one hour a day on average even had improved behavior and academic success, regardless of the content of the game.
The only conclusion left to make is that your child will not become a murdering rapist if they play Duke Nukem, GTA or Call of Duty!
Journal of Communication study
APA Task Force on Violent Media report (uncorrected proof)