Are Video Games Bad?

Violence in Video Games: The Misrepresentation of a Generation of Gamers


“Life is like a video game. Everybody’s got to die sometime.”  These words were spoken by Devin Moore, who was later sentenced to death for murdering two police officers and a dispatcher before making his getaway in a police cruiser (Alabama, 2005).  “ . . .[I]n almost every generation is the new medium that comes along. And it’s subject of almost a hysterical attack,” First Amendment lawyer Paul Smith says, referring to the theory that violent media, art, and entertainment will create violent children and adults (Alabama, 2005).  This theory has been applied to books, movies, comic books, TV, and now video games.  The newest of these mediums is virtual reality, and the most ubiquitous use of the technology is in gaming.  In 2009, 68% of American households played computer or video games (22 charts, 2010).  In 2008, 97% of teens played computer, web, portable, or console games, 99% of boys and 94% of girls (Pew Internet, 2008).  When a medium is as pervasive as television, it behooves us, as a society, to examine the effects in an honest light.  The media is awash with articles about how video games are causing our youth to act aggressively and commit crime.  The aim of this paper is to shed light on these accusations, as well as show how Virtual Reality can help our society instead of destroying it.  As virtual reality becomes the favored pastime of our generation, the effects on society are important to understand.


This paper was compiled using secondary sources, retrieved from Ashford Online Library sources, and the Internet using the Google search engine.  Specifically, searches were conducted to find benefits of gaming, violence in gaming, and specifics of examples given for those “violent” articles.  Typically, Internet searches, vice Database searches, would be limited, but little current video game research was found in databases such as EBSCOhost and ProQuest.



Research on Violent Video Games

Many studies have been performed linking violent video games to aggressive behavior and hostile thoughts.  As a baseline, males tend to play violent video games more frequently, and in greater lengths of time than females, enjoy them more, and tend to be more aggressive following gameplay (Farrar, Krcmar, & Nowak, n.d.).  In 2003, one study claimed that 68% of the top 60 games had violent content in them, defining “violent” as having the main character perform actions that intended to cause harm or death in another character (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).

The most common argument for learned behavior from a violent video game is called Social Learning Theory (SLT) (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).  This theory maintains that young children learn societal behavior by example.  Thus in games that allow everyday items, like screwdrivers or aerosol cans, to be used as weapons, the game may be illustrating to children how to use those items as weapons, where they may not have discovered that use on their own (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).  In violent video games, like Call of Duty, for example, players are rewarded via points, rankings, and better equipment, for violent behavior, which could transfer that learned aggression to the real world (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).  Violent video games have been linked to increased aggressive behavior, hostile thoughts, and delinquent/criminal behavior several times (Farrar, et al., n.d.), and decreased self-control and ability to focus (Salter, 2011).  Young gamers who play violent video games routinely may learn to accept violence as customary, and even respectable, becoming desensitized to real violence (Violent Video Games, 2011).

Some studies show that the aggression in reality is increasing over time, likely due to greater realism (Farrar, et al., n.d.).  It was also shown that playing a violent game in an immersive virtual environment was linked to greater hostility than playing a violent game on a traditional platform, or a non-violent game on either platform, again likely due to realism (Blascovich & Persky, 2007).  However, the rate of violent crime is at the lowest point in thirty years (Jenkins, n.d.), and as the graph to the right shows, has been declining, while video game sales are on the rise (Essential facts, n.d.; Perkins, 2003; Crime Type, n.d.).  The Entertainment Software Association points out that if video games were, indeed, a cause of violent crime, as many detractors claim, then they would fall or rise together (Essential facts, n.d.).

There are a number of conflicting ideas about perceived violence and how to make violence “acceptable” in terms of game creation.  For instance, more violence is perceived not by the number of violent images are seen, but based on how realistically the attack is portrayed (Farrar, et al., n.d.).  Many games now have blood and gore filters, which parents may enable to spare their children from the sight of excessive blood and guts.  Results are inconclusive in this study, because on one hand, there are no consequences of the violence shown, so there is no repercussion for reenacting the imagery in reality.  On the other hand, seeing blood along with a point gain may act as a reward system and reinforce the behavior (Farrar, et al., n.d.).  The final concept in game creation is in plot device.  If violence is justified, shows no suffering of victim, or no punishment for the perpetrator of the violent act, aggression is more likely than a wholly realistic approach that shows suffering and punishment (Farrar, et al., n.d.).

Research Refuted

Many of these studies mentioned a “link” between violent video game play and aggressive behavior.  However, that link is usually by correlation, not causal (Jenkins, n.d.).  This means that aggressive people may prefer to play violent games, not that violent games make people aggressive.  In addition, many studies have been criticized based on methodology (Jenkins, n.d.).  For example, one study had people play a violent game for twelve minutes, then fill out a questionnaire about how hostile they feel (Farrar, et al., n.d.), which is not long enough to experience any sort of plot context, and may be asking subjects to interact with a system they may be completely unfamiliar with (Jenkins, n.d.).

As is shown below, with real-world examples, and as spelled out by a 2001 Surgeon General’s report, the strongest risk factor for juvenile shootings are “mental stability and quality of home life, not media exposure (Jenkins, n.d.).”  In short, “no research has found that . . . violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer (Jenkins, n.d.).”

Real-World Examples

In 2001, Daniel Tan Thiam Soon, 21, stabbed Ng Qiyong, 16, in a Singapore cyber-café because the teen had killed his character in a game of Counter-Strike (Kushner, 2002).  The same game was again in the news in 2002 when a 20 year-old man was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver at a cyber-café in Orange County, California (Kushner, 2002).

In 2003, a 17 year-old named Devin Moore was arrested under suspicion of car theft.  While in the Alabama police station, he took an officer’s gun, shot the officer, an investigating officer, and the dispatcher at the front desk (Goddard, 2006).  He then made his getaway by stealing a police cruiser.  When he was finally arrested, he was heard to say, “Life is like a video game.  Everybody’s got to die sometime (Alabama, 2005).”  Due to the quote and the similarity in this event to a mission in the video game Grand Theft Auto, many were quick to blame video games.  One lawyer, Jack Thompson, hired by the families of the victims, sued Sony, Take-Two Interactive, Wal-Mart, and GameStop, saying, “ . . . but for the video-game training, he would not have done what he did,” and calling the game a “murder simulator (Alabama, 2005).”

In 2004, a 14 year-old, Cody Posey, shot his step-mother, father, and step-sister before burying them in horse manure in New Mexico (Goddard, 2006).  The game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was cited as a cause for his bizarre behavior. The same lawyer as in the previous case attempted to sue Sony, but the case was thrown out because New Mexico has no jurisdiction over Sony Entertainment (Jack Thompson’s, 2008).

Finally, also in 2004, a 17 year-old British teen, Warren Leblanc, brutally murdered his 14 year-old friend, Stefan Pakeerah, with a knife and a claw hammer.  A copy of MANHUNT was found and linked to the murder (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).  This murder spawned a flurry of activity world-wide.  Ontario, Canada banned Rockstar Games’ MANHUNT due to extreme violence and realism (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).  Many of Britain’s largest electronic stores stopped selling the game, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed video games in parliament (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).  It also sparked a number of countries and provinces introducing legislation to make ID checks for violent games mandatory, including in the US (Gray & Nikolakakos, 2007).

These are the high-profile cases that are typically cited when discussing the dangers of violence in video games.  However, there is a lot of evidence pointing toward other reasons for such extreme behavior, typically abuse, drugs, and gangs.

Daniel Tan Thiam Soon, the man who stabbed a teen for killing his character in Counter-Strike, was found to be under the influence of drugs (Man stabbed, 2001).  Phuong Huu Ly, the man stabbed with a screwdriver, was actually outside the cyber-café having a cigarette, when gang members assaulted him (Taylor, 2002).  He was believed to have been a member of a rival gang, and his death was a gang-related murder, as opposed to a video game related murder (Taylor, 2002).

Devin Moore had a troubled childhood, suffering abuse and transfer through many foster care homes (Alabama, 2005).  In addition, by no stretch of the imagination does a video game controller with buttons give someone practice actually pulling a trigger, or teach them to shoot twice in center mass, once in the head.  Such efficient kills showed that Moore had practiced before, and that the game itself did not teach him to be a cold-blooded killer (Alabama, 2005).

Cody Posey was physically, emotionally, verbally, and sexually abused by his father and step-mother (Grinberg, 2006).  His father would beat him with a welding rod, pinch his finger with pliers for slamming a truck door, and drop bales of hay on him, and his step-mother would slap him for asking to use a wheelbarrow instead of a coffee can to transport rocks (Grinberg, 2006).  His step-sister would monitor him at school, giving a report to her parents so that Cody would be punished (Grinberg, 2006).  It is believed that the “final straw” was when his father ordered him to have sex with his step-mother (Grinberg, 2006).

Finally, the 17 year-old British teen initially only intended to rob his friend.  He owed money to a gang, and had been receiving messages that “something unpleasant” would happen if he did not pay up soon (Leblanc, 2004).  He intended to use the hammer to knock Stefan out, but panicked and hit him repeatedly before pulling out his knife and killing the boy.  In the most ironic turn of events, the game was actually found in the bedroom of the victim, completely dispelling any myth aboutMANHUNT being the catalyst for Warren’s behavior (Golze, 2004).

Beneficial Applications


Video games are starting to be used in educational applications to make learning more fun for children.  A game does not have to be “educational” in purpose to be a great learning experience, though.  Many games, like Civilization, SimCity, or Age of Empires are based in history, politics, governance, and city-building which can help teach, or at least create interest, in real world scenarios (Olson, n.d.).  Many games also improve math and language skills as the gamer reads instructions and determines how many resources they can purchase in any number of real-time strategy, turn-based strategy, role playing, or simulation games (Rudon, n.d.).


With most games, gamers must perform multiple tasks (push different buttons together, in particular order, etc.), which increase motor skills and hand-eye coordination (Video games, 2009).  One particular example is in laparoscopic surgery, or surgery performed essentially by remote control via cameras.  Surgeons who play video games three or more hours per week were found to complete their surgeries more quickly and with fewer errors (Rosser, Lynch, Cuddihy, Gentile, Klonsky & Merrell, 2007).  Kids who play sports games often find themselves outside trying out the new moves or plays they observe on the game, encouraging exercise, even before taking into account the newest generation of motion control and “exercise” games (Olson, n.d.).


Video games, particularly first person shooters, have been proven to improve hand-eye coordination and the ability to rapidly recognize features (Rudon, n.d.).  Games also force decision-making and teach gamers to “think on their feet (Rudon, n.d.).”  The right games improve concentration, reasoning, memorization, and observation skills (Video games, 2009), as well as creativity (Rudon, n.d.).

Emotional and Social

Despite what earlier studies into gaming say, there is research that says not only do violent video games help gamers handle stress better and are less depressed overall, but they actually reduce hostility after a stressful task (Tamborini, Eastin, Skalski, Lachlan, 2004).  Gaming can be competitive, teaching kids about real-world competition, which seems to be lacking in today’s schools, and providing an opportunity to gain self-confidence from their achievements (Rudon, n.d.; Olson, n.d.).  Multi-player games can also teach leadership skills as they persuade and motivate others to accomplish shared goals, as well as mediating disputes between group members (Olson, n.d.).  Social and communication skills are gained when gamers teach others what they have learned inside the game (Olson, n.d.).  Playing games with their children can help parents relate better, and may let the child feel comfortable enough to discuss “the hard stuff” with their parents (Olson, n.d.).  Finally, gaming is a gateway to friendship.  Not only by becoming virtual friends through multiplayer games, with as many children playing as there are, games are a large portion of youth conversation, games can provide similarities to build real friendships on (Olson, n.d.).

Medical Applications

Doctors and hospitals are starting to use the beneficial effects of gaming and virtual reality to good effect.  Not only do surgeons typically perform “practice” surgery in virtual reality, but therapy for Autism and Down Syndrome sufferers is enhanced with the use of Wii gaming (Wuang, Chiang, Su & Wang, 2011), and hospitals are encouraging patients to play games because they are an effective distraction from painful procedures (Rudon, n.d.).  Psychologists have found that by having patients destroy boxes of cigarettes in a “game” therapy, that they are more likely to quit than those who only destroyed plain boxes (Nguyen, 2009).


Social Learning Theory says that when a child observes behavior, they learn how they should act, and it follows that it can have an effect on adults as well.  The cigarette smoker example shows that if a person tries to let it have an effect, it can.  The patients were all aware that destroying the cigarettes was supposed to influence them.  However, the vast majority of people who play violent video games know that shooting people in real life is not beneficial, and do not allow the games to influence them.  Those who may be affected by the violence in gaming are usually already susceptible to violent outbursts due to abuse, drugs, diminished mental capacity, or a very young age.  The greatest piece of evidence refuting a link between gaming and violence is the fact that game sales are booming and violent crime is dropping (Essential facts, n.d.; Perkins, 2003; Crime Type, n.d.).

Video games are here to stay, and will only get more immersive in the future.  The key is in parental guidance and moderation.  Parents should familiarize themselves with the rating system of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and take an active interest in the games their children play.  If the parent believes a game is too graphic, too violent, or not appropriate in any way, it is the parent’s prerogative to limit or deny access to that game, but it is not something that should be legislated.  Violent or not, educational or not, all games can teach.  Whether hand-eye coordination from aiming down the sights in Call of Duty, history from Civilization, leadership and social skills fromWorld of Warcraft, creativity from Minecraft, or moral dilemmas in Fallout 3, all games have something to offer.  Just as the Greeks realized there was nothing to fear from books and art, eventually we will realize gaming is more beneficial than detrimental.


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One thought on “Are Video Games Bad?

  1. Superb Aritcle. Often seeking different types of opinions, I just bookmarked this site. Thanks very much, I appreciate you making this article available, the rest of the site is also well done. Have a great day

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