Real Data on Video Game Violence

“We got trouble right now, right here in River City” ~Larry Kutner, quoting the Music Man

Clinical psychologist Dr. Larry Kutner, author of Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games started with breaking presentation rules to show the history of people’s response to violence in media. Attacking media for content has been, in the past, a distraction to detract for political scandal; at one point even BOOKS were under attack for the characters, plots and settings (penny dreadfuls gangster movies, comic books).

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in 2005 found that 52% of kids 8-18 play video games; 35% play computer games. Unrecognized satire and teaching youth how to commit crime are major concerns. Teens and adults know the difference; young children may not. Other concerns:

  • DC Sniper – “He trained and desensitized with video games (Halo)” vs Shooting a giant alien bug doesn’t enable you to pick up a gun. Turned out the youth in question had a history of torturing animal and actually learned how to shoot with a real gun and paper plate targets.
  • Columbine: Harris & Klebold played the bloody shoot em up video game Doom vs these games have been played by millions of people, with only 2 outliers.

Who are the school shooters?  More people are shot & killed in restaurants than in schools 2002 – there were 37 non drug non gang school related shooting in 27 years. Only 1 in 8 showed any interest in games. If there is a profile of the school shooter, it’s male, and had a history of depression.

In fact, violent crime is down, although arrests for simple assault are up! Why? People are more likely to call the cops, which leads to a mandatory arrest. Are games linked to aggression and violence? Youth who play M-rated games are linked to higher rates of aggressive/delinquent behavior; girls who play games daily are more likely to bully; not causal, but do watch for patterns to see what else is going on that children’s life. Most kids who play M rated games at age 12, 13, 14 are JUST FINE. Note that the context of violence is not addressed in ESRB ratings and are a concern for parents; kids are concerned about language more than sex or violence.

In the future:

  • Expect more trajectory research, similar to what has been in the past with youth and television viewing.
  • Games will promote creativity, learning and healthy social relationships
  • Increased realism in games may mean less realistic video game violence

Some good questions about child development followed. Kutner noted ethical games (Bioshock, GTA) may appeal at a specific age/developmental period. He also remarked that the majority of children’s play up until the age of 5 is VIOLENT. Taking things, grabbing things, etc. It has a purpose (see Bettleheim’s uses of enchantment). Also kids will do the great switcheroo: show a really violent game and ask it they have/rent it… and when the parent says no, offer a second, less horrible choice that was really the one they wanted, all along.