Violence: From games to real life

Friday, November 30, 2007
Some popular violent video games. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Violent video games are once again being blamed for violence in the real world. The latest incident involved the case of the badly beaten body of a 2-year-old found in Galveston Bay, Texas, where media reports pointed to the online game World of Warcraft as a reason for the violence.

Local gamer Matt Hernandez, 19, named "World of Warcraft" and "Unreal Tournament" -- both violent games by industry standards -- as two of his favorites. He still doesn't consider himself a violent person and doesn't buy into the theories.

"Violence is subjected everywhere, not just in video games," Hernandez said.

Psychologists claim that although video games are a newer medium, the research supporting the negative effects of violent television and movies will hold true for video games.

The American Psychological Association has said video games may be worse than violent television because of the necessary interaction, rewards for violent behavior and repetition as one plays the game.

"Practicing arithmetic will make you better at arithmetic, practicing chess will make you better at chess," Craig Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University and a well-published behavioral scientist, told a British magazine recently.

Even with the stance of psychologists, courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of the Entertainment Software Association when states have tried to pass laws banning or regulating video games.

Hernandez, who works at Game Stop in the West Park Mall, said the ratings that already exist are a good feature for video games. The ESA rates games from Early Childhood to Adults Only.

"I like the regulations on it to keep it out of the hands of small kids," he said.

In August, a California judge ruled that video games were a First Amendment right and that there was no evidence that playing violent games resulted in real-world violence.

Anderson also claims video game violence helps to desensitize people to real world violence. In one study, participants played either a violent or non-violent video game for 20 minutes then watched a 10-minute video clip showing scenes of real-life violence while their heart rates were monitored.

Those who had played the violent games had a lower heart rate than those who had played a non-violent game.

Some psychologists, though, question whether the effect of violence can be measured in such controlled settings.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported total violent crime offenses decreased from nearly 4 million in 1996 to 2 million in 2004. The ESA reported sales of computer and video games increased by more than $3 billion. The most popular computer game in 2006 was World of Warcraft -- rated T for Teens -- and the third top selling video game was Gears of War, which carries a Mature rating.

Hernandez said the two top selling games at Game Stop are the nonviolent "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" and "Rock Band."

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