This was the first draft of an essay I wrote for my Intro to Mass Media Class.
In the documentary Game Over, the idea that violent video games lead to violence in real life, is presented as fact. They find many professors, researchers, and models to back this idea up. While I see that the idea is certainly possible, and I acknowledge that the film brought up many valid points; I think that violence in video games (or media) does not lead to an accelerated rate of violence in day to day life.
I do see how violence in video games can desensitize players. The violence, blood and realistic actions that would have once appalled audiences is now socially acceptable. The media where violence is concerned has desensitized audiences, so now they are not as startled by video game violence. However, were a person to walk in on a murder taking place in real life, I think that the effect would be just as horrifying as pre-video game reactions. There is a huge difference between something being on a screen, and someone tangibly, audibly, realistically being hurt. The smells, the thought processes, the emotions are completely different when you are presented with real danger, rather than one on a screen. There are some people who play video games who cannot see the difference between real life and the video game. These are similar to those who read Stephen King’s novels and copycat the murders that take place in those. You will find these people anywhere and they will find a way to make any fictional world a reality. However, this is a very minute percentage of the population. The majority of people are those who have a real life and then play video games for fun. These people are the common people, and I think that we should look at their cases rather than the select few who are certifiably crazy.
Some people argue the “powerful effects” theory. They say that the media “makes” them do things. This, I think is very easily refuted. Every time you watch TV you are assaulted with calls to action “come buy a new car” “come to the midnight release” “come eat here”. Every time you hear that, do you go out and do it? No. And if you do, you’re really weak minded. Last time I checked, people were able to think for themselves, and were critical of things they see and read.
Paul Lazarfield, a sociologist, found in his studies, that media had no direct effect on the masses. He developed the “minimalist effects” theory, which contained 3 different sections. The two-step flow model, which said that people are more effected by what people they know and respect say, than those in the media. Status Conferral, which said that the media gave the masses things to think about, not what to think about them. Lastly, Narcoticizing Dysfunction, which said that the media rarely energizes people to action, rather it makes people more passive because they are overwhelmed with information. Applying this theory to the violence in video games is quite simple. Violence in video games has no direct effect on the players. Rather, the people who the players associate with are more likely to influence how they behave. In America, the places that have the highest rate of crime are the “slums” where the poorer people live. Many of these families cannot afford video games, and yet their crime rate is still through the roof. I would say that the situations they are placed in, in order to survive, are the things that make for the violence. The people in these environments often look up to those who have survived the longest (and these leaders are usually those who have survived by being the toughest, strongest, and smartest). I think that this is how the violence is spread. Not through a TV screen in someone’s living room. For Status Conferral, I think that the video games may give you a lot of violence to look at, but it doesn’t tell you what to think about it. You are not forced to adopt the beliefs that a video game has. It is not telling you that you should go out and shoot those around you, the violence is presented in situations that few of the population will ever encounter. How many of us are going to foreign worlds to fight aliens? (Halo) How many people go on covert operations to save the world? (Ghost Recon) How many of us run down old ladies in the streets just for fun? (Grand Theft Auto) The answer is: almost none of us. According to the documentary, 90% of homes now have video games, so tell me, in those homes (mostly white, middle class) how many of the players have attempted to save the world? Have an increased amount of people started to believe in aliens, and tried to kill them? How many of these people have gone out run down an old lady? Once again, the percentages are less than minimal. Lastly, Narcoticizing Dysfunction, ties right in with Status Conferral. Really, the video games pacify the violent nature, rather than energizing people to go out and shoot aliens.
My last point ties right in with what I just said. Video games have a cathartic nature. Take this situation. A man comes home from a hard, stressful day at work, and he just wants to yell or punch something. In efforts to cool down, he sits at his console in front of the TV, turns on Halo and shoots some bad guys. When he is done, he feels better, because he got the angry emotions out, and erased the want for violence. He then is able to go have a peaceful night and be happy and have a good time. The video game was a chance for him to step away from real life, release some tension while not having to worry about what is going on in the real world.
Honestly, I think that there are few cases where violence in video games can directly relate to a person’s behavior. I think that those very rare cases are being blown out of proportion and used as a generalization of the masses who play violent video games; when in reality, people play video games (put on their night vision goggles, repower their life power, and shoot some aliens) and then sit down at the table for a completely normal dinner with their family. They are relaxed and able to fully function as normal members of society- regardless of how many regardless of how many plasma grenades they just threw in the virtual world that exists only behind the television screen.