Video game controversies

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Video game controversies are societal and scientific arguments about whether or not the content of video games can change the behavior and attitudes of a player. Since the early 1980s, advocates of video games have emphasized their use as an expressive medium, arguing for their protection under the laws governing freedom of speech and also as an educational tool. Detractors argue that video games are harmful and therefore should be subject to legislative oversight and restrictions. The positive and negative characteristics and effects of video games are the subject of scientific study. Results of investigations into links between video games and addiction, aggression, violence, social development, and a variety of stereotyping and sexual morality issues are debated.[1]

Background[edit]

The Entertainment Software Association reports 17% of video game players are boys under the age of eighteen and 36% are women over the age of eighteen, with 48% of all gamers being women of all ages. They also report that the average age of gamers is 31.[2] A survey of 1,102 children between 12 and 17 years of age found that ninety-seven percent are video game players who have played in the last day and seventy-five percent of parents checked the censor's rating on a video game before allowing their child to purchase it. Of these children, fourteen percent of girls and fifty percent of boys favored games with an "M" (mature) or "AO" (adult-only) rating.[3] Thirty-two percent of American adults play video games and to 2007, the number was increasing.[4]

Since the late 1990s, some acts of violence have been highly publicised because the perpetrators had a history of playing video games containing violent elements. Some research finds violent video game use correlates with a temporary increase in aggression and a decrease in prosocial behavior (caring about the welfare and rights of others) but these results have not been reproduced.[5][6][7] Others theorise positive effects of playing video games including prosocial behavior in some contexts[8][9] and argue that the video game industry has served as a scapegoat for more generalised problems affecting some communities.[10][11][12]

Theories of negative effects of video games[edit]

Some scientists propose that particular conditions, for example antisocial personality disorder, may determine those who are most at risk of carrying out violent acts after playing video games. Furthermore, people predisposed to violent behavior may be at greater risk of being adversely affected by the playing of violent video games than others.[5][13]

Other biological theories of aggression and violence have specifically excluded video game and other media effects because the evidence for such effects is considered weak and the impact too distant. For example, the catalyst model of aggression comes from a diathesis-stress perspective, implying that aggression is due to a combination of genetic risk and environmental strain. The catalyst model suggests that stress, coupled with antisocial personality are salient factors leading to aggression. It does allow that proximal influences such as family or peers may alter aggressiveness but not media and games.[14][15]

The general aggression model suggests the simulated violence of video games may influence a player's thoughts, feelings and physical arousal and this in turn creates a short term (and possibly a long term) effect on an individual's interpretation of an aggressive or violent act.[16]

Research methods[edit]

Research has focussed on five elements of the effects of video games on players: measures of the health and educational achievements of the player as a function of the amount of game play; the behavior or perceptions of players as a function of the level of violence in the game;[17] the context of the game play in terms of group dynamics; the structure of the game as it affects visual attention or three dimensional constructional skills of the players; and the mechanics of the game as they affect hand-eye coordination.[18]

Scientific debate[edit]

A common theory is that playing violent video games increases aggression in young people. Various studies support this hypothesis.[5][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28] Other studies find no link.[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39]

After the "Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association" legal case, three of the scholars involved with the legal brief for regulation calculated that the over 100 experts supporting that video games have negative effects had on average authored six times as many peer-reviewed media effects articles as the signatories that were against regulation.[40] However, three of their opponents claimed that they might have used methodology which have undercounted contributions of some scholars.[41]


In 1998, Steven Kirsch reported in the journal, Childhood, that the use of video games may lead to acquisition of an hostile attribution bias.[42] Fifty-five subjects were randomised to play either violent or non-violent video games.[42] Subjects were later asked to read stories in which the characters' behaviour was ambiguous. Participants randomised to play violent video games were more likely to provide negative interpretations of the stories.[42]

In 1999, David Satcher, the Surgeon General of the United States said,

"We clearly associate media violence to aggressive behavior. But the impact was very small compared to other things. Some may not be happy with that, but that's where the science is."[43]

A 2002 US Secret Service study of forty-one individuals who had been involved in school shootings found that twelve percent were attracted to violent video games, twenty-four percent read violent books and twenty-seven percent were attracted to violent films.[44]

In 2003, Jeanne B. Funk and her colleagues at the Department of Psychology at the University of Toledo, examined the relationship between exposure to violence through media and real-life, and desensitization (reflected by loss of empathy and changes in attitudes toward violence) in fourth and fifth grade pupils. Funk found that exposure to video game violence was associated with lowered empathy and stronger proviolence attitudes.[45] Citing David Grossman, Funk also notes that it has been reported that the U.S. Army frequently uses violent video games to desensitize soldiers during training.[46][47] However, Ferguson has argued that the alleged use of video games to desensitize soldiers more conjecture than fact.[48]

The American Psychological Association released an official statement in 2005, which said that:

  • There appears to be evidence that exposure to violent media increases feelings of hostility, thoughts about aggression, suspicions about the motives of others, and demonstrates violence as a method to deal with potential conflict situations.
  • Comprehensive analysis of violent interactive video game research suggests such exposure increases aggressive behavior, thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal, and decreases helpful behavior.
  • Studies suggest that sexualized violence in the media has been linked to increases in violence towards women, rape myth acceptance and anti-women attitudes.

And that the APA:

  • Advocates reduction of all violence in videogames and interactive media marketed to children and youth.
  • That research should be made regarding the role of social learning, sexism, negative depiction of minorities, and gender on the effects of violence in video games and interactive media on children, adolescents, and young adults.
  • That it engages those responsible for developing violent video games and interactive media in addressing the issue that playing violent video games may increase aggressive thoughts and aggressive behaviors in children, youth, and young adults, and that these effects may be greater than the well documented effects of exposure to violent television and movies.
  • That it recommends to the entertainment industry that the depiction of the consequences of violent behavior be associated with negative social consequences.
  • That it supports a rating system that accurately reflects the content of video games and interactive media.

The statement is pending revision in 2014.[49]

Ferguson and colleagues suggested that the APA's policy statement ignored discrepant research and misrepresented the scientific literature.[50][51] In 2013 a group of 228 media scholars wrote an open letter to the APA asking them to retire their policy statement on video game violence, due to considering the evidence to be mixed.[52][53]

In 2005, a study by Bruce D. Bartholow and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Michigan, Vrije Universiteit, and University of North Carolina using event related potential linked video game violence exposure to brain processes hypothetically reflecting desensitization. The findings suggested that chronic exposure to violent video games have lasting harmful effects on brain function and behavior.[54]

In 2007, a study at Iowa State University, the University of Michigan, and Vrije Universiteit by Nicholas L. Carnagey and colleagues found that participants who had previously played a violent video game had lower heart rate and galvanic skin response while viewing filmed real violence, demonstrating a physiological desensitization to violence.[55]

In 2007, a study at the Swinburne University of Technology found that children had variable reactions violent games, with some kids becoming more aggressive, some becoming less aggressive, but the majority showing no changes in behavior.[56] In the same year, at Michigan State University, John L. Sherry conducted a meta-analysis of studies about video game violence. He concluded that the influence of video game violence on aggression was minimal and previous findings of an effect may have been methodological in origin. For instance, smaller effects were found in experimental studies with longer exposure times, suggesting effects decreased over time.[57]

In 2008, records held by the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Office of Justice Programs indicated that arrests for violent crime in the US had decreased since the early 1990s in both children and adults.[58][59][60] This decrease occurred despite increasing sales of violent video games and increases in graphically violent content in those games.[61][62]

In 2008 the Pew Internet and American Life Project statistically examined the impact of video gaming on youths' social and communal behaviors. Teens who had communal gaming experiences reported much higher levels of civic and political engagement than teens who had not had these kinds of experiences. Youth who took part in social interaction related to the game, such as commenting on websites or contributing to discussion boards, were more engaged communally and politically. Among teens who play games, 63% reported seeing or hearing “people being mean and overly aggressive while playing,” 49% reported seeing or hearing “people being hateful, racist or sexist while playing”, and 78% reported witnessing “people being generous or helpful while playing”.[63][64]

In 2009, a report of three studies conducted among students of different age groups in Singapore, Japan, and the United States, found that prosocial mostly nonviolent games increased helpful prosocial behaviour among the participants.[65]

In 2010, Anderson's group published a meta-analysis of one hundred and thirty international studies with over 130,000 participants. He reported that exposure to violent video games caused both short term and long term aggression in players and decreased empathy and pro-social behavior.[66]

At the Texas A and M University, Laredo, Department of Psychology and Communications, Ferguson said,

"Taken together, [the] meta-analyses range from those which argue against meaningful effects to those which find weak effects. Thus the debate on video game violence has been reduced to whether video game violence produces no effects...or almost no effects."[67] Ferguson and Kilburn criticised Anderson's study for methodological flaws including failure to abide by quantifiable measurements of aggression; for using the results of their own or colleagues research as 75% of their study's premise; and for failing to include dissenting studies.[68] John Grohol, a psychologist, supported this view.[69]

Anderson, Bushman, and Rothstein replied:

"We conducted a state-of-the art meta-analysis on violent video game effects, one that includes data from more that 10 times as many participants as in meta-analyses conducted by Ferguson and his colleagues. We included unpublished studies, as recommended by virtually all meta-analysis experts. We created and tested stringent inclusion criteria. We conducted appropriate analyses to assess the impact of publication bias and found minimal bias. One could still argue that the magnitude of effects we observed was so small that it is trivial, but most meta-analysis experts, physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists would disagree with Ferguson and Kilburn on this point as well. Our results suggest that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behaviors and decrease empathic feelings and prosocial behaviors."[70] Rowell Huesmann, a psychology and social studies academic at the University of Michigan wrote an editorial supporting the Anderson meta-analysis.[71]

In 2010, Patrick and Charlotte Markey suggested that violent video games only caused aggressive feelings in individuals who had a preexisting disposition, such as high neuroticism, low agreeableness, or low conscientiousness.[72]

In 2010, after a review of the effects of violent video games, the Attorney General's Office of Australia reported that even though the Anderson meta-analysis of 2010 was the pinnacle of the scientific debate at that time, significant harm from violent video games had not been persuasively proven or disproven, except that there was some consensus that they might be harmful to people with aggressive or psychotic personality traits.[73]

The attorney general considered a number of confounders including:

  • Social and political controversy about the topic.
  • Lack of consensus about definitions and measures of aggression and violent video games (for example, whether a cartoon game has the same impact as a realistic one).
  • Levels of aggression may or may not be an accurate marker for the likelihood of violent behaviour.
  • The playing of violent video games may not be an independent variable in determining violent acts (for example, violent behaviour after playing violent video games may be age dependant, or players of violent video games may watch other violent media).
  • Studies may not have been long or large enough to provide clear conclusions.[73]

In 2011, a thirty year study of 14,000 college students, published by the University of Michigan which measured overall empathy levels in students, found that these had dropped by 40% since the 1980s. The biggest drop came after the year 2000, which the authors speculated was due to multiple factors, including increased societal emphasis on selfishness, changes in parenting practices, increased isolation due to time spent with information technology, and greater immersion in all forms of violent and/or narcissistic media including, but not limited to, news, television and video games. The authors did not provide data on media effects, but referenced various research of the topics.[74]

A study at Brock University was conducted in 2011 to examine whether or not the use of violent video games promotes aggressive thinking and behaviour.[75] Subjects were randomized to play games with or without violent content and with or without competitive content. Competitive content and not violent content was associated with increased heart rate. The authors suggested competition in video game playing was a confounding variable when increased heart rate was used as a marker of aggression.[75]

In 2011, in a longitudinal study of youth in Germany, von Salisch found that aggressive children tend to select more violent video games. This study found no evidence that violent games caused aggression in minors. The author speculated that other studies may have been affected by "single responder bias" due to self-reporting of aggression rather than reporting by parents or teachers.[76]

In 2012 a Swedish study examined the cooperative behavior of players in The Lord of the Rings Online. The authors argued that attempts to link collaborative or aggressive behavior within the game to real life behavior would rely on unwarranted assumptions regarding equivalencies of forms of cooperation and the material conditions of the environment in-game and out-of-game.[77]

One study from Morgan Tear and Mark Nielsen in 2013 concluded that violent video games did not reduce or increase prosocial behavior, failing to replicated previous studies in this area.[37]

In 2013, Isabela Granic and colleagues at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands, argued that even violent video games may promote learning, health, and social skills, but that not enough games had been developed to treat mental health problems. Granic et al. noted that both camps have valid points, and a more balanced perspective and complex picture is necessary.[78]

In 2014, Ferguson and Olson found no correlation between video game violence and bullying or delinquency in children with preexisting attention deficit disorder or depressive symptoms.[79]

fMRI studies[edit]

There may be an effect of violent video games on brain activity. Scientists use functional magnetic resonance imaging to study this effect. It has been observed that participants who engaged with VVGs displayed increases in the functioning of their amygdala and decreases in the functioning of their frontal lobe.[80] The effect on the frontal lobe may be similar to the deactivation seen in disruptive behavior disorders and if the change is universal, the effect of violent video games may not relate to an underlying aggressive nature.[81][82] During the Brown Vs. EMA legal case, it was noted that the studies conducted by Kronenberger were openly funded by "The Center for Successful Parenting", which may mean a conflict of interest.[83]

An fMRI study by Regenbogen and colleagues suggested VVGs do not diminish the ability to differentiate between real and virtual violence.[84]

Public debate in US[edit]

Jack Thompson, an activist, filed lawsuits against the makers of violent games, alleging that simulated violence causes real-world violence.

In the early 1980s, Ronnie Lamm, the president of the Long Island PTA sought legislation to govern the proximity of video game arcades to schools.[85]

In the 1990s, Joe Lieberman, a US senator chaired a hearing about violent video games such as Mortal Kombat.[86]

David Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor and lieutenant commander, wrote books about violence in the media including: On Killing (1996) and Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill (1999).[87] He described first-person shooter games as murder simulators, and argued that video game publishers unethically train children in the use of weapons and harden them emotionally towards commitments of murder by simulating the killing of hundreds or thousands of opponents in a single typical video game.[88]

In 2003, Dr. Craig A. Anderson, a researcher who testified on the topic before the U.S. Senate, said,

"[S]ome studies have yielded nonsignificant video game effects, just as some smoking studies failed to find a significant link to lung cancer. But when one combines all relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques, it shows that violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social (helping) behavior."[89][90][91][92] In 2005, Anderson was criticised in court for failing to give balanced expert evidence.[93]

In 2008, in Grand theft childhood: the surprising truth about violent video games and what parents can do., Kutner and Olsen refuted claims that violent video games cause an increase in violent behavior in children. They report there is a scientifically non-significant trend showing that adolescents who do not play video games at all are most at risk for violent behavior and video game play is part of an adolescent boy's normal social setting. However, the authors did not completely deny the negative influences of violent (M-rated) video games on pre-teens and teenagers: Kutner and Olson suggested the views of alarmists and those of representatives of the video game industry are often supported by flawed or misconstrued studies and that the factors leading to violence in children and adolescents were more subtle than whether or not they played violent video games.[94][95]

Henry Jenkins, an academic in media studies, said,

"According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers—90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do not commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to continue to fester."[96]

2013, in "Playing War: How the Military Uses Video Games", Corey Mead, a professor of English at Baruch College showcased how the U.S. military financed the original development of video games, and has long used them for both training, recruitment purposes, and treatment of post traumatic stress syndrome. He also argues that the two industries are currently intertwined into each other in a "military-entertainment complex".[97]

Writing in 2013, scholars James Ivory and Malte Elson noted that, although research on video game effects remained inconclusive, the culture of the academic field itself had become very contentious and that politicians had put pressure on scientists to produce specific research findings. The authors concluded it is improper for scholars of legislators to, at present, portray video games as a public health crisis.[53]

Some research by Oxford psychologist Andrew Przybylski showed that Americans are split in opinion on how video game violence links to gun violence. Dr. Przybylski found that older people, women rather than men, people who knew less about games and who were very conservative in ideology were most likely to think video games could cause gun violence [98]

Censorship and regulation[edit]

Support for video game regulation has been linked to moral panic.[99] Even so, governments have enacted, or have tried to enact, legislation that regulates distribution of video games through censorship based on content rating systems or banning.[100][101][102][103]

In 2005, David Gauntlett claimed that grant funding, news headlines, and professional prestige more commonly go to authors who, in good faith, promote anti-media beliefs.[104] Tom Grimes, James A. Anderson, and Lori Bergen reiterated these claims in a 2008 book examining sociological effects on the production of media effects research.[105]

In 2013, the Entertainment Software Association, the lobbying group for the video games industry, had enlisted over 500,000 members to the "Video Game Voters Network," a "grassroots" lobbying group to mobilize gamers to act against public policy that may negatively impact the gaming industry.[106] The VGV was launched in 2006 by the ESA, and uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to inform members of allies and opponents.[107] In 2013, the ESA spent over 3.9 Million USD on lobbying, including but not limited to against VVG legislation. This included opposing a bipartisan federal bill that would direct the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects of all forms of violent media.[108] Such bills themselves had come under criticisms from some scholars for pressuring scientists to find specific outcomes rather than studying the issues neutrally[53][109]

Video game consoles have been banned in China since June 2000.[110][111]

Voluntary regulation[edit]

Voluntary rating systems adopted by the video game industry, such as the ESRB rating system in the United States and Canada (established in 1994), and the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating system in Europe (established in 2003), are aimed at informing parents about the types of games their children are playing (or are asking to play).

Some ratings of controversial games indicate they are not targeted at young children ("Mature" (M) or "Adults Only" (AO) in the US, or 15 or 18 in the UK). The packaging warns such games should not be sold to children. In the US, ESRB ratings are not legally binding, but many retailers take it upon themselves to refuse the sale of these games to minors. In the United Kingdom (UK), the BBFC ratings are legally binding. UK retailers also enforce the PEGI ratings which are not legally binding.

US government legislation[edit]

No video game console manufacturer has allowed any game marked AO to be published in North America. No major retailers are willing to sell AO-rated games. However, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was rated AO after the presence of the Hot Coffee add-on became evident. The add-on was later removed and the game rated M.

In the 109th Congress and 110th Congress, the Video games enforcement act was introduced to the US House of Representatives. The act required an identification check for the purchase of M and AO rated games. The bill and others like it did not succeed because of First Amendment violations.[112][113]

Although no law mandates identification checking for games with adult content, a 2008 survey by the Federal Trade Commission showed that video game retailers have voluntarily increased ID verification for M- and AO-rated games, and sales of those games to underage potential buyers decreased from 83% in 2000 to 20% in 2008.[114] A further survey in April 2011, found that video game retailers continued to enforce the ratings by allowing only 13% of underage teenage shoppers to buy M-rated video games, a statistically significant improvement from the 20% purchase rate in 2009.[115]

On 7 January 2009, Joe Baca, representative of California's 43rd District, introduced H.R. 231, the Video game health labelling act. This bill called for a label to be placed in a "clear and conspicuous location on the packaging" on all video games with an ESRB rating of T (Teen) or higher stating,

"WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behaviour."[116][117] The proposed legislation was referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. On 24 January 2011, Joe Baca reintroduced the Video game health labelling act as H.R. 400 of the 112th Congress.[118]

The bill was once again passed onto the subcommittee.

On 27 June 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. Video games were protected speech under the First Amendment. The case centered on a California law that sought to restrict sales of violent video games to minors. The video game industry, led by the Entertainment Merchants Association and the Entertainment Software Association, successfully obtained an injunction on the bill, believing that the definition of violence as stated in the California law was too vague and would not treat video games as protected speech. This opinion was upheld in lower courts, and supported by the Supreme Court's decision. The majority of the justices did not consider the studies brought to their attention as convincing evidence of harm, and stated that they could not create a new class of restricted speech that was not applied to other forms of media.[83][119][120] However, Justice Breyer's minority decision found the evidence more convincing.[121]

Deana Pollard Sacks, Brad Bushman, and Craig A. Anderson objected to the ruling, noting that the thirteen experts who authored the Statement on Video Game Violence on the Brown side were considerably more academically merited, and had on average authored over 28 times as many peer-reviewed journal articles about aggression/violence based on original empirical research as the signatories supporting the EMA, whereas the over 100 signatories supporting Brown had on average authored over 14 times as many.[40]

Richard Hall, Ryan Hall, and Terri Day replied: "It is not surprising that Anderson and Bushman found their own qualifications and the qualifications of those who agree with them to be superior to the qualifications of those who disagree with them", and claimed that they might have used methodology which have undercounted contributions of some scholars.[41]

On 3 April 2013, Dianne Feinstein, a Californian senator and democrat, spoke in San Francisco to a group of 500 constituents about gun violence. She said, video games have "a very negative role for young people, and the industry ought to take note of that" and that Congress might have to step in if the video games industry did not cease to glorify guns.[122]

Parental controls[edit]

According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), parents believe that parental controls on gaming consoles are useful.[123]

Other controversies[edit]

Sexual themes[edit]

Tolerance of sexual themes and content in video game content varies between nations.[citation needed] Controversy over sexual themes has occurred in the US. For instance, in June 2005, an entire portion of unused code was found within the main script of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, allowing the player to simulate sexual intercourse with the main character's girlfriends. The game could be accessed in the PC version via mod, and through Action Replay codes in the PS2 and Xbox versions.[124] The scene was left on the disc and could be accessed by altering a few bytes of the game's code via hex editor. This feature prompted the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to change the rating of San Andreas on 20 July 2005 to "adults only". Furthermore, the game was withdrawn from sale in many stores. Rockstar Games posted a loss of $28.8 million in that financial quarter. This event was dubbed the Hot Coffee mod controversy.[125]

The game, RapeLay, a Japanese eroge (see below) with a storyline centering around the player's character stalking and raping a mother and her two daughters also caused controversy. Campaigns against the sale of the game resulted in its being banned in many countries. RapeLay's publisher, which intended the game only to be available in Japan, withdrew it from distribution.[126]

Portrayal of gender[edit]

Violent video games may have the effect of reinforcing sexist stereotypes.[127] In 1998, a study by Dietz, conducted at the University of Central Florida, found that of thirty-three games sampled, 41% did not feature female characters, 28% sexually objectified women, 21% depicted violence against women, and 30% did not represent the female population at all. Furthermore, characterizations of women tended to be stereotypical: highly sexualized ("visions of beauty with large breasts and hips"), dependent ("victim or as the proverbial Damsel in Distress"), opponents ("evil or as obstacles to the goal of the game"), and trivial ("females depicted in fairly non-significant roles").[128] However, the study is criticized for not including a wide range of video games for study and for including old games published up to twenty years ago which do not represent current industry standards[citation needed], for example, an increased presence of strong female characters.[129][130]

In 2002, Kennedy considered the characteristics of the character, Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider video game series. She is presented as a beautiful, clever, athletic, and brave English archaeologist-adventurer. Lara Croft has achieved popularity with both males and females as an action heroine, although depending on what perspective is applied she can either represent 'a positive role model for young girls' or a 'combination of eye and thumb candy for the boys'.[131] Dietz's findings are supported by a survey commissioned in 2003 by Children Now. The survey found that gender stereotypes pervade most video games: male characters (52%) were more likely than females (32%) to engage in physical aggression; nearly 20% of female characters were hyper-sexualized in some way, while 35% of male characters were extremely muscular.[132]

In 2004, the game developer, Eidos, remodeled Lara Croft for Tomb Raider: Legend. The character was modified to have a more believable figure with less revealing clothing.[133]

In 2005, Terry Flew, academic, expressed a similar opinion: gender bias and stereotyping exists in many games. Male characters are portrayed as hard bodied, muscled men while female characters are portrayed as soft bodied, nearly naked women with large breasts, portrayed in a narrowly stereotypical manner. Females are usually constructed as visual objects in need of protection who wait for male rescue, whereas men are portrayed with more power. According to Flew, such depiction of females in games reflects underlying social ideas of male dominance and themes of masculinity. Although not all video games contain such stereotypes, Flew suggests that there are enough to make it a general trait and that "...different genders have different gaming."[134]

LGBT characters[edit]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters have been depicted in some video games since the 1980s. LGBT content has been subject to changing rules and regulations by game companies.[135] These rules are generally examples of heterosexism in that heterosexuality is normalized while homosexuality is subject to additional censorship or ridicule.[136][137] Sexual orientation and gender identity were significant in some console and PC games, with the trend being toward greater visibility of LGBT identities, particularly in Japanese popular culture[138] and games marketed to LGBT consumers.[139][140][141]

Portrayal of race[edit]

Video games may influence the learning of young players about race and urban culture.[142] The portrayal of race in some video games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, Custer's Revenge, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, and Def Jam: Fight for NY has been controversial.

The 2002 game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was criticized for promoting racist hate crime. The game takes place in 1986, in "Vice City", a fictionalized Miami. It involves a gang war between Haitian and Cuban refugees which involves the player's character.[143][144] However, it is possible to play the game without excessive killing.[145]

In Resident Evil 5, published in 2009, the player kills numerous African enemies. In response to criticism, promoters of Resident Evil 5 argued that to censor the portrayal of black antagonists was discrimination in itself.[146]

Portrayal of terrorism[edit]

War-themed video games such as Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Call of Duty: Black Ops II depict terrorist acts.[147]

Addiction[edit]

Main article: Video game addiction

Video game addiction is the excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games that interferes with daily life. Instances have been reported in which users play compulsively, isolating themselves from family and friends or from other forms of social contact, and focus almost entirely on in-game achievements rather than broader life events.[148][149]

The first video game to attract political controversy for its "addictive properties" was the 1978 arcade game Space Invaders.[150][151]

One study from Chung Ang University observed that other structures affected by the use of video games include the anterior cingulate cortex and orbitofrontal cortex.[152] The results from this experiment suggest an increase in stimulation of these areas, resembling a pattern similar to those with substance dependence. Researchers interpreted their results of this increase in activity of the anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices to be an indication of an early stage of video game addiction.[152]

Digital rights management[edit]

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a type of technology that it intended to control the use of digital content and devices after purchase. Many companies make use of DRM to prevent copyright infringement and to protect an entity's intellectual property from public access.[153] Opponents of DRM argue that it only inconveniences legitimate customers and allows big business to stifle innovation and competition. In the USA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 increased the strength of DRM.[154] Objection to DRM caused Microsoft to change its DRM policy for Xbox One.[155]

Always-on Digital Rights Management (DRM), also known as persistent online authentication, is a type of controversial technology relating to video games. This technology requires a consumer to maintain a connection to a host server in order to use a particular product or play a game.[156] Those against Always-on DRM focus on server connection difficulties, single player offline preferences, and game playability once companies shut down a server.[157]

Online harassment[edit]

A further issue that can occur through gaming is online harassment or bullying behaviors. A specific example of harassing behavior occurring within a game can be found in Xbox Live services. With its online chat and party system, this leaves the service open to unwanted harassment, trolling, or bullying to occur between players. To address these concerns, Microsoft made improvements with reputation levels for a player's Xbox Live account. The system is set to warn, then punish bad behavior in hopes of better regulating Xbox Live accounts.[158]

The anonymous nature of the internet may be a factor of encouraging anti-social behavior. This type of behavior expands to other parts of the internet separate from gaming, such as online forums, social media sites, etc. Lack of accountability for one’s actions on the internet may encourage others to engage in harassing behavior. Without minimal threat of punishment, some may find it easier to carry out negative behavior over online gaming.[159]

Criminal activity[edit]

Other common occurrences include online casino scams, phishing, cell phone dialers, malware in illegal downloads,[160][161][162][163] and money laundering.[164]

US publicized incidents[edit]

Many incidents in the US, that are speculated to be related to video games, have helped fuel controversy.

  • Wilson v. Midway Games, Inc.

On 22 November 1997, Noah Wilson, aged 13, died when his friend, Yancy, stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife. Wilson's mother, alleged her son was stabbed to death because of an obsession with the Midway game Mortal Kombat; that Yancy was so obsessed with the game that he believed himself to be the character, Cyrax, who uses a finishing move which involves taking the opponent in a headlock and stabbing them in the chest. The court found "Wilson's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."[165]

  • Johnson and Golden

On 24 March 1998, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden killed 4 students and a teacher in the Westside Middle School massacre. Although no connection to video games was drawn by the press at the time, the case was re-examined by commentators a year later, subsequent to the events of the Columbine High School massacre, and it was determined that the two boys had often played GoldenEye 007 together and they enjoyed playing first-person shooter games.[166][167]

  • Harris and Klebold

On 20 April 1999, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher in the Columbine High School massacre. The two were allegedly obsessed with the video game Doom. Harris also created WADs for the game, and created a large mod named "Tier" which he called his "life's work". Contrary to rumor, however, neither student had made a Doom level mimicking the school's layout and there is no evidence the pair practiced the massacre in Doom.[168]

  • Wooley

In November 2001, at the age of twenty-one, Shawn Woolley committed suicide in a state his mother claimed was an addiction to EverQuest. Woolley's mother said,

"I think the way the game is written is that when you first start playing it, it is fun, and you make great accomplishments. And then the further you get into it, the higher level you get, the longer you have to stay on it to move onward, and then it isn't fun anymore. But by then you're addicted, and you can't leave it."[169]
  • Lynch

In February 2003, 16-year-old American Dustin Lynch was charged with aggravated murder. He pleaded insanity in that he was obsessed with Grand Theft Auto III. Jack Thompson, an attorney and an opponent of video games, offered to represent Lynch[170] Thompson encouraged the father of victim to pass a note to the judge that said "the attorneys had better tell the jury about the violent video game that trained this kid [and] showed him how to kill our daughter, JoLynn. If they don't, I will."[171] Lynch later retracted his insanity plea. His mother, Jerrilyn Thomas, said,

"It has nothing to do with video games or Paxil, and my son's no murderer."[172]
  • Moore

On 7 June 2003, 18-year-old American Devin Moore shot and killed two policemen and a dispatcher after grabbing one of the officers' weapons following an arrest for the possession of a stolen vehicle. At trial, the defense claimed that Moore had been inspired by the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.[173]

  • Buckner

On June 25, 2003, two American step brothers, Joshua and William Buckner, aged 14 and 16, respectively, used a rifle to fire at vehicles on Interstate 40 in Tennessee, killing a 45-year-old man and wounding a 19-year-old woman. The two shooters told investigators they had been inspired by Grand Theft Auto III.[174]

  • Garcia

In June 2007, 22-year-old Texan, Alejandro Garcia, shot and killed his cousin after arguing over whose turn it was to play the game Scarface: The World Is Yours. He pleaded guilty at his murder trial on 6 April 2011, and was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.[175][176]

  • Petric

In September 2007, in Ohio, 16-year-old Daniel Petric snuck out of his bedroom window to purchase the game Halo 3 against the orders of his father, a minister at New Life Assembly of God in Wellington, Ohio, U.S.[177] His parents eventually banned him from the game after he spent up to 18 hours a day with it, and secured it in a lockbox in a closet where the father also kept a 9mm handgun, according to prosecutors.[178] In October 2007, Daniel used his father's key to open the lockbox and remove the gun and the game. He then entered the living room of his house and shot both of them in the head, killing his mother and wounding his father. Petric was sentenced to life in prison without parole, which was later commuted to 23 years in prison.[179] Defense attorneys argued that Petric was influenced by video game addiction. The court dismissed these claims. The judge, James Burge, commented that while he thought there was ample evidence the boy knew what he was doing, Burge thought the game had affected him like a drug, saying "I firmly believe that Daniel Petric had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents they would be dead forever."[180]

  • Roberts and Trujillo

In December 2007, 17-year-old Lamar Roberts and 16-year-old Heather Trujillo were accused of beating a seven-year-old girl to death. They were said to have been imitating the content of Mortal Kombat.[181]

  • Seung-Hui

Reports initially claimed that Seung-Hui Cho, the killer in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre was an avid Counter-Strike player. However, police reports said that roommates of the killer had never seen him play any video games.[182] Despite these discoveries, activist Jack Thompson continued to argue that video games were to blame.

  • New Hyde Park

In June 2008, four teens allegedly obsessed with Grand Theft Auto IV went on a crime spree after being in New Hyde Park, New York. They first robbed a man, knocking out his teeth and then they stopped a woman driving a black BMW and stole her car and her cigarettes.[183]

  • Crisp

On October 13, 2008, the disappearance of Brandon Crisp and his subsequent death involving, according to his parents, obsessive playing of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has been referenced in discussions about video game obsession and spawned a report aired by CBC's the fifth estate on video game addiction and Brandon's story titled "Top Gun", subtitled "When a video gaming obsession turns to addiction and tragedy".[184]

  • Chicago shooting

In April 2009, a man was charged with murder after shooting a friend during a quarrel over a video game.[185]

  • Morales

In January 2010, 9-year-old Anthony Maldonado was stabbed by his relative, Alejandro Morales after an argument regarding Maldonado's recently purchased copy of Tony Hawk: Ride and PlayStation 3 console.[186]

  • Anderson

On November 29, 2010 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 16-year-old boy, Kendall Anderson, bludgeoned his mother to death in her sleep with a claw hammer after she took away his PlayStation.[187][188]

  • Lanza

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on 14 December 2012, initial media reports mis-identified the shooter as Ryan Lanza, the brother of the perpetrator. After discovering that Ryan had liked Mass Effect on Facebook, an internet mob immediately attacked the game's Facebook page, labelling the developers "child killers".[189] Once it was discovered that it was his brother, Adam, who had carried out the massacre, initial news stories claimed a link to two video games, Starcraft and Dance Dance Revolution.[190] After a UK tabloid claimed that Lanza had a Call of Duty obsession, this was widely repeated across the internet.[191] Subsequently, a small town near Sandy Hook organized the collection and burning of video games in exchange for a gift certificate.[192] A report by CBS claimed that anonymous law enforcement sources suggested a link to video games, which was later dismissed by the Connecticut police, saying that it was "all speculation".[193] However, the incident prompted a wave of legislative and bureaucratic efforts against violent video games in the following months, including a meeting between US vice president, Joe Biden, and representatives from the video game industry on the topic of video game violence.[194] The official investigation report, released on 25 November 2013, discussed video games only briefly in the 48-page report and did not suggest they contributed to Lanza's motive. The report revealed that Lanza played a variety of video games, although he was most fond of non-violent video games such as Dance, Dance Revolution and Super Mario Brothers. The report particularly focused on Dance, Dance Revolution which he played regularly, for hours, with an associate.[195]

  • Harris

In May 2013, in the trial of Christopher Harris, an Illinois man accused of murdering a family of 5, the issue of video game violence was raised by the defense. The defense claimed that the family was, in fact murdered by the 14-year-old son and Harris walked in on the mass murder in progress and had to defend himself, killing only the teen in the process. The defense called a research psychologist who testified that the teen's exposure to violent video games, along with an alleged history of social, school and family problems, made him at risk for aggression. However, during cross-examination, the psychologist acknowledged having no clinical license, not having conducted a proper psychological evaluation or psychological autopsy and that research evidence couldn't link video games to violent crimes. The psychologist also asserted that even games such as Pac Man could possibly be considered violent. Harris' brother testified against him and forensic evidence linked Harris to the homicides. In referring to the psychologist's testimony, one assistant attorney general was heard to remark, "The most offensive testimony I've ever heard in my life, I think." The jury did not accept the defense's argument and Harris was convicted of all five murders.[196]

Non-US incidents[edit]

  • Pardo

In April 2000, a 16-year-old Spanish teenager José Rabadán Pardo murdered his father, mother and his sister with a katana, proclaiming that he was on an "avenging mission" for Squall Leonhart, the main character of the video game Final Fantasy VIII.[197]

  • Le Blanc

On February 27, 2004 in Leicester, England, 17-year-old Warren Leblanc lured 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah into a park and murdered him by stabbing him repeatedly with a claw hammer and a knife. Leblanc was reportedly obsessed with Manhunt, although investigation quickly revealed that the killer did not even own a copy of the game. The victim's mother, Giselle Pakeerah has been campaigning against violent video games in the UK ever since.[198] The police investigating the case have dismissed any link.[199]

  • Qiu

In October 2004, a 41-year-old Chinese man named Qiu Chengwei stabbed 26-year-old Zhu Caoyuan to death over a dispute regarding the sale of a virtual weapon the two had jointly won in the game The Legend of Mir 3.[200]

  • Xiao

On 27 December 2004, 13-year-old Xiao Yi committed suicide by jumping from a twenty-four story building in Tianjin, China, as a result of the effects of his addiction, hoping to be "reunited" with his fellow gamers in the afterlife, according to his suicide notes. Prior to his death, he had spent thirty-six consecutive hours playing Warcraft III.[201][202]

  • Lee

In August 2005, 28-year-old South Korean Lee Seung Seop died after continuously playing StarCraft for 50 hours.[203]

  • Three consecutive days of play.

In September 2007, a Chinese man in Guangzhou, China, died after playing internet video games for three consecutive days in an internet cafe.[204][205]

  • Russia

In December 2007, a Russian man was beaten to death over an argument about Lineage II. The man was killed when his guild and a rival challenged each other to a real-life brawl.[206]

  • Chinno

On 2 August 2008, Polwat Chinno, a 19-year-old Thai teenager, stabbed and killed a Bangkok taxi driver during an attempt to steal the driver's cab in order to obtain money to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. A police official said that the teen was trying to copy a similar act in the game. As a consequence, officials ordered the banning of the game and later the series, which led its distributor, New Era Interactive Media, to withdraw it, including its installment, from shops across Thailand.[207][208][209]

  • Alcock

In January 2010, Gary Alcock punched, slapped and pinched his partner's 15-month-old daughter in the three weeks leading up to her death before he delivered a fatal blow to the stomach which tore her internal organs because she interrupted him playing his Xbox. She died from internal bleeding after suffering thirty-five separate injuries including multiple bruises, rib fractures and brain damage, which were comparable to injuries suffered in a car crash. Alcock was jailed for life and must serve at least 21 years.[210][211]

  • Barreaux

In May 2010, French gamer Julien Barreaux located and stabbed a fellow player who had stabbed Barreaux in the game Counter-Strike. The judge at his trial called him "a menace to society."[212]

  • van der Vlis

On 9 April 2011 in Alphen Aan Den Rijn, The Netherlands, 24-year-old Tristan van der Vlis opened fire in a shopping mall, releasing more than a hundred bullets with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, killing 6 people and wounding 17 others, after which he also killed himself.[213] A fair amount of attention was given to Van Der Vlis' playing of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and to the alleged similarities between the events in Alphen a/d Rijn and the controversial "No Russian" mission in the game, where the player can choose to (or choose not to) partake in the killing of a large group of innocent people inside an airport terminal.[214][215]

  • Breivik

On 22 July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik perpetrated the 2011 Norway Attacks, detonating a car bomb in the executive government quarter, and then travelled to a summer camp for teenagers, where he proceeded to stalk and kill a large number of people. 77 people were killed in the attacks, a majority of them being teenagers who were at the summer camp. Hundreds were injured by the car bomb explosion.[216] Anders himself admitted in court that he had deliberately used the 2009 video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to train for the attacks, specifically by practicing his aim using a "holographic aiming device".[217] He stated in his manifest that he had been planning the attacks since 2002.

  • Crooks

On Wednesday 24 March 2012, 14 year-old Noah Crooks was accused of shooting his 32 year-old mother with a .22 caliber rifle after a failed attempt to rape her. Noah was charged with first-degree murder and assault. During the dispatch call to 911 shortly following the murder, Crooks revealed that Gretchen Crooks had taken away his Call of Duty video game because his grades got bad and that is why he snapped. According to dispatch, Noah Crooks did not seem emotional even though he had murdered his mother a couple of hours earlier.[218]

  • Webb

Similar and other effects were denounced in 2004 by Gary Webb in his article The killing game, exposing the use of increased reality videogames by the US Army.[219]

Theories of positive effects of video games[edit]

More than causing no harm, some researchers propose that video games are beneficial to social and cognitive development and psychological well-being.[8][220] Certain scholars admit that games can be addictive, and part of their research explores how games connect to the reward circuits of the human brain. But they recognize the cognitive benefits of playing video games: pattern recognition, system thinking, and patience.[221]

Cognitive skills[edit]

Action video game players have better hand-eye coordination and visuo-motor skills, such as resistance to distraction, sensitivity to information in the peripheral vision and ability to count briefly presented objects, than non-players.[222] Through the development of the PlayStation Move, Kinect and Wii, video games can help develop motor skills through full body movement.[223] Experiments have indicated increases in cognition and problem solving skills in professional gamers.[221]

Relief from stress[edit]

Olsen suggests video games may provide relief from stress; over 25% of girls and 49% of boys use violent games such as Grand Theft Auto IV as an outlet for their anger.[224] [225] She also suggests video games can have social benefits for children, for example, video games can provide a topic of discussion and something over which children can bond, and can help children make friends; playing video games can increase a child's self-esteem when they are struggling in one aspect of their life, but are able to do something correctly in a video game; and, children can also learn to take on leadership roles within a multi-player online game.[226]

Physical rehabilitation[edit]

Studies have also tried using video games to assist in physical rehabilitation. Researchers used video games to provide physical therapy, improved disease self-management, distraction from discomfort, and increased physical activity, among other things. All of the above studies showed a significant improvement among testers.[227]

Education[edit]

Other studies have examined the benefits of multiplayer video games in a family setting;[228] the use of video games in a classroom setting;[229] online gaming; and the effects of video game playing on dexterity, computer literacy, fact recall processes and problem solving skills.[230] Glazer, a researcher, suggests, ""A kid in the classroom has to worry about looking like an idiot. In a game, they're raising their hand all the time, and true learning comes from failing."[231][232][233] Not all video games are mindless. According to John L. Sherry, assistant professor at Michigan State University, educators are increasingly using educational games in the classroom as a motivational tool. The right video games help children master everything from basic grammar to complex math without the drudgery of old-school flash cards.[234]

Business skills[edit]

In 1997, Herz and in 2006, Wade and Beck, authors, suggested video game playing may increase entrepreneurial skills. Herz argued that many so-called negative effects of video games, such as aggression and lack of pro-social behavior, are both necessary and useful traits to have in a capitalistic society. Specifically, Herz argued that many academic researchers have an anti-capitalist bias, and thus failed to notice the benefits of such traits.[235][236]

Pro-social Behaviour[edit]

A study conducted in June, 2014 at the University of Buffalo concluded that violent behavior in virtual environment could lead to players' increased sensitivity of the moral codes that they violated, due to immoral behavior in video games eliciting guilt in players.[237]

See also[edit]

Examples:

References[edit]

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