Video game controversy

Video game controversy
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Violent video games debates often center on topics such as video game graphic violence, sex, violent and gory scenes, partial or full nudity, portrayal of criminal behavior or other provocative and objectionable material. Video games have been studied for links to addiction and aggression. One meta-analysis (an analysis of several studies) found that exposure to violent video games causes at least a temporary increase in aggression and that this exposure correlates with aggression in the real world. A decrease in prosocial behavior (caring about the welfare and rights of others) was also noted.[1] However other meta-analyses using similar methods[2] or focusing more specifically on serious aggressive behavior[3] have come to opposing conclusions, stating that video game violence is not related to aggressive behavior. Many potential positive effects have even been proposed.[4] Recent research has suggested that violent games do not have a negative relationship on prosocial behavior and may actually have a positive relationship in some contexts for example, team play.[5] It has been argued there is generally a lack of quality studies which can be relied upon and that the video game industry has become an easy target for the media to blame for many modern day problems.[6][7][8]



In psychology, aggression refers to any behavior that demonstrates a malicious intent to cause harm. There are three types of aggression, defined by the method used: physical, verbal, and relational. Violence refers to physical aggression of which the victim is likely to suffer serious physical injury. However, the general public also uses the word "aggressive" to include less negative behaviors such as "assertive, confident, or energetic". Such "differences in usage lead to much confusion between aggression scientists, public policymakers, and the general public. "Sexual" refers to content with nudity and virtual intercourse, themes, and some humor.[9]



The Entertainment Software Association states that 20% of video game players are boys under the age of 17, 26% are over 50 (regardless of gender), and that the average game player is 34.[10] In a survey of 1,102 teenagers aged 12 to 17, 97% of them said that they play video games; moreover, half of the survey respondents said that they had played a video game in the last day. Perhaps the most concerning statistic has to deal with the fact that young people are routinely able to get their hands on video games that are rated “M” (mature) or “AO” (adults only); however, few games have earned the AO rating. Three-quarters of parents who were surveyed said that they check the ratings on their kid's games. However, half of the boys who were asked about their favorite game listed a game with an “M” or “AO” rating as their favorite, compared with 14% of girls. [11] The adult demographic is the fastest-growing segment of the American video games market with 32% of adults playing video games,[9] although critics have suggested that such statistics are often used to deflect from the fact that almost all American children are exposed to video games.[9]


While nearly 40% of players are female,[10] a 1998 study conducted at the University of Central Florida found that of the 33 games sampled, 41% do not feature female characters, 28% portrayed woman as sex objects, 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'"), opposed ("evil or as obstacles to the goal of the game"), and trivial ("females depicted [...] in fairly non-significant roles").[12]

However, this report has been criticized[13] for not representing a wide range of video games, and that the games analysed, being up to 20 years old, do not represent the current status of the video game industry,[14] and that strong female characters are now increasingly more prevalent.[15]

A UK survey of 300 women by an online game rental company suggested that female gamers have 34% more sex than female non-gamers.[16] A similarly non-scientific poll suggests that men who play video games are 3 times more likely to masturbate than their non gaming counterparts.[17]

Historically, the video game market has been predominantly male. However, the percentage of women playing games has steadily increased over the past decade. Women now slightly outnumber men playing Web-based games.[18][dead link]

Controversial topics

Crime and violence

One of the most common criticisms of video games is that they increase the violent tendencies among youth.[1][19][20] However, several major studies by groups such as The Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health, The Journal of Adolescent Health, and The British Medical Journal have shown no conclusive link between video game usage and violent activity."[21][22][23] One study did find an increase in reports of bullying, noting, "Our research found that certain patterns of video game play were much more likely to be associated with these types of behavioral problems than with major violent crime such as school shootings.[21][22] One of the first widely accepted controversial video games was developer Exidy's 1976 title Death Race, in which players controlled cars that ran over pixelated representations of "gremlins". The game caused such an outcry that it was pulled from store shelves and profiled on 60 Minutes. Long Island PTA president Ronnie Lamm pushed for legislation in the early 1980s to place restrictions on how close video game arcades could be to schools, asserting that they caused children to fight.[24] Portrayals of violence allegedly became more realistic with time, and so politicians such as U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman conducted hearings during the 1990s regarding what he referred to as "violent video games" which, in his opinion, included such games as Mortal Kombat. His sentiments have been echoed by certain researchers, such as Dr. Craig A. Anderson who testified before the Senate, "Some 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."[25][26] Anderson himself was later criticized in a 2005 video game court case for failing to cite research that differed from his view.[27]

Disbarred attorney Jack Thompson has filed lawsuits against the makers of violent games, alleging the simulated violence causes real-world violence.

An example of video game controversy Grand Theft Auto: Vice City came under similar criticism, also for implying allegedly racist hate crimes: The game, taking place in "Vice City" (a fictional Miami) in 1986, involves a gang war between Haitians and Cuban refugees, and the player often serves both gangs to plot against one another. Haitian and Cuban anti-defamation groups highly criticized the game for these actions, including using phrases such as "kill the Haitian idiots" (a phrase used in the game, referring to the Haitian gang with which the character is having a shoot-out). After the threat of being sued by the Haitian-American Coalition, Rockstar removed the word "Haitians" from this phrase in the game's subtitles.

Lt. Col. David Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, has written several books that pertain to the subject of violence in the media, including On Killing and Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. During heights of video game controversy he has been interviewed on the content of his books, and has repeatedly used the term "murder simulator" to describe first-person shooter games. He argues that video game publishers unethically train children in the use of weapons and, more importantly, harden them emotionally to the act of murder by simulating the killing of hundreds or thousands of opponents in a single typical video game. Grossman's conclusions have been criticized by some scholars, however, as highly selective and misleading.[28]

Research published in 2001 suggested that violent video games may increase mild forms of aggressive behavior in children and young adults. Analyses also showed that exposure to violent video games results in increased physiological arousal, aggression-related thoughts and feelings as well as decreased prosocial behavior. The research comprised a meta analysis, laboratory and field studies.[1] However meta-analyses by other groups have not replicated these findings [2][3] and these other groups have been critical of attempts to link violent games with aggression. For instance John Sherry has said (2007) "Further, why do some researchers (e.g. Gentile & Anderson, 2003) continue to argue that video games are dangerous despite evidence to the contrary?” (p. 244).

A study by Dr. Craig A. Anderson et al. says "The 14-year-old boy arguing that he has played violent video games for years and has not ever killed anybody is absolutely correct in rejecting the extreme “necessary and sufficient” position, as is the 45-year-old two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker who notes that he still does not have lung cancer. But both are wrong in inferring that their exposure to their respective risk factors (violent media, cigarettes) has not causally increased the likelihood that they and people around them will one day suffer the consequences of that risky behavior."[29][30] This view has been challenged, however. For instance, Ferguson (2010) has ruled out a relationship between video game violence and serious aggression, concluding "Taken together these 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." [31]

Other studies reach the conclusion that violence in video games is not causally linked with aggressive tendencies. This was the conclusion of a 1999 study by the U.S. government, prompting Surgeon General David Satcher to say, "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."[32] A meta-analysis by psychologist Jonathan Freedman, who reviewed over 200 published studies and found that the "vast and overwhelming majority" did not find a causal link, also reached this conclusion.[33] A US Secret Service study found that only 12% of those involved in school shootings were attracted to violent video games, while 24% read violent books and 27% were attracted to violent films.[34] An Australian study found that only children already predisposed to violence were affected by violent games.[35] A recent long-term outcome study of youth found no long-term relationship between playing violent video game and youth violence or bullying [36]

In Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, researchers/authors Lawrence Kutner, PhD, and Cheryl K. Olson, ScD, refute claims of violent behavior increase caused by violent video games. The researchers' study shows that adolescents that don't play video games at all are most at-risk for violent behavior (but without statistical significance), claiming that video game play is part of an adolescent boy's normal social setting. However, they do not completely deny violent (M-rated) video games' negative influences on pre-teens and teenagers.[37][38] Kutner and Olson say the views of both alarmists and the video game industry are often supported by flawed or misconstrued studies. The real risks according to them are not just about exposure to violence, gore and sex but are more subtle with some children at greater risk than others.[39]

Official records show that violent crime rates have declined dramatically since the early 1990s in the USA, among both juveniles[40] and adults.[41][42] This is despite sales of violent video games exploding and their content becoming increasingly graphic during the same period.[43] Video game violence is not the primary contributor to societal violence, however, as there are many other factors at play.[25]

According to media scholar Henry Jenkins:

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.[18]

Biological links to aggressive behavior

Some researchers believe that while playing violent video games leads to violent actions, there are also biological influences that impact a person's choices. According to Sean P. Neubert of Rochester Institute of Technology, a person who is biologically predisposed to aggression will be more strongly influenced by violent scenes and thus will have a greater risk for carrying out destructive actions. For example someone with Antisocial personality disorder has a greater risk of going out and shooting someone after playing hours of Grand Theft Auto or a game of a similar nature.[44][45]

Other biological theories of aggression and violence have specifically excluded video game and other media effects. For instance the Catalyst Model proposed by Ferguson and Beaver [46] specifically exclude media violence as a contributor to violence, arguing research evidence for such effects have been weak, and media violence is too distal a factor to have much influence.

Sexual themes

Sexual themes in video games are much less tolerated in the US than violent themes; the most well-known example of this is the Hot Coffee controversy. 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 sex with the main character's girlfriends. The game could be accessed in the PC version via a mod, and through Action Replay codes in the PS2 and Xbox versions.[47] The fact that the scene was left on the disc, and could be accessed by altering a few bytes of the game's code via a hex editor, prompted the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to change the rating of San Andreas to "Adults Only" on July 20, 2005. The game was pulled from many stores; Rockstar Games posted a loss of $28.8 million that quarter.[48]

Almost no North American video games display full frontal nudity.[citation needed] Sexual themes are more common in Japanese PC games, but console companies such as Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony do not license adult-only content games for their systems.[citation needed]

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,[49] which are generally examples of heterosexism in that heterosexuality is normalized while homosexuality is subject to additional censorship or ridicule.[50][51] Sexual orientation and gender identity have served a significant role in some console and personal computer games, with the trend being toward greater visibility of LGBT identities, in special in Japanese popular culture[52] and games marketed to LGBT consumers.[53][54][55]

Social development

Over two hundred studies have been published which examine the effects of violence in entertainment media and which at least partially focus on violence in video games in particular. Some psychological studies[56] have shown a correlation between children playing violent video games and suffering psychological effects, although many other studies find no such link causation.

In 2004 the American Psychological Association summarized the issue as "Psychological research confirms that violent video games can increase children's aggression, but that parents moderate the negative effects."[57] A more recent press release by the APA in 2010 summarized recent research findings as "Bad effects depend on certain personality traits; games can offer learning opportunities for others".[58] Craig Anderson has conducted meta-analysis of previous studies and claimed they have demonstrated five effects: "increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social (helping) behavior".[59] Nevertheless, other studies have explicitly denied that such a connection exists, most notably Anderson and Ford (1986), Winkel et al. (1987), Scott (1995), Ballard and Lineberger (1999), and Jonathan Freedman (2002).[60] More recently, Block and Crain (2007) claim that in a critical paper by Anderson (and his co-author, Bushman), data was improperly calculated and produced fallacious results.[61] Other meta-analyses by other groups, such as by Ferguson and Kilburn (2009) and Sherry (2007) have repudiated any links between video game violence and aggression, as have recent reviews by the Australian Government (2010) and the US Supreme Court (June, 2011).

After conducting a two-year study of more than 1,200 Middle School children about their attitudes towards video games, Harvard Medical School researchers Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson found that playing video games did not have a particularly negative effect on the researched group.[62]

The portrayal of race in video games has also recently become an issue, seen in games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, and Def Jam: Fight for NY. In 2009, the issue of race emerged with the release of Resident Evil 5, which has the player kill numerous African enemies, resulting in arguments from both sides of the issue. Supporters of Resident Evil 5 argued however that to censor the portrayal of black antagonists was discrimination in itself.[63] A similar outrage also occurred when it was revealed that "Left 4 Dead 2", set in New Orleans, would include African-American zombies. These and other games demonstrate an interesting trend towards the increased presence of racial differences in video games. Indeed, it is true that “Significantly, these games, and particularly their questionable claims of authenticity, establish compelling learning environments that help facilitate how young gamers develop their knowledge of and familiarity with popular views of race and urban culture.”[64]


Video game addiction is 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.[65][66]

Publicized incidents

Several incidents speculated to be related to video games in recent decades have helped fuel controversy.

  • On November 22, 1997, thirteen-year-old Noah Wilson died when his friend Yancy stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife. The mother of Noah, Andrea Wilson, alleges that her son was stabbed to death because of his obsession with the Midway game Mortal Kombat. She alleges that Yancy S. was so obsessed with the game, that the child thought he was actually the character Cyrax. This character, Cyrax, used a finishing move in which the character grabs the opponent in a headlock and stabs the character's opponent in the chest. Wilson alleges that this is the maneuver in which Yancy S., killed her son. However, despite the character's other varieties of finishing moves, the character Cyrax does not actually perform this move at all. The conclusion of Wilson v. Midway games, Inc. was, according to the court case report, "Wilson's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The product liability counts fail because Mortal Kombat is not a "product" within the purview-of the CPLA [...]"[67]
  • On April 20, 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 certain rumors, 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.[68]
  • In April 2000, 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" by Squall Leonhart, the main character of the video game Final Fantasy VIII.[69][70]
  • In November 2001, 21-year-old American Shawn Woolley committed suicide after what his mother claimed was an addiction to EverQuest. Woolley's mother stated, "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."[71]
  • In February 2003, 16-year-old American Dustin Lynch was charged with aggravated murder and made an insanity defense that he was "obsessed" with Grand Theft Auto III. Long time video game opponent and former attorney Jack Thompson encouraged the father of victim JoLynn Mishne 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."[72] Lynch later retracted his insanity plea, and his mother Jerrilyn Thomas commented, "It has nothing to do with video games or Paxil, and my son's no murderer."[73]
  • On June 7, 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.[74]
  • 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.[75]
  • On February 27, 2004 in Leicester, UK, 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 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.[76] The police investigating the case have dismissed any link, as discussed in the relevant articles.[77]
  • 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.[78]
  • On December 27, 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 36 consecutive hours playing Warcraft III.[79][80]
  • In August 2005, 28-year-old South Korean Lee Seung Seop died after playing StarCraft for 50 hours straight. His death is portayed on the TV show 1000 Ways to Die [81]
  • Controversy of speeding and evading the authority in racing games surfaced when a copy of Need for Speed: Most Wanted was found on one of the street racers' car in Toronto on January 19, 2006, when two 18-year-olds, Alexander Ryazanov and Wang-Piao Dumani Rossracers, were involved in an accident resulting in the death of taxi-driver Tahir Khan. Nevertheless, the police did not find any connection between the game and the incident.[82]
  • In June 2007, 22-year-old Alejandro Garcia from Texas shot dead his cousin after arguing over whose turn it was to play the game Scarface: The World Is Yours. He pleaded guilty for murder at his trial on April 6, 2011, and will serve 15 to 30 years in prison.[83][84]
  • In September 2007, a Chinese man in Guangzhou, China, died after playing Internet video games for three consecutive days in an Internet cafe.[85][86]
  • 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.[87] 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.[88] 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 is sentenced to life in prison without parole, which was later commuted to 23 years in imprisonment.[89] 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."[90]
  • In October 2007, the police falsely reported that Alan Locke, age 29, who killed a man with a switchblade did so because of the game "Assassins Creed" despite the fact that the game was not even released yet. They later took back this statement.[citation needed]
  • 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 are said to have been imitating the moves taken from the game "Mortal Kombat". [91]
  • In December 2007, a Russian man was beaten to death over an argument in the MMORPG Lineage II. The man was killed when his guild and a rival one challenged each other to a real-life brawl.[92]
  • False 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 Cho had never seen him play any video games.[93] Despite these discoveries, disbarred attorney Jack Thompson continued to erroneously claim that video games were to blame.
  • 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 his teeth out and then they stopped a woman driving a black BMW and stole her car and her cigarettes.[94]
  • On August 2, 2008, Polwat Chinno, a 19-year-old Thai teenager, stabbed a Bangkok taxi driver to death 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 series, which led its distributor, New Era Interactive Media, to withdraw it, including the aforementioned, then-upcoming installment, from shops across Thailand.[95][96][97]
  • 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".[98]
  • In December 2009, after losing three consecutive games of FIFA 2008, a 17-year-old schizophrenic boy named James Callaghan went on a drunken rampage in which he attacked several teens with an axe, threatened a cyclist and finally bludgeoned and stabbed to death a 65-year-old-woman. He also used to play Grand Theft Auto.[99]
  • In January 2010, 9-year-old Anthony Maldonado was stabbed by relative Alejandro Morales after an argument regarding Maldonado's recently purchased copy of Tony Hawk: Ride and PlayStation 3 console.[100]
  • 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 35 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.[101][102]
  • In May 2010, French gamer Julien Barreaux located and stabbed a fellow player who had stabbed Barreaux on the game Counter-Strike. The judge at his trial called him "a menace to society."[103]
  • On November 29, 2010 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 16-year-old boy Kendall Anderson bludgeoned his mother to death in her sleep with a claw hammer after she took away his PlayStation.[104][105]
  • On April 9, 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.[106] A fair amount of attention was given to the fact that Van Der Vlis had been playing 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 (also known as the 'Airport Massacre') where the player can choose (or not choose) to partake in the killing of a large group of innocent people inside an airport terminal.[107][108]
  • On July 22, 2011 in Oslo and Utøya, Norway, 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik shot and killed 69 people on the island Utøya and also planted a bomb in the centre of Oslo, which killed 8 people, Breivik had been planning the attack for 9 years and claimed that he had used Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as a "Training-Simulation".

Regulation of video games

In response to concerns about video games, governments around the globe have enacted or attempted to enact legislation regulating, prohibiting, or outright banning video games. Similarly, support for video game and media regulation has been linked to moral panic.[109] To that end, different video game content rating systems have been introduced across the globe.

Psychology professor Chris Ferguson discusses in an interview how these myths are perpetuated. When asked to describe the nature of how negative propaganda is spread by activist against video games, Ferguson explained that many respected academics and elected officials develop apprehension towards the media in question and formulate disproportionate accusations of harm. Those claims are out in the public when expert evidence proves them to be invalid, making it difficult to withdraw from such allegations. Possible motivations for why activist claims are not retracted are “…there are certain financial incentives and political incentives. It’s hard to get grant money arguing that something *isn’t* a problem…and some scholars take money from anti-media lobbying groups. Politically scholars to support a government mandated censorship regimen naturally intend to be in charge of that regimen themselves”. Ferguson adds that present research on violence in video games confirms no valid link, “The best studies now coming out — those which take care to use well-validated clinical outcome measures and which carefully control for other important risk factors — provide no support for the belief that VVG contributes to youth violence”[110]

Voluntary rating systems adopted by the video game industry, such as the ESRB rating system in the United States and Canada, as well as the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating system in Europe, that are aimed at informing parents about the types of games their children are playing (or are asking to play). Certain game publishers’ decision to have controversial games rated seems to show that they are not targeted at young children. They are rated by the ESRB as "Mature" (M) or "Adults Only" (AO) in the US, or given British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) ratings of 15 or 18 in the UK. The packaging notes that these 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 backed up by law, so it is actually illegal to sell the game to anyone under the indicated age, and many UK retailers go beyond that and also enforce the PEGI ratings, which are not backed up by law. No video game console manufacturer has yet to allow any game to be published in North America with the harshest ESRB rating, "Adults Only", signaling that the game is only appropriate for ages 18 years and up. Additionally, no major retailers are willing to set aside shelf space for AO-rated games. Although Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was given a rating of AO after widespread surfacing of an add-on originally deleted from the game, "Hot Coffee," in which the player controls a fully clothed sexual encounter. It was later fully removed and the game retained the M rating. GTA San Andreas is the best selling game to ever receive the AO rating.

The sales of M- and AO-rated games to minors has been an issue of much concern to parent groups and public officials, and bills have been submitted to government agencies, including the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act introduced to the US House of Representatives in both the 109th Congress and 110th Congress. The proposed legislation would require an ID check for M- and AO-rated game purchases. The bill was not passed into law, and other proposed bills were stopped[111] because of First Amendment violations.

Although no law mandates ID checking for games with adult content, a 2008 secret shopper survey done by the Federal Trade Commission shows that video game retailers have voluntarily increased ID verification for M- and AO-rated games, and sales of those games to underage potential buyers have been reduced from 83% in 2000 to only 20% in 2008.

In April 2011, the Federal Trade Commission undercover shopper survey found that video game retailers continue 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.[112] By contrast, underage shoppers purchased R-rated movies 38% of the time, and unrated movies 47% of the time.[113]

Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association) is a case involving the 2005 California law which prohibits the sale of violent video games to minors less than 18 years of age. The Court struck down the law on June 27, 2011.[114] Violation of this law called for a $1,000 fine to be levied on any business found selling or renting video games deemed violent to minors. The violence in video games being targeted by this California law is defined as any game that gives players the option of “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being” but which is not of “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”[115][116] Brought before the Second, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Circuit Courts, the State of California argued that violence was categorized as obscene and therefore was not protected under the First Amendment. However, all courts rejected the State of California’s argument and found the law to be in violation of the First Amendment, freedom of speech. This law has yet to come into effect.[117]

On November 2 the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments by both the State of California and the video game industry. Before the Supreme Court were two questions. First, “does the First Amendment bar a state from restricting the sale of violent video games to minors?” Secondly, “is the State required to demonstrate a direct causal link between violent video games and physical and psychological harm to minors before the state can prohibit the sale of the games to minors?”[114] The justices were presented with evidence citing conflicting social science studies on the impact of violence on minors and parallels with violence in books, comic books, rap lyrics.[118] Although concerned about the influence of video game violence, the justices were unwilling to overturn the unanimous decisions of the lower courts.[117]

On January 7, 2009, Representative Joe Baca of California’s 43rd District introduced H.R. 231, the Video Game Health Labelling Act. This bill called for labels to be placed in a “clear and conspicuous location on the packaging” which states “WARNING: Excessive exposure to violent video games and other violent media has been linked to aggressive behaviour.” The proposed legislation mandated that all video games with an ESRB rating of T (Teen) or higher be subjected to the compulsory labelling.[119] The press release accompanying the introduction of the bill referred to scientific studies from the Pediatrics Journal, Indiana University, University of Missouri and Michigan State University which pointed to a “neurological link between playing violent video games and aggressive behaviour in children and teenagers.”[120] The proposed legislation was referred on to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. On January 24, 2011; Rep. Joe Baca reintroduced the Video Game Health Labelling Act as H.R. 400 of the 112th Congress.[121] The bill was once again passed onto the Subcommittee.

On June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, cited video games as 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 definition of violence defined by 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. In the decision, the Court determined that there was no direct link between violent video games and its influence on child, in as much as compared to other types of media like television and pictures, and that they could not create a new class of restricted speech that is not applied to other forms of media.[122][123]

Potential positive effects of video games

Numerous researchers have proposed potential positive effects of video games on aspects of social and cognitive development and psychological well-being.[4] It has been shown that action video game players have better hand-eye coordination and visuo-motor skills, such as their resistance to distraction, their sensitivity to information in the peripheral vision and their ability to count briefly presented objects, than non-players. Video games also develop the individual's intelligence, and in social games develop the social capabilities of the individual. [124]

Another way in which the usage of video games might provide a benefit is in the relief of stress. There is a study being conducted by Dr.Cheryl Olson and her team at Massachusetts General Hospital’s (MGH) Center for Mental Health and Media and Harvard to prove that violent games help students deal with stress and aggression. She has found that over 49% of boys and 25% of girls use violent games such as Grand Theft Auto IV as an outlet for their anger. Dr. Olson has come to the conclusion that violent games affect students positively and not negatively because the violent crime rate is going down while the popularity of M-rated video games has increased. She suggests that instead of stopping children from playing M-rated games completely, parents should just monitor how much time their children spend playing games; parents should take responsibility. [125]

Several studies have explored the possible benefits of multiplayer video games in a family setting. The most recent study found that girls 11-16 who played video games with their parents had better mental health and less aggressive behavior, with a stronger connection if they played age-appropriate games.[126]

Many studies have been done on gaming and its integration into the classroom in order to support the educator. "The use of gaming has the ability to actively involve students in learning."[127] On-line gaming is especially important in helping students build collaborative skills while completing given tasks.

See also



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