When a school shooting occurs in the United States, real guns are not usually blamed for the actions taken. Fake guns are blamed. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of Texas told ABC News in May 2018 that violent video games cause people to become desensitized to violence.
“Many have lost empathy to their victims by watching hours… of video, violent games,” Patrick said, about 48 hours after 10 people were killed in a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.
Americans aren’t the only culture to have access to violent video games. A report by The Chicago Tribune in February 2018 notes that 188 shootings had taken place, at the time of the report’s writing, at U.S.-based schools and universities. During the same time period, 57 incidents were recorded for the rest of the world.
That means U.S. students are 3 times more likely to experience an active shooter at their school than any other country in the world.
Some students, however, may be susceptible to the violence that is found in certain video games. That is why the pros and cons of violent video games should be examined by families, with their children, to make appropriate decisions at an individual level.
List of the Pros of Violent Video Games
1. They can improve a person’s perception of detail.
Individuals who play violent video games have an ability to spot targets on cluttered screens more frequently than those who do not play video games at all. A team at the University of Rochester found that gamers who spent at least 30 hours of time playing an action game could find specific items 80% of the time, compared to a 30% rate for those who didn’t play video games at all.
2. They improve a person’s thinking power.
A team at Iowa State University studied a group of laparoscopic surgeons. Some played video games 3+ hours per week. Those who did were almost 30% faster with their work and made almost 40% fewer errors in their job. Any video games, including violent video games, contribute to this benefit.
3. They help to ease personal perceptions of pain.
Researchers at the University of Washington have found that video games which demand a person to focus full mental resources on an activity help to reduce the perception of pain. When burn patients were exposed to video games during the process of changing their bandages, those who played the game reported up to a 50% reduction in pain levels. Violent video games offer a similar outcome, as gamers are forced to pay attention to an entire environment and make fast decisions to create a winning experience.
4. They do not increase the likelihood of real-life violence.
Only a small number of children who are already predisposed to violence because of their family environment see changes to their behavior because of playing video games. The vast majority of people who play violent video games, no matter how often, have no changes to their behavior outside of the game. Multiple research studies have found the same conclusion, including recent research published by the Media Research Lab located at Iowa State.
5. They offer opportunities for families to play together.
About 4 out of every 5 parents who have video games played in their homes play with their children on a frequent basis. Although there should be an age-appropriateness to those games, 75% of them are rated for youth under the age of 10. That includes adventure games, action games, and racing games.
6. They offer a safe coping mechanism for difficult emotions.
Individuals must be able to process difficult emotions to understand them. Any type of game, sport, or activity offers the chance at an inappropriate emotional response. By using coping mechanisms in a virtual environment, gamers are reducing the chances that a similar mechanism is used in reality. Games are in a different world for gamers, which is backed by a decline in youth crime. Since the 1990s, when these games became popular, youth crime has fallen by almost 50%.
7. They require communication.
Many of today’s violent video games are based on team concepts. You must work with other members of your team to create a desired outcome. Although some teams can be toxic, especially towards an inexperienced player, the goal of this design is to encourage communications skills. The emphasis on communication enhances strategic thinking, encourages creativity, and promotes problem-solving. These facets all help gamers be able to find success in a team environment.
8. They offer an avenue into e-sports.
Competitive gaming is a growing trend around the world. Several games host international tournaments that provide professional opportunities to gamers. Overwatch recently initiated their first league structure, which pits teams against each other to determine an overall champion, much like any other sport. That creates lucrative financial opportunities for the best players in the world. Team Liquid, founded in 1998, has earned a total of $18.2 million from their e-sports activities. Numerous players are millionaires and have access to full health insurance and other traditional employment benefits.
9. They encourage lucid dreaming.
Gamers who play often, including the 4% of gamers who fall into the “extreme” category by playing 50+ hours of games per week, are more likely to experience lucid dreaming during the night. Although the benefits of lucid dreaming are up for debate, The Australian reported in 2014 that people who have frequent lucid dreams are better at cognitive tasks which require insight. Lucid dreaming may also improve symptoms of depression and provide other mental health benefits too.
10. They help to correct issues with dyslexia.
BBC News reports that children who play 12 hours of an action-based video game can improve their reading speed without a cost to the accuracy of what they read. An Italian team had 10 children spend nine 80-minute sessions playing a video game and found that the games help to train the part of the brain that is responsible for mobile reception. This allowed children with dyslexia to improve word recognition, allowing them to extract information from the language itself.
List of the Cons of Violent Video Games
1. They increase the risks of obesity in gamers.
Any time that is spent in a sedentary position increases the risk of gaining weight. A team from the University of Zaragoza, in Spain, found that every hour spent playing video games increases the risk of being overweight for a teen. Violent video games often require players to sit for extended time periods. The average length of time for a Heroic Strike on Destiny 2, for example, is about 30 minutes. With 3 strikes required to gain a benefit in the game, a gamer may play for 90+ minutes before becoming active once again.
2. They can cause hand injuries.
Gamers who play the same video games repetitively have a higher risk of experiencing a repetitive motion injury. The biggest risks involve tendons and nerves found in the fingers and thumbs as they are used to control the actions of a player in the game. There are also health risks associated with common sitting postures when playing games, as many players sit on the floor, in their beds, or in a chair that is too big for them.
3. They can produce signs of addiction.
In a report issued by Nottingham Trent University and the International Gaming Research Unit, about 12% of online gamers exhibit signs of addiction with their playing. That includes the decision to play video games at the expense of other responsibilities or playing even though they may cause harm to themselves in some way. More than 7,000 online gamers were evaluated in this research.
4. They can create an urge to punish others.
Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia show that consistent exposure to violence in video games can diminish the response of the brain when it encounters violence in real life. In the research, players were also given an opportunity to punish a fake opponent. Those with the highest levels of violent video game exposure, exhibiting the lowest levels of brain response, were the most brutal in their response to such an offer.
5. They can keep gamers in their fantasy world.
Some gamers find that the world of the game is more intriguing or beneficial to them than the world in which they live. They spend their time in this world, only engaging with those who share their perspective. That can lead some gamers into a life of social isolation, even if they communicate with others for team-based activities within the game. About 3% of gamers face isolation tendencies, sometimes at extreme levels, because of playing video games that may be violent.
6. They emphasize the need for conflict.
The structure of a violent video game suggests that violence is the primary way to solve problems in the world today. Games even allow players to skip through video segments or dialogue that promote elements of diplomacy or coping mechanisms in favor of the action elements to be played. If this perspective transitions to the real world, then some gamers may find themselves aggressively pursuing physical altercations when they have an issue with someone that must be addressed.
7. They encourage young people to play them.
Most violent video games are given a mature rating. The cartoonish nature of some games, such as Overwatch, invite children to want to play them at an early age. In 2016 a Twitch streamer helped a 7-year-old boy go flawless during the Trials of Osiris in Destiny, which was widely distributed through Game Rant. Promoting young children having success in video games like these encourage others to do the same thing.
8. They can create sleep disruptions.
Engagement with electronics can create sleep disruptions in people of all ages. Flinders University found in 2012 that individuals who play 2.5 hours of video games each night experience a 39-minute delay when trying to achieve a state of sleep. These gamers would also lose about 30 minutes of overall sleeping time during the overnight hours as well. That includes a 12-minute loss of REM sleep. For children, just 30 minutes of video game time nightly can cause sleep disruptions.
9. They can cause eye health issues.
Long sessions of video game playing can lead to symptoms that are similar to Computer Vision Syndrome. This health issue occurs when the eyes are exposed to a computer screen for a long time period without a break. Symptoms may include blurry vision, neck pain, shoulder pain, and sensitivity to light. Some of these issues can be resolved by positioning, but frequent breaks are the best way to limit eye strain. A 5-minute break every 20-30 minutes offer the best results, which is a timeframe that some violent video games may not permit in gameplay.
The pros and cons of violent video games must be applied at the individual level. People who have personalities which are susceptible to addictive actions may wish to avoid them. Those who already live in violent households may find themselves triggered by the action in the game. For the average person, however, violent video games are simply another type of game to play.