Category Archives: Games and Society

Video Game Fantasy Continues To Be The Easy Scapegoat For Violent Reality

Video Game Violence

After the two recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, politicians were once again quick to blame video games as a cause of the violence. During an appearance on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” program, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said that video games could be contributing factors to the horrific crimes in that they “dehumanize individuals.”

“The idea that these video games that dehumanize individuals to have a game of shooting individuals. I’ve always felt that it’s a problem for future generations and others. We’ve watched studies show what it does to individuals, and you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others.”

President Trump expressed similar sentiments the next day by singling out “the gruesome video games that are now commonplace” to blame for creating “a culture that celebrates violence.” Of course, if they really tried to “get the all facts”, as McCarthy claimed he was interested in doing, they would find that studies have failed to demonstrate a link between video game violence and real-world violence. In 2013, The New York Times looked at research on whether games negatively affect long-term behavior and came to the following conclusion:

A burst of new research has begun to clarify what can and cannot be said about the effects of violent gaming. Playing the games can and does stir hostile urges and mildly aggressive behavior in the short term. Moreover, youngsters who develop a gaming habit can become slightly more aggressive — as measured by clashes with peers, for instance — at least over a period of a year or two.

Yet it is not at all clear whether, over longer periods, such a habit increases the likelihood that a person will commit a violent crime, like murder, rape or assault, much less a Newtown-like massacre. (Such calculated rampages are too rare to study in any rigorous way, researchers agree.)

In fact, much of the research shows that time spent playing video games reduces the amount of time that young men can get into trouble. In 2011, Scott Cunningham of Baylor University, Benjamin Engelstätter
od University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt, and Michael R. Ward of the University of Texas at Arlington conducted a quasi-experimental study to identify the short and medium run effects of violent game sales on violent crime using time variation in retail unit sales data of the top 50 selling video games and violent criminal offenses from the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for each week of 2005 to 2008. They found that a one percent increase in violent games is associated with up to a 0.03% decrease in violent crime.

The most recent studies show that despite video games being widely available in in Europe and Japan.

Video game revenues vs violent gun death chart (source: Vox).
Video game revenues vs violent gun death chart (source: Vox)

Unfortunately, blaming real-world violence and crime on video games is hardly new. In every mass shooting since Columbine, pundits have pointed to video games as being the real culprit. Even back in the 1940s, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York argued that pinball was “dominated by interests heavily tainted with criminality.”

What’s especially sad to me about this is not that video games are being used as a scapegoat, but how easily our leaders look for simple solutions to complex problems. Violent crime in the United States is a real problem, but finger-pointing to get one through a press conference or appease constituents is not taking the problem seriously. As gamers know better than anyone else, it takes dedication to achieving a goal, observation of the complete situation, innovation in finding a solution, and patience and perseverance in applying that solution that is the proper methodology to fixing a problem.

How Playing Games Together Spreads Holiday Cheer

Santa Playing Board Game

When I was growing up, my brothers and I were constantly fighting with each other. Our sibling rivalry turned our house into a war zone, and I don’t know how the three of us survived to reach adulthood. However there was one thing that would cause us to call a truce, and that was playing a board game together. Our hallway linen closet didn’t hold linen, but copies of Monopoly, Candy Land, Scrabble, Battleship, Operation, Risk, Stratego, Clue, Sorry!, Mousetrap, The Game of Life, and many other classic board games. All it took to set aside our differences was a chance to sit on opposite sides of kitchen table and channel our conflict through dice roles and meeple movement.

Fortunately my own sons did not inherit the rivalry of my siblings and I, but they did inherit our love of board games — although their tastes run toward European games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Forbidden Island. Now that they are grown and lead busy lives, we don’t have many opportunities to play together, except on holidays and other family gatherings. But rarely does a visit go by without someone bringing out a board game to play before it’s time for us to part again.

Santa Playing Board Game

There’s a universal appeal to the shared experience of playing a game together. My wife and I occasionally host Chinese students who are visiting schools in the United States and want an opportunity to live with an American family for a few days. I’ve found that despite our cultural differences and language barrier, every child we’ve hosted enjoys playing games. Play is the great unifier. As the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga observed in his landmark book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, “You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.”

Holidays are a great time to put aside all serious matters and focusing on play. Games are a great source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well as children. They can sharpen the mind, build relationships between people, and bring the ones you love closer together. Follow Johan’s advice this holiday season: you can deny everything else, but don’t deny yourself the joy of play.