A couple of weeks ago Marshall Lemon published a piece on the Escapist about the intersection between journalism and violent video games. Lemon reported on a piece by Greg Perreault, PhD candidate in Journalism; Perreault thinks criticism of violence in video games has diminished in the past two decades.
While even game media outlets once focused on violence in video games, now the practice is mostly limited to non-gaming media, and only in very specific cases. Whenever an extremely tragic event occurs, the media tends to bring up video games at some point—evidence that a school shooter played games, for instance, means that games are to blame for the tragedy. There are a lot of reasons this logic is faulty, but one is simply the fact that any cross-section of the American populace will yield a large number of gamers. Take any average 20 to 30-something white male, and it would actually be unusual if he didn’t play video games.
What’s interesting about this, coupled with Perreault’s observations, is that it does indicate a shift in national consciousness. Gamers aren’t the only ones who are moving away from the idea that violence in video games is to blame for all the world’s evils.
Here’s one way to look at the phenomenon: Do we blame comics for violence these days? We used to. Superhero comics used to be the bane of society. Now we’ve moved past that paranoia, and it seems that we might be moving past the video game paranoia as well. A lot of the kids who were gamers back when it was new are now parents themselves and know how to navigate the media.
That being said, the jury’s still out on what specific effect playing video games may have on an individual’s aggression. It’s been shown that many pre-existing conditions have no special effect, and studies that show a correlation between games and aggression have been, at best, questionable in their assumptions (for instance, one study linked the consumption of hot sauce after gaming with feelings of aggression). Moreover, it’s unclear whether feelings of aggression have any bearing in real-life outcomes. Some studies have even suggested that competition is the more important factor, and video games are nothing new in that arena.
Does that mean we should stop talking about it? Definitely not. The more solid research we have, the better. Even if video games don’t cause real life violence, that doesn’t mean storified violence is something that doesn’t warrant discussion, especially with kids. However, I’m still not convinced that games are particularly distinct from other accepted forms of media in this regard. We should always think critically about the media we and our families consume.