Video Games and Violence

Video Games and Violence

Oct 1, 2008

There are aggressive games in the market, though these do not predominate. According to the Australian government in 2006, 46% of games were classified G, 24% were classified PG, 16% were classified M and 14% were classified MA15+ 1.

The term aggression is used here to mean behaviour which is aimed at causing hurt or injury to another person or property. The impact of aggressive content in games on the young has been extensively studied and it is an academic battleground. Over the years, there have been over 3,500 research studies into the effects of screen violence, encompassing film, TV, video and more recently, computer and video games. Regrettably many of these studies focus only on short-term, laboratory observable, effects of playing aggressive games.

Australian Studies
One of the largest reviews ever conducted into the effects of aggressive content on younger persons was done in Australia by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (Australian government agency previously responsible for computer and video game classification) . The project “Computer Games and Australian Today” was a nationwide investigation and included reviews of local and international research, focus groups and telephone surveys. This report acknowledged that there is some community concern about aggressive content in games and that it is important to monitor this aspect of content carefully. “Nevertheless, there is no evidence that members of the community perceive computer games as a major social problem, and none of the independent research published to date has demonstrated serious effects of aggressive game play upon young people’s behaviour.” 2 The report further concluded that:

“It is stressed that the amount of research available is small relative to that on other media, especially television. Nevertheless, a body of work is accumulating which indicates that early fears of pervasively negative effects are not supported. Importantly, several well designed studies conducted by proponents of the theory that computer games would promote aggression in the young have found no such effects. In contrast, other studies focused on cognitive and spatial benefits have yielded positive results.” 3

Kids Do Not Copy Game Behaviour
This aspect of game play has also been studied in Australia and internationally. There is no evidence that children playing games mimic the behaviour they see in real life. A research project undertaken by Irwin and Gross had sixty 7-8 year olds, play a martial arts game. They were then observed after play to see if they mimicked the type of play in the game. They did not mimic the martial arts behaviour in the game. The report concluded that the study “suggests little effect of playing the particular game on aggressive behaviour”.” 4

Games Are Not Addictive
Several Australian and international research projects have also considered whether or not games are addictive. In general, the reports have concluded that the supposed addiction is actually a transient phase of excessive involvement, rather than an enduring involvement. For example this can occur when a game is new and the player is keen to master the different levels in the game. As a literature review of computer game studies notes, “none of these studies suggests the presence of a widespread incidence of computer game addiction among school children.” 5

Addiction is a term used very loosely in the media to describe something that is popular. Strictly speaking it means someone is physically and psychologically dependent on some type of stimulus to function. Certainly many young people go through periods of intense involvement in computer game play, for example with a new game, but this is not a lasting obsession for the majority.

Generational Attitudes
Attitudes to games depend to a large extent on age. Most gamers are under 40. Most of the critics of gamers are non-game playing over 40’s. This is the finding of Australian research 6 and US survey work conducted by Nielsen Media Research. 7 Similar debates were evident when rock and roll first became popular and before the Internet and mobile phone became ubiquitous. The digital divide as it is termed, describes the difference in attitudes between those brought up with technology and those who were not brought up with all things digital. This difference in attitudes is changing as the average age of game players increase and games become mass market entertainment, just like films, books and music.

Age of Players Keeps Increasing
Those brought up with computer games continue to play them into adulthood. The average age of Australians game players is now 28. In Europe and the US it is now reaching 30 years of age. A large study completed by the OECD found that for computer game players, 34% were under 18 and 66% were over 18. 8 Games with strong aggressive content are classified with the highest rating and are intended for mature players. In Australia, the highest rating is MA15+. This means that persons under 15 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian when hiring or buying these games. There is substance to the argument that introducing an R rating in Australia would send a stronger signal to parents about the content of a game and which age group it is appropriate for.

Mass Market Entertainment
Aggressive content in a game does not mean that the game will be a market leader. Research shows players want good graphics and sound, lots of levels, good stories and games that can be played with others. Each year in Australia, the OFLC classifies about 800 computer and video games across a range of genres and targeted at different age ranges. Games in the G classification are the most numerous.

Increasingly games are developed in tandem with blockbuster movies. Leading actors now lend their face and voices to popular games. Games incorporate film segments and DVD’s include games. From the consumers’ point of view, it makes sense to have the same type of classification system for films and for games.

The evolution of games is continuing at a rapid pace. New types of games are emerging that use new technology such as microphones for singing and digital cameras to allow the player to insert themselves graphically in the game. As broadband penetration increases, new types of gaming experiences are emerging. The fastest growing category of games is online team-based, role-playing games or MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games).

Aggressive content is a feature of games just as it is in films. The “blood and gore” games fill a niche similar to horror movies and heavy metal music. “Aggressive games appear among but do not dominate best selling titles”. 9

While all the research to date shows no correlation or causal link between computer game play and aggression, concerns are raised by community members. The best way to ensure that age appropriate games are accessed by younger players is to follow the classification scheme so that informed choices are made at the time of purchase.

Look for games with constructive learning experiences. These generally encourage group activity, require the player to solve problems, make decisions and are more complex than pure action games. A practical guide for parents is included in this site

1 Annual Report, Classification Board and Classification Review Board, 2005-2006, OFLC, p.46.
2 Durkin & Aisbett, “Computer Games and Australians Today”, 1999, OFLC, p.xv.
3 Durkin & Aisbett, “Computer Games and Australians Today”, 1999, OFLC, p.xi.
4 Durkin & Aisbett, “Computer Games and Australians Today”, 1999, OFLC, p.16.
5 K. Durkin, Computer Games their Effects on Young People, 1995, OFLC p. 19.
6 Durkin & Aisbett, “Computer Games and Australians Today”, 1999, OFLC, p.120.
8 Digital Broadband Content: OECD, 2005, p. 38.
9 Durkin & Aisbett, “Computer Games and Australians Today”, OFLC, 1999, p.123.