By Al Mattingly
Grand Theft Auto (GTA) 5 was released last week. To coincide with the release of GTA, the last couple of weeks have seen several acts of violence across the country. Lately, video games like GTA have been getting quite a bit of flack from the media due to what some would label having “gratuitously violent content” in them. Several politicians and social activists—if that’s what you want to call them — have commented on the apparent link between violent video games and acts of violence.
Do such “experts” have a point?
I am an avid gamer, and I have personally played the last four Grand Theft Auto games, as well as several other violent video games. I am an advocate of video games, both as an entertainment medium and artistic accomplishment, and I will always be the first to defend video games from such voices that seek to label them as socially dangerous. But, I’ll also admit that those voices have rather compelling arguments.
That is, until you do your homework.
Some psychological studies have shown that playing violent video games can lead to aggressive behavior. However, not a single study in the last 15 years has indicated a link between actual criminal acts of violence and video games. In cases in which violent offenders were also gamers, the relationship was coincidental; the motivation for committing a violent act was independent of video game influence.
Other studies have shown that video games have positive effects on gamers. In a study by the University of Rochester, researchers found that avid gamers had heightened senses of awareness to their surroundings, navigation, driving, multitasking and quick decision-making than those who do not play video games. The same study showed that gamers who play action-based games — such as GTA—develop a higher capacity for auditory and visual learning than those who don’t play.
What astonishes me is that most people who have bad things to say about video games are the people who have never played one.
For me, video games have been a source of release. They help me unwind from a long day, enable me to enjoy others’s company in a friendly death-match and let me take out my daily frustrations on mindless NPCs (non-playable characters, for those of you who aren’t gamers). In a manner of speaking, violent video games let me vent so that I don’t attack real people with a chainsaw or bulldozer.
The main problem I have with people who blame video games for crime is the excuse that those people offer the true perpetrators. Why did someone shoot so many people in a random act of violence? GTA must have gotten to him. Video games have quickly become the modern-day version of “The devil made him do it” argument used to free criminals from any responsibility for their actions.
I have played dozens, maybe getting close to a hundred, video games in my life. Not one of them has ever inspired me to hurt another human being.
If your argument is that young children are impressionable and shouldn’t be playing them, I agree whole-heartedly. Video games have ratings for a reason: T for teen means the gamer should be at least 13 years old; M for mature requires a gamer 17 or older. If children are acting out due to playing GTA, I’m rather inclined to blame the terrible parenting which enabled that child to obtain the game in the first place. Video games don’t kill people. You know the rest of the saying.
Society has always sought to find a scapegoat for violence. First it was rock-n-roll. Then it was violent movies. Then rap music. Then the Second Amendment. Now, video games.
One of my favorite video game quotes is from the game Far Cry 3. “Do you know the definition of insanity? It is doing the same stupid thing over and over and over again expecting a new result. Society loves insanity.”
GTA has never killed anyone. Naturally fallen human nature, on the other hand, might just be the reason to restore societal sanity and leave gamers in peace.