Recent mass shootings have made the public question the unclear motives of the people behind such destructive behaviour. Unfortunately, many individuals have jumped to rash conclusions regarding the causes of such events by linking violent video games with violence in the youth population. Even more discerning individuals have also criticized the role of violent video games in encouraging people to become mass murderers. With these opinions gaining popularity in the mass media, it has become the predominant belief of society to explain why there are more shootings recently. Such claims are usually driven by opinionated reasoning instead of scientific research, so it is much easier for the popular media to formulate such ostentatious theories.
This can be seen with professional bloggers, Lyndee Fletcher and Ralph Nader, who are adamant that there is an obvious link between violent video games and the recent mass shootings. As seen in their respective articles published in 2015 and 1999, the controversial opinion on the effects of violent video games have left lasting impressions on the public to believe that frequent exposure has created adolescent mass murderers. This only demonstrates that the predominant belief regarding violent video games and mass shootings over the past two decades is resilient despite the empirical research studies refuting their opinionated claims based. Researchers have tried to establish a scientific basis for understanding in society, but it still has not satisfied the search for the truth behind the mass shooters’ motives and actions. So in order to further understand the link between violent video games and mass shootings, I will further discuss the contrasting opinions of these professional bloggers and researchers below.
Fletcher was a contributing writer to the movie review blog, Movie Guide, which adopts a Christian perspective to explain the effects of popular media on American youth. She accentuated the idea that video game companies should be held responsible for the actions of recent adolescent mass murderers because they have disregarded the violent consequences (2015). Fletcher reasons this belief by arguing that the adolescents responsible for these events shared three common traits.
First, their life revolved around video games because they were addicted. Second, they enjoyed violent video games because it felt familiar and comforting. Third, they all had experience with first-person shooter and massive multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. So in other words, Fletcher is concluding that these individual’s actions are constructed from frequent violent video game exposure and an increased susceptibility to gaming addiction. In correspondence to Fletcher’s claims, a recent study of 1216 South Korean MMORPG players determined that aggressive and narcissistic personality traits are positively correlated with online gaming addiction, and self-control and interpersonal interaction are negatively correlated to online gaming addiction (Kim et. al, 2007). These variables were of interest because individuals with these characteristics are a part of high risk groups that are more susceptible to addiction of online gaming. In order to determine the relationships between online game addiction and these characteristics, data was collected through questionnaires regarding the participant’s demographic information and game use-related characteristics, in addition to 5-point Likert-type scale assessments regarding online game addiction, aggression, self-control, and narcissistic personality disorder.
Through correlational design, Kim’s study suggests that certain characteristics, such as aggression, self-control, and narcissistic personality traits, serve as predictors of online game addiction. That is to say that individuals may be more likely to become addicted to online gaming because they already have these high risk characteristics to begin with, and not because frequent exposure to MMORPGs made these individuals more aggressive and narcissistic, and lack self-control. In addition to this, Kim’s study also suggests that individuals with fewer interpersonal relationships may have a relatively higher dependency on online games because it serves as an alternative to face-to-face interaction and communication for those that feel anxious or stressed socializing. For these reasons, Kim’s disproves Fletcher’s claims that an individual’s actions are constructed in more aggressive ways of thinking through violent video game exposure, because certain individuals have genetic predispositions that make them more susceptible to addiction to MMORPGs which result higher violent video game exposure.
In a similar manner to Fletcher, Nader, who is a political activist, also suggests that frequent violent video game exposure increases the likelihood that children will become aggressive and destructive during adolescence because it decreases the children’s awareness to violence and the negative repercussions of violent video games to everyday functioning (1999). Nader references former president Bill Clinton’s meta-analysis of 30 years’ worth of studies, but does not formally introduce the study methods or findings, to demonstrate that this has been an ongoing issue in society. For this reason, he believes that gaming companies and parents are to blame because they enable children to become addicted to violent video games through their ignorance and a lack of control. Nader argues this by stating that gaming companies market video games directly to impressionable children by developing more interactive and enticing video games, which according to Nader are of the violent variety, that enable a sustainable addiction and fosters into aggressive and violent behaviour.
Contrary to Nader’s beliefs, a recent study of 120 individuals determined that violent video game exposure has no effect on aggression at all (Engelhardt et. al, 2015). This experimental study randomly assigned participants with autism spectrum disorders and participants without autism spectrum disorders to play a video game of either the violent or non-violent variety in order to determine the effects of video games on behaviour. Participants then proceeded to perform post-game rating measures, word completion tasks and competitive reaction time tasks to assess their views regarding the violent content in the video game, aggressive-thought accessibility, aggressive behaviour, and aggressive affect to determine any probable correlation with autism spectrum disorder. The study concluded that violent video game exposure has no effect on individuals with autism spectrum disorder or individuals without autism spectrum disorder, and that video game genre has an effect on the perception of violence present in the video game. This suggests aggressive behaviour is not attributable to frequent video game exposure or on a person’s genotype. Therefore, this study disproves the Nader’s claim that violent video games develop aggressive and destructive attitudes during adolescence that influence behaviour because it isn’t attributable to individual differences in behaviour.
As shown above, empirical research is an useful approach to understand human behaviour because it provides the opportunity to review information on from a scientific perspective. Paradigms are particularly useful when conducting research as it utilizes underlying theories and assumptions to understand everyday events from a myriad of perspectives. The biopsychosocial paradigm, which is one of many paradigms, suggests that the biological, psychological, and socio-environmental factors interact together to explain certain human behaviours (Davison, 2013). In relation to violence and video games, there are several external factors that may elicit aggressive behaviour in people. Some people may have a genetic predisposition to become more susceptible to video game addiction, personality traits that are prone to exhibit increased aggressiveness, and a lack of familial support. This may result in a coinciding relationship between aggressive adolescents who happen to have frequent exposure to violent video games. Engelhardt’s research study is also based on the preconceived notion that genotypic and phenotypic individual differences may elicit differences in aggressive behaviour, but his study has proven this otherwise by demonstrating that instances of violence are not attributable to these factors.
Instead, it is very likely that aggression is related to other confounding variables that may be associated with frequent violent video game exposure. In addition to this, Kim’s research study also expands on the psychological and social factors of the biopsychosocial paradigm suggesting that video game addiction is related to unconscious conflicts within the structure of the mind and interpersonal relationship difficulties. Kim suggests this because those with anxiety and social difficulties are more likely to satisfy needs for social interaction and communication through the means of MMORPGs. So in conjunction with Engelhardt’s biological influence and Kim’s psychological and social influence, these factors may be working in tandem to elicit aggressive behaviour in certain adolescents. In other words, adolescents may be more susceptible to exhibiting violence in the presence of certain biopsychosocial factors that affect behaviour.
As researchers have been able to test the validity and reliability of controversial claims, it is important to think critically when confronting opinionated statements about society. Since Fletcher and Nader have used their personal opinions to form rash conclusions, many researchers have acted upon their claims by formally testing it through empirical research. The research conducted by Kim and Engelhardt, for example, has suggested that aggressive behaviour and attitudes are not attributable to violent video game exposure, but rather only associated with it. A multitude of research studies have also reached this conclusion or some variation of it because it is very likely that there is no direct causal relationship between violent video games and aggressive behaviour as well. This only demonstrates that by equally valuing social opinion with scientific data, it inhibits our ability to think critically and creatively in the future. So it is important to question phenomena that we encounter on a daily basis to gain a better understanding of human behaviour.