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An Introspective Look at the Modern Age of Entertainment Software and Its Proposed Effects on Society

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The year is 1972, and a distinctive sound is emanating from the rear of Andy Capp's Tavern. Pong....Pong....Pong. Little did the creators of this new game at the fledgling company called Atari know but they were about to kick start the modern age of video games. Many years have passed since then, and technology has progressed exponentially. As technology continues to advance and video games become more realistic, there are some that think that society is at risk of increasingly violent crime at the hands of video game players, but the proof is just not there.

It seems almost like a broken record. Every time an incident of widely publicized youth violence occurs, the media finds a scapegoat on which to place the blame. In recent times, this scapegoat has been video games. It started with the simplistic two-dimensional fighting games such as 'Street Fighter' and 'Mortal Kombat.' Mortal Kombat in particular, while well received by players, was the target of resounding criticism by others, resulting in its near-banning in the United States and Australia and the watered down release by distributor Nintendo on their Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) (Taylor, 2004). Next, fast forward to the year 1997 and the debut of attorney Jack Thompson. Thompson has used such events as the Paducah school shooting in 1997 to grandstand his legal and political tirade against the movie and video game industries, taking particular aim at video games. Again this year after the Virginia Tech shooting, Thompson thrust himself into the spotlight, appearing on Fox News Channel and other networks as a self-described "expert on school shootings" (Crecente, 2007).

Thompson is not the only one to misguidedly blame such tragedies and more on video games, however. Numerous studies have been performed over the years trying to find a causal link between video games and real-world violence. Some have claimed to find a definitive link between the two, at least in the short term, while others have found the opposite. Of course the mainstream media only reports on those which seem to prove a link, preferring to cause fear, hate, and discontent, so long as it garners ratings. The main flaw in these studies that claim to prove the correlation is their short-sightedness. For example, Anderson and Dill (1999) presume to extrapolate from their short-term study the long-term effects of violent video game play. They state in the conclusion of their 1999 study that:

In the short term, playing a violent video game appears to affect aggression by priming aggressive thoughts. Longer-term effects are likely to be longer lasting as well, as the player learns and practices new aggression-related scripts that become more and more accessible for use when real-life conflict situations arise. (Anderson & Dill, 1999, p. 788)

These studies and their ilk are taken as canon by the mainstream media and used to brainwash our society into believing that these video games and their creators are out to harm us and especially our children.

On the other side of the proverbial coin are the dissenting studies; those that you don't hear about in the evening news or read about in the newspaper. For example, a study conducted by the University of Urbana-Champaign showed that over the course of a month, playing of a violent game (Asheron's Call 2) did not cause a significant increase in aggression traits over those that did not play (Haines, 2005). While it has also been shown by a University of Missouri-Columbia study that habitual exposure to violent video games can cause a kind of desensitization to violent imagery, this cannot necessarily be linked to an increase in aggressive tendencies (Philips, 2005). And while the entire spotlight on video games is directed at the possible harmful effects they could have, attention is diverted away from the possible positive effects that games can have. In an interview with John Davison of Computer Gaming World, Steven Johnson was quoted as saying, "It's not what you're thinking about when you're playing the game, it's the way you're thinking that matters" (Davison, 2005, p. 19).

Another fact overlooked by the opponents of video games and those who buy into their propaganda is that juvenile gamers only represent 16 percent of the video game market. At the same time, games which carry the rating of 'Mature,' which are not intended for sale to minors, also make up a minority of the games available at 16 percent (Koffler, 2005).

Each and every time an event like those at Paducah, Columbine, or Virginia Tech occurs, we are expected to believe that video games are bringing about an epidemic of youth violence in our country. Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, no such epidemic is occurring. The crime rate in our nation since the turn of the millennium is the lowest it has been in decades (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006), while video game sales continue to soar to record heights (Entertainment Software Association, 2007). The trends are actually quite clear, as you can see in the following figure:

Increasing this trend of video game martyrdom is the mainstream media's lack of understanding about this still reasonably new (to them, at least) form of entertainment. Tensions at a generational gap are nothing new in this country. Similar fears and trepidation arose at the advent of such things as the telegraph, motion pictures, and mass-produced recorded music (Goeringer, 2000). The previous generation, who currently holds sway over policy-making and controls much of the media, for the most part does not have the rich understanding of gaming as the new generation does, who have grown up with this technology and watched it grow with them. As has happened before though, in the previously mentioned occurrences, gaming will become accepted as the older generation perhaps learns more about it, and the new generation moves into influential positions, as they have already begun to. It is, of course, unfair to say that all members of the previous generation look at video games with scorn. There are some who accept them, just as there are some members of the new generation who have fallen prey to the propaganda machine.

What needs to be understood by those who so fervently oppose video games is that they are just that: games. Nearly all who play video games are able to differentiate quite easily between fact and fiction and put no more higher reasoning into these games than do people who are observing a sporting event or playing a traditional board game. Action-based games engage a player's brain, often causing the production of adrenaline, just like in competitive sports. While players may feel the short-term effects of this change in their physiology, perhaps activating



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