Rated M for Mature: Violent Video Games Affects Behaviour?

by PancakeCustomerService on April 27, 2017 - 4:10pm

Videogames have seen a spike in popularity over the past decade, and with half of the North American population actively playing games, it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Although earlier games have had problems with sexualization of female characters, stereotypically muscular and stoic male characters, and little to no LGBT characters, games such as The Last of Us, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted and many more have broken down most of these barriers. However, statistically, most of the games in the past decade have contained some form of violence. Unlike the continuous decrease of problems concerning gender representation, violence in videogames has seen a prominent increase both in its amount and in its quality. Because of the active participation in violence, it is argued that individuals become more prone to violent tendencies. In other words, violence in videogames is producing seemingly harmful outcomes and begs the question whether there should be moral limitations to the amount of violent in videogames. Although, some games such as Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat push violence to an extreme, videogame developers should have complete creative control over their work, because violent videogames have no direct link to aggressive behaviour, and its restriction would go against free speech.


Popular opinion would say that it would be common sense to think that someone who is exposed to violent content in videogames would subsequently lead an individual to develop more aggressive behaviour. This argument does have ground to support it as the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded in their report on violent videogames dating from 2005 to 2013, that violence in games is in fact linked to aggression.1 By applying multiple ethical lenses, it is apparent that violence in videogames should not be wholly blamed for any harmful outcomes, and therefore should not be limited. For instance, if we look at this situation from a deontological point of view, in which rightness or wrongness are determined by the act itself, the act of performing violence, even in a virtual world, is wrong. This argument would only take face value into account, however, further analysis with a deontological perspective would prove that representation of violence in videogames are not the same as violence in real life and would consequentially fall under “free speech and creative license”.2 Moreover, Immanuel Kant’s ethical rationalism would argue that censorship would violate the categorical imperative which states that one should “act only on a maxim which they can at the same time will that it should become universal law”; since free speech passes the categorical imperative, censorship can not. Furthermore, even though the APA has argued that violence is a risk factor for violent behaviour, they also mention that “there's insufficient evidence to link the games to actual criminal violence”.2 In sum, deontology argues against the moral limitations of violence in videogames due to the rightness of free speech and the wrongness of censorship.


Additionally, to argue the point established by deontology, one would bring up a utilitarian point of view in which the outcomes of an act are evaluated to be correct or incorrect. Again, using the idea that continuous exposure to brutality in games causes an individual to acquire violent tendencies, one would think that the teleological ideology would act as more grounds to support the argument. For instance, the shooters involved in the Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook tragedies have all been said to have played videogames, however most of the shooters played little no violent games- the Sandy Hook shooter mostly played games like Mario and Dance Dance Revolution.3 This fact in and of itself demonstrates the inconsistency in relating violent videogames to violent behaviour. Although, this example leans more to the extreme ends of behaviour, it still proves that the outcomes of videogames can not be clear and therefore teleology fails. To supplement this argument, it would be pertinent to consider other outcomes of violent videogames. According to a study published in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking playing a violent videogame would cause an individual to be more morally sensitive. In their study, they placed individuals in game that involved committing violent acts such as playing a terrorists group.4 According to the head researcher, Matthew Grizzard,after a subject played a violent video game, they felt guilt and that guilt was associated with greater sensitivity toward the two particular domains they violated -- those of care/harm and fairness/reciprocity." 5 In other words, violence in videogames may have negative behaviours according to the APA, however that same violence could also induce an increase in moral sensitivity as seen by Grizzard’s study. Also, applying the utilitarian idea of maximizing happiness for the greatest number all while reducing the most harm, is impossible to determine seeing as the outcomes of violent videogames can arguable prove to be harmful and beneficial. In sum, due to the dichotomic nature of the outcomes of violent videogames, it is impossible to hold violence in games as the main culprit of violent behavior.


Finally, evaluating violence from a virtue ethics lens would also prove that violent videogames should not be limited. Virtue ethics would seemingly see any type of violence as a vice, therefore games like The Last of Us which involves the killing of zombies and humans would arguably be seen as game that is in no way virtuous. However, since virtue ethics takes into account the intent and motivation of an action, The Last of Us would now seem like a virtuous game due to its violence. In other words, justified violence in self defence is a virtue. In response to this, people might bring up games such as Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat and how the violence in these games are in no way self-defence, thus non-virtuous. Although this is true, virtue ethics now reveals competition among virtues. Specifically, virtues such as honesty and integrity compete with violence is the context of self defence. Because this competition exists, it is apparent that violence in videogames can not blamed for any harmful outcomes because of the dependent nature of the agent.


In sum, by placing ethical frameworks to violent videogames, almost all of them come to an agreement. Due to the separation of fictitious violence and real life violence, the impossibility of determining outcomes and dependence of perception of deontology, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics respectively, violence in videogames should not be morally limited. Although it was not mentioned, most of the controversy that stems from violent videogames are children getting their hands on them and being overexposed to them. This has causes parents to blame violence in the games for their children acquiring aggressive behaviour. According to Karyn Riddle’s thesis about violence in the media, the people who should be blamed for kids having access to games that are not intended for them are the parents themselves. In other words, parents should either regulate the consumption of videogames or even teach them while the kids are playing to explain to them everything that is going on. Furthermore, Riddle argues that too much exposure to violence might suffer from mean world syndrome in which people become scared of the world and more open to authoritarianism, because it brings protection; however, she also states that a child that is kept from violent content causes heightened fear responses should it appear.6 Because of this, violence in videogames might even be necessary.




Works Cited:

1.     Sifferlin Alexandra, “Violent Video Games Are Linked to Aggression, Study Says” TIME : MENTAL HEALTH/PSYCHOLOGY: http://time.com/4000220/violent-video-games/ Aug 17, 2015. Accessed April 20th 2017.

2.      Waurechen, Sarah “ Violence and Entertainment Media”, Media Ethics, Marianopolis College. Lecture 11, March 2nd, 2017

3.     Van Eck, Richard “What Can We Learn from Violent Videogames?” Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/10/what-can-we-learn-from-violent-videogames October 12 2015. Accessed April 20 2017

4.     Stampler, Laura, “New Study Says Playing a Terrorist in Video Games Might Make You More Morally Sensitive” TIME http://time.com/2940491/study-violent-video-games-morally-sensitive/ Jun 30 2014. Accessed April 23, 2017.

5.     University at Buffalo. "'Bad' video game behavior increases players' moral sensitivity: May lead to pro-social behavior in real world." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140627163750.htm>.

6.     Riddle, Karen, “The Case of Media Violence: Who is Responsible for Protecting Children from Harm?” 65- 84 in Minette E Drumwright (ed.), Ethical Issues in Communication Professions: New Agendas in Commnuication (New York:Routledge, 2014).ld and more open to authoritarianism, because it brings protection; however, she also states that a child that is kept from violent content causes heightened fear responses should it appear.7 Because of this, violence in videogames might even be necessary.




You bring up lots of really good arguments with many examples. At the beginning, you mentioned that video games illustrate many gender stereotypes, but it’s important to understand how gender representations in video games can have a major impact on our society today.

In many video games, men and women are portrayed as their ideal body types. For men, that means they are physically strong, have six-pack abs, a muscular body, an aggressive facial expression and that they are often white. On the other hand, women are pictured as weak, passive, sexual and are often seen wearing extremely revealing clothing. It has become common for gamers to associate men as the strong players and women as the weaker players in a video game. This is because the male characters are presented as more dominant, violent and powerful. It's also important to consider that these video games can also normalize these gender assumptions and for it to be seen as humor. We can see this through the rape mod in Grand Theft Auto 5 which promoted rape and sexual assault against women. Furthermore, women in the video game industry are also misrepresented. #Gamergate is a movement in defense of journalistic integrity and ethical practices in the video game industry that mainly targeted women. All in all, like advertisements, music and films, video games also have an important role in teaching future generations how we should think of gender in our society. While changes are being made, these changes are not being made quick enough or that they still show some forms of gender inequalities.

If you're interested in reading more, have a look on http://www.radford.edu/~mzorrilla2/thesis/gamerepresentation.html.