What Came First… the Violence or the Video Games?

What Came First… the Violence or the Video Games?

By Allison Mazur

June 13, 2016

In the United States video games usually get slammed for feeding violent behavior, especially first person shooter games like Call of Duty and Halo. Mass media research on the effects of video games has returned mixed results; some proponents of video games say there are no violent side effects, whereas the opponents say video games are inherently linked to violence. The problem lays in researchers’ vested interests, and attempts to produce data that support their theories.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (source: dimpdigital.com)

I’m no stranger to violent video games, having spent the last semester doing mass media research and coding a first person shooter video game for acts of morality. I’ve also played a handful of violent video games myself, although they don’t really appeal to me. I also took COM375 Audience Response to Entertainment last semester and we went over some current video game research and trends (another great class if you can squeeze an elective in). While catharsis is one theory of why people play video games (to release anger and other negative emotions), there is no definite link that says video games will result in violence.

Yesterday we made it to the beautiful, albeit rainy and chilly, Scotland. We are staying in Edinburgh, and we can see Arthur’s Seat from our dorms. Today we met with Brian Baglow,  founder of Scottish Games Network, who gave a lecture on how video games are turning the whole field of media on its head. Baglow talked about how video games are trending to interactive virtual reality and augmented reality, which have incredible graphics and make the games seem more realistic. I used an Oculus Rift shortly after it was released to play a racing game in a lab experiment, and the result was insane. I felt like I was driving the car, although I was terrible at it and kept crashing into the wall. The Oculus Rift blocked out all surrounding visual distractions, and I wore headphones to block out all audio distractions. I was completely sucked into the game’s reality.

The Oculus Rift in action (source: oculus.com)

Now what does this have to do with violence and video games like discussed above? At the end of the lecture, a peer asked Baglow about the link between violence and video games in Scotland, and if it was similar to how the US perceived them. He said that there wasn’t that assumption of causation in Scotland like there is in the United States. Baglow said he thought the need to blame video games for violence is just looking for an excuse. Like I said earlier, there isn’t much concrete evidence for either side of the debate. So my question is how will advances in virtual and augmented reality affect this ongoing debate about the link between violence and video games? How will technology like the Oculus Rift either support or undermine past research? I suppose only time will tell.

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