We’ve all heard the horror stories, especially from concerned parents who believe that violent video games glorify aggressive behavior and cause every possible problem among youth, whether it’s schoolyard bullying or underage gun violence.
It’s easy to shrug off these concerns. Video games are, after all, a benign alternative to genuine interpersonal violence and abuse. But the problem of substance abuse among gamers can’t be ignored – and absolutely deserves to be taken seriously. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse, it’s important to seek treatment ASAP.
Studying the Link
A study at Dartmouth in 2012 found that video games that glorify antisocial behavior could increase the risk for careless driving among teenagers. The study examined three games – “Grand Theft Auto,” “Manhunt” and a game in the Spiderman franchise – along with a few other mature-rated games, via a random interview that included 5,000 randomly chosen teenagers.
According to the study, the games’ protagonists’ antisocial personalities were the main factor contributing to the problem. Interestingly, the gender of the gamer didn’t matter.
The study was then updated in 2013 to include other risky behaviors – including using or abusing illegal or addictive substances, as well as unsafe sexual behaviors. According to another study, this one published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, games that glorify the use of alcohol and marijuana, as well as “uncooperative behavior,” are more problematic than games lighter in tone (for example, “The Simpsons.”
Should Gamers Be Worried?
The game industry is constantly on the defense from allegations that video games inherently cause aggressive behavior among players. Who should we believe – the studies or the gaming community? The problem is that both groups are inherently biased toward one conclusion or another.
Among gamers’ more prevalent reasons for dismissing concerns are the imperfect rating system, such that parents are not held accountable for monitoring their kids’ gaming habits. We’re also prone to remark on the “right to free speech,” as well as the violence constantly seen on television and the news. We’re also keen on defending the positive outcomes of gaming, like improved hand-eye coordination.
But tragedies happen. Parents and other bystanders express concerns about, for example, school shootings – especially if they happen to walk by as a gamer’s avatar is shooting an NPC in the face.
But then there are the obvious exaggerators, like Senator Lamar Alexander saying that “video games are a bigger problem than guns” – with no scientific or statistical backing for this claim.
For critics of the industry and gamers alike, the most important next step is more research. Anecdotal evidence (“My son is addicted to video games so we should all be worried!” or “I play Grand Theft Auto and am not an alcoholic, so there’s no problem”) isn’t enough. To continue the conversation, we need to engage with facts and empathy – not blind accusations.