Exploring violence in games

Virtually Free is breaking the barriers between therapy and video games, so we’re always exploring how videogame mechanics can trigger different behaviours. The effects of violence in videogames is a popular and heavily debated topic. However, in the wake of recent tragedies in Paris and the release of controversial mass murder game Hatred on Steam, we turn our attention to violent video games and their behavioural implications on players.

Polish developer Destructive Creation’s game Hatred an isometric action game about a suicidal mass murderer mercilessly slaughtering civilians. Naturally, the project drew a lot of controversy, which seemed to be the point. Upon its release last month it was taken down from Steam Greenlight. With over 1300 comments appearing on its Greenlight listing in its first few hours, Hatred is certainly getting a lot of people’s attention. Some of it is weary of the game's discomforting ultra violence aimed at innocent bystanders, while others support the developer's desire to make the game it wants to make. Despite its controversial origins, what impact do ultra-violent games like Hatred have on it’s players?

Pre-orders of Call of Duty Black Ops 2 received a free gun.

Pre-orders of Call of Duty Black Ops 2 received a free gun.

A recent study performed by Brock University using pupils from seven schools in Ontario, determined that an over-exposure to violent games (more than three hours every day) correlated to a weakened empathy for others and a “positive sense of what is right and wrong."

This study's conclusions (and similar studies) are usually adopted by critics when the behavioural effects of violent video games is presented in the media. 
However, the reverse could be argued: that children with low empathy have a tendency to overplay violent video games. In fact,  in the same month results from a long-term study (1990-2014) by Stetson University in Florida showed no significant relationship between homicide rates and depictions of violence in video games.  The study concluded that playing video games coincided with a fall in violent crime perpetrated by those in the 12-17 age group.

The research paper also questions the validity of previous studies into links between real-life and screened violence, which have largely relied on laboratory testing. The ways in which aggressive behaviours have been explored and measured in the past, with test subjects playing short clips of violent content and then carrying out specified activities, may well have led to results which have little relevance outside of the laboratory environment.

The BBC report that 97% of today's teens in the U.S. play video games. However, the youth crime rate has been dropping year-on-year. We are not suggesting videogames reduce the risk of serious crimes; there are other changes in society that are probably responsible for that. However, if violent videogames significantly increased the risk of violence we would not expect to see a fall in the rate of violent youth crime rate as videogame adoption climbs. 

Internet commentators would agree: violence has been around a lot longer than video games. There is a risk that identifying the wrong problem, such as videogame violence, may distract society from more pressing concerns such as poverty, education and mental health.

Demetri Martin.

Demetri Martin.