Dev Talk: Can Violent Video Games Cause Violence IRL? (Part 1)

Hello, and welcome to Dev Talk, a new weekly iFanzine feature in which I ask a panel of indie game developers their opinion on a topic or current hot-button issue related to the games industry.

This week I posed the following question: “The whole debate surrounding violent video games has been rekindled in the wake of the recent tragic spate of school shootings in the US. Do you think there’s any truth to the argument that exposure to violence in video games can lead to violence in real life, or are games being used as a ‘boogeyman’ to distract from other contributing factors?”

Here’s what the devs had to say…

Sam Coster, Butterscotch Shenanigans

Nope. The science on this is clear cut nowadays. Boogeyman it is!

Rami Ismail, Vlambeer

If we are to suggest games can educate, train, and emotionally impact people in ways other medium cannot, we also have to accept our medium can affect people in poignant and significant ways. Luckily, as a medium, we’ve done the science on this: the link between violence and games is currently considered non-existent. The link between school shootings and games is bizarre, as games are played worldwide, and school shootings primarily happen in one Western country. Neither of those truths should stop us from being critical of our creations and their effects, and neither of those should stop us from re-doing or re-validating the science on these frequently.

Steven McDade, Groovy Woovy

I live close to Dunblane in Scotland where a gunman killed 16 primary school children and their teacher so this issue is close to my heart.

As a society we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past and blame ‘pop culture’ for every ill we suffer. Wasn’t The Catcher In The Rye once the ‘boogeyman’ talking to the twisted minds of murderers?

Call of Duty, Battlefield, et al, sell in big numbers in countries where mass killings are unheard of, so violent games can’t be the sole reason for school shootings. I don’t think every gamer is yearning to murder their fellow human beings from playing a video game, a form of entertainment enjoyed by millions of children and adults around the globe. If a politician plays a violent game can we blame that for war?

People know the difference between pretend and real life.

Is this true of everybody? Of course not, but a person who feels motivated to murder others will get the message they need, to justify their actions, from the TV they watch, the books they read, the adverts they consume, the music they listen to, the people they talk to, or the games they play.

We need to look at what is driving young people to commit these heinous crimes, and how they can easily build up an arsenal of weapons. Does anybody really believe that this is as simple as looking at their video game collection?

Megan Fox, Glass Bottom Games

The research conducted multiple decades ago already conclusively showed there’s no link to anything but short term aggression, so, no, there is no truth to that argument. It’s a matter of historical fact at this point.

Jinn Karlsson, Pastille Games

I think the big problem is the gap between people who play video games and the people who don’t. I work part-time at a video game store and I see it every day, the disconnect between parents and their child’s interests. It’s hard for parents to keep up with everything new. But if I could make a wish it would be that more families played together. I don’t believe that video games make you a violent person, but that doesn’t mean your child should be playing games that are made for adults.

The same gap exists higher up. When an “outsider” who never plays sees an explicit video game and thinks that is what all kids are playing, it’s like watching a horror movie and thinking that is what all kids must be watching on the TV. It doesn’t make sense to us because we know there are many nuances in games. Like that person knows there is in movies.

We at Pastille made a choice to only make fun, colorful games that work for everyone in the family, we want to make video games a normal part of every household. Show people that games, just like movies, can be anything and everything.

Rob Green, FixedUpdate Ltd

I think any activity we can invest ourselves in can have an impact on us so it would be silly to say the statement doesn’t have any truth. But it isn’t something that the blame can rest on, this has to do with the attitude and mentality of the player.

You can read stories of how someone one day snapped after losing a game of FIFA and killed their parents, friends or whoever, but then I (and millions of other people) can play the “No Russian” mission on Call of Duty and have no wish to step into an airport with an automatic rifle. The violence in the game isn’t the trigger, it’s the mindset of those behind the controller.

I think the problem lies much deeper this, children’s upbringing and a certain society’s attitude to military weapons being the ones off the top of my head. If video games were the cause then the world *not just America* would see many many more of these horrible acts of violence.

Jaakko Maaniemi, 10tons Ltd

It’s a tired old conversation, right? Personally, I think the questions are placed quite wrong most of the time. Firstly, imitating is a major way for people to learn, especially for young people. So yes, seeing violence in violent games or other media does probably give ideas about executing violence.

I can see this in my five year old son who watches cartoons and plays Lego Marvel Super Heroes and stuff. He’s got his Hulkbuster Iron Man fantasies going on when he’s playing with others, and it’s not unclear where he got the ideas from. Sometimes it gets more rough that it should. The point is, he would have got the violent behaviour examples from somewhere anyway, just like everyone does, and he needs to learn that stuff that’s OK in games is not OK in real life, just like everyone does. This is how kids grow up. The connection from violence in entertainment products to committing real life violence at later age probably only survives when there are some other, significant issues at play, such as generally negligent upbringing or some mental health issues. And I must stress that the individuals who suffer from these kinds of conditions, in severe enough way to being unable to control themselves in most situations, probably represent a tiny fraction of overall population.

So surely the solution is not to ban or censor massive amounts of entertainment due to issues stemming from a tiny minority, especially as the entertainment in question isn’t the only or even primary factor. Also we’d need to look at all the positives of violence in entertainment products as well in conjunction of potential negatives. This part of the conversation just isn’t there.

Secondly, when it comes to president Trump, it’s well known that his main method of managing problems is to shift the conversation to something else, to find a scapegoat. He’s been doing that since forever, and bringing up games after mass shootings is just the latest example of doing exactly that.

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