When tragedy strikes we humans always look for someone or something to lay blame on. It’s part of our grieving process, done so we can struggle with the enormity of the situation that has been presented to us. It’s also an emotional time and this has the unfortunate side effect of clouding our usually rational minds, possibly leading us astray in our search for understanding. One such topic that has always managed to get muddled in with the emotional blame game is the effect that violent video games have on both children and adults. The recent events in Oslo have brought this topic back to the front of everyone’s minds and it would seem that the debate has begun raging once again.
The general sentiment amongst the public seems to be that violent video games do adversely affect children in some way. As a child growing up in a world that thought this I was often barred from playing games that involved killing human or human looking creatures. I wasn’t alone in this respect either, with many of my friends relying on their older siblings to gain access to this banned material. Still none of my friends have grown up to be violent individuals so at least anecdotally it would seem that there’s no real substance to the general public’s sentiment on violent video games.
Still there have been so many incidents where the two have been linked that it’s warranted further investigation. There have been many direct studies and meta-analysis done on the subject and the results don’t provide any evidence for a strong link between violent video games and violent tendencies. There is some evidence to suggest that there might be some short term effects but the evidence to the contrary of that conclusion is strong enough to warrant further analysis before drawing conclusions. Scientifically then it would seem that the idea that violent video games breed violent children and adults simply does not hold up to scrutiny and should be taken as such.
It was at this point that I was going to go on a long tirade against all the major news publications for their portrayal of games in the media when it comes to tragic events, quoting various articles and debunking their points with copious amounts of links and evidence. I sifted through dozens of news articles on the subject, cherry picking out the ones that mentioned video games and pouring over them. What I found was a trend the likes of which I hadn’t seen before, most of the big media sites were running articles that would usually only mention the video games in passing not even attempting to make a tenuous link between violent games and real world violent behaviour.
There are of course some notable exceptions (with the ACL chiming in during SMH’s article) but overall the coverage of the Oslo incidents lay the blame squarely at the perpetrator and not at video games. It seems that finally after decades of video games being the punching bag for all sorts of societal problems the media, and thus the general public, are coming around to the idea that video games aren’t the murder simulators they were once made out to be. It’s a sign that the gaming industry has finally started to be taken seriously by the wider public (mostly because we make up a much greater percentage of the population than we used to) and this means we can finally have rational discussion on the real impacts of gaming on our society, rather than the emotionally charged blame games we’ve had until now.
Gaming is and always be a big part of my life and it has always pained me to see how ignorant the general public was being about how those games were affecting both children and adults. The Oslo terrorist attack, whilst an unforgivable tragedy, has shown that perhaps we as a society have begun to turn the corner on the violent video games issue. With a R18+ rating on its way for Australia the evidence is mounting that we’re beginning to accept games as a real medium for expression that’s appropriate for both adults and children alike. The future will bring us conclusive evidence as to the real affects that games have on our society and we can look back on the emotional debates as simply part of the medium maturing, hopefully as a fading memory.