The war over violent video games, raging for decades now, can get as loud and dumb as the games themselves. Media watchdogs, parents’ groups and religious organizations are quick to blame gaming for everything from falling literacy rates to school shootings. Meanwhile the massive gaming industry dodges these accusations with its self-imposed ratings system as its army of hot-headed gamers stubbornly deny any connection whatsoever between gaming and behaviour.
Mention in an online forum that you don’t like your kid slitting the throat of drug kingpins all night when he sleeps over at his friends’ house, and a hundred goons will chastise you for allowing your kid to play what is laughably classified as “Mature” content. One side demonizes the other for corrupting millions of innocents, the other blames its opponents for raising their children poorly. Things can get tense.
The Holy Grail for the anti-gaming lobby is proof. No study has ever proven that virtual violence leads to real violence. Without this smoking gun, nothing changes; each year brings a new moral panic over some disgusting game or another, and each year, gaming’s defenders insist that no kid with decent parents would ever get their hands on said game, and anyhow, it wouldn’t affect them if they did.
Yet level-headed parents have never been too worried about games turning their kids into psycho-killers. What they worry about is that games may turn their kids into jerks. The dead-eye stare of the gaming child, the monotonous digital bloodshed, the time spent away from social interactions in the physical world—you don’t have to be a fundamentalist to worry about those things. Now there is research to support those concerns.
A study in the most recent Journal of Children and Media by Simmons College Communications Professor Edward T. Vieira, Jr., Ph.D. reportedly finds that exposure to violent games can have a negative impact on a kid’s moral development. Lack of sympathy and empathy, stunted moral reasoning and a blasé attitude about violence were found to be common among kids who play lots of violent games.