For a second, I thought about naming this article “Imagination vs. Insanity” because that’s honestly more the debate here than Video Games and Violence.
Even before video games, imagination of any kind has been contributed to acts of aggression or uncouth behavior. For instance, a popular table-top game, Dungeons and Dragons had some huge legal issues concerning its players displaying patterns of aggressive behavior beyond what’s considered the norm.
But imagination can go too far. Picturing being an astronaut and furthering humanity’s space adventures is one thing, but picturing murdering someone might be cause for concern.
To be clear: the question is less “Do video games make someone violent?” and more “Is escaping reality always unhealthy?”
Earlier today, The Verge wrote an article about two 12-year-olds claiming that they were told by a Slenderman meme to stab their friend 19 times to gain passage to his mansion.
Although these children clearly had mental issues worth concern, there may be something to take from this situation.
Aggression is a broad term, it can mean hurtful whispers in some circumstances, and in others, fully-automatic firearms, and in that spectrum, video games do have many players that demonstrate these behaviors.
I’m sure we’ve all been part of a first person shooter where a kid (likely elementary or middle-school age) is running his mouth off with obscenities and profanities (some of which we may have never even heard of), but as gamers, we come for the game.
This behavior–even in our own community–is frowned upon, and tends to be met with quite a lot of virtual killing. The important thing to remark here, is that the child didn’t learn this aggression in the game, they brought it to the game, and were frankly ostracized for it.
Recently, two League of Legends professional players were banned for having “extremely toxic” behavior (Polygon’s article on that here).
Many psychological tests have been done on the effects gaming has on individuals, and most of it is positive. Greater hand-eye coordination, optimized response time, practical decision making, and more. What these tests have also found is that individuals who are psychologically disturbed or have previous tendencies towards aggression are attracted to games that can be used as a more healthy outlet for that aggression.
Rage-quitting after breaking a controller is probably better than stabbing a 12-year-old girl.
So do video games cause violence? No. Do video games or video gaming environments encourage violence? Again, no. There are however individuals that are drawn to a gaming environment based on their previously violent behavior.
In response to the Slenderman case, Creepypasta (where the meme was found) spokesperson said it well: “There is a line of between fiction and reality, and it is up to you to realize where the line is.”