Over the last twelve years, the video game franchise Call of Duty has sold more than 250 million copies. This means that it is not only the most popular first-person shooter, but also the fifth most popular franchise in all of gaming. According to the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), 9 of the last 12 titles in this series are rated M for Mature. Since 2006, retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, and Target have “enforce[d] store policies not to sell or rent M rated computer and video games to customers under the age of 17 without permission from a parent or guardian.” And in comparison to 1999, in which only 43% of parents used this rating system, a survey conducted in 2015 showed that 71% now check the rating before making a purchase. This shows that over the past decade important steps have been to taken to limit the exposure of violence, language, sexual content and drug usage present in games. But why is this important?
Since the early 1990’s, video games have been a topic of constant controversy. Arguably the most notorious of them all, 1993’s Doom, was one of the first games to receive a M rating. It was not only “condemned by the church for its satanic imagery and diabolic undertones,” (Rowe) but “a former Army Colonel [also] described the game as a ‘mass murder simulator’” (Irvine and Kincaid). Despite this, Doom was reported to have been “installed on more computers around the world than the newly released Microsoft operating system Windows 95” (Crusher). The game would however become much-publicized for a completely different reason. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre, played Doom extensively. In a transcript of their first recorded tape, Eric tells Dylan that the shooting is “going to be like f___ing Doom. Tick, tick, tick, tick… Haa! That f___ing shotgun is straight out of Doom!” This raises the question as to how playing violent games affects the adolescent mind.
At first thought it is easy to dismiss video games as another form of simple consumable entertainment such as movies or music, but I personally think that games are more immersive in the sense that they really do put the player in a character’s shoes. In a first-person shooter similar to that of a Call of Duty or Doom, the game plays out from your perspective. And when playing for hours on end, it has to have an effect on a developing mind, however large or small. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 97% of adolescents ages 12-17 in the United States play some kind of video game. And when “more than 85% of video games on the market contain some form of violence,” (“Resolution on Violent Video Games” 1) it is easy to see how violent games can be prevalent among teenagers. Despite this, it is obvious that not all adolescents who play games that contain violence develop violent tendencies. There are many external factors that may contribute in extreme cases. In a study conducted by Whitney DeCamp, a professor of sociology at Western Michigan University, he says that “Kids who like to play brutal video games may have a predisposition toward aggression.” However this may be, several studies conducted by the APA over the past two decades “have found a direct association between violent video game use and aggressive behavior.” So while it may not necessarily lead to physical violence, it may lead to an increase in aggression and a decrease in “socially desirable behavior such as prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement” (“Resolution on Violent Video Games” 2). These changes in behavioral tendencies are much more present in the long run and are often unpredictable in short run, which leads to variability in studies. While this makes it harder to identify concrete negative repercussions, the APA suggests “that parents take an active interest in and monitor the games played by their children… This simple bit of practical advice — and not an all-out prohibition — may be the best solution” (Scutti).
I personally don’t believe that video games alone form violent tendencies. There are too many externalities to pinpoint games as the sole cause. The environment in which a child or adolescent grows up in has a greater effect on their behaviors. A story my classmate recalled from his childhood supports this idea. “The first game I remember playing that was distinctively violent was Tomb Raider. I probably must have been 10 or 11 at the time. Only once my dad thought I was old enough to handle the cartoonish violence did he allow me to play it.” This mutual understanding between parent and child is very important. My classmate also remembers the first time he played a first-person shooter, “In 6th or 7th grade I played Halo Reach for the first time with some friends. Being something new, I started off by asking my parents for their approval. And only after they did their research and thought that is was okay did I end up playing it.” Now, as a 17 year-old, he plays increasingly violent games such as Grand Theft Auto V and Doom. While he does play a significant amount of games that aren’t violent, he enjoys playing games such as GTA to see the world as a criminal. “For me, violent video games are a way for me to challenge myself and test my reflexes,” he said.