Violence, Addiction, Teaching: The Three Dimensions of Video Games

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Video games over the last few decades have slowly grown into an integral factor for millions and millions of people. Particularly with the advancing technology, video games have become much more expansive, realistic and immersive. This broadening of the capabilities video games have to offer means that it now has to deal with several issues while offering positives at the same time. For years the ongoing debate linking video games to mass violence and murders has waged, especially with video games like Grand Theft Auto.

Many people outside of the video game bubble argue that the violence depicted in video games directly relates to the violence in the streets, while others argue there is no correlation at all. Another big issue is addiction, which is a very under looked aspect to video games. With huge titles like World of Warcraft and Runescape, players have gotten so involved in the game that it has negatively affected their normal lives. Whether it be removing the social aspect with their friends & family, or losing employment it is hard to disagree that video game addiction is a very real thing. However video games are not all negative by any means, the positives far outweigh the bad. Video games provide entertainment, employment and are a huge part of modern society. It also provides the opportunity to aid in the workplace and to provide a more interactive form of learning for disadvantaged people.

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When people think of addictions the first things that come to mind are often drugs and alcohol. Yet with the surge of video gaming over the past couple decades, there has been a new addition to the list of addictions. There are no doubt gamers run the risk of devoting hours upon hours playing a video game, with very little social interaction or other activities. It is like any hobby though, if a person enjoys a particular activity, it is easy to fall into the state of flow and lose track of time. It is a fine line between being anti-social and controlling both your virtual and real life. One of the best examples of video games having a negative addiction is the hugely popular World of Warcraft, which peaked at over 11 million subscribers.

 I was a WoW player who was probably addicted for a very long time. I would wake up early to play and then play it till late and repeat every day. School became second fiddle to WoW, other games never entertained me as much and my social life was most likely damaged as well. It also took its toll financially. Each expansion roughly cost $50, with the monthly subscription tolling at $15 as well as the occasional character transfer or faction change which massed to $25 each. I was among many others who revolved my life around my character life.

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At its worst, the WoW addiction shattered marriages, fractured people’s careers and caused people to miss out on a lot of life activities. A real life example is the unfortunate death of a binge gamer, Chen Rong-yu who was found dead from a suspected cardiac arrested in which he had been involved in a marathon League of Legends session. Dr. Philip Tam, a psychiatrist and President of Network for Internet Investigation and Research in Australia said:

“It is a cliché to state that computing, the Internet and gaming are now ubiquitous elements of daily life for most if not all people, particularly the young. The power and reach of the WWW most probably far exceeds any technology in humanity’s short but eventful history… In many ways, Internet Overuse/ Addiction is the ultimate post-modern affliction for the 21st Century.”

It is true though, while the concept of video game addiction is often shrugged off by gamers, it is something very real and potentially dangerous. As a huge gamer myself I used to think it was all a big farce, but as I got older it became very apparent that games like WoW, LoL and Runescape are perfect examples of potential video game addiction. It follows the traditional patterns that you see in alcoholics or drug abusers: excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance, and negative repercussions which all lead to potentially damaging effects upon an individual. It is a negative factor that comes with video games, and something which is becoming more and more realistic as video gaming evolves.

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After mass shootings recently in Oslo and America, the debate relating shootings to video game violence has heavily increased. Perhaps the most well-known video game to stir controversy with every release is the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto series. As the series has evolved with the advancing technology, it has allowed players to be immersed in a satire reality which mirrors today’s society. The most recent title, Grand Theft Auto V, has depicted this mirrored reality to such an extent that it has created huge waves of criticism towards the game.

Arguably the most debated topic in the game is the use of an interactive torture scene, where a player has to choose from four different tools to torture an NPC for information. It also includes: drugs, violence, sexual acts and just about everything that you can see in modern society. Perhaps the thing which causes such huge outrage is how closely it actually depicts what happens in the world today.

“Since many of the popular video games today contain both stereotypical and aggressive content, it is likely that large amounts of time spent playing video games in general, and aggressive video games in particular, will have a negative effect on adolescents’ social cognitive development, desensitizing them to gender stereotypes and sexualized violence against women in society.” Alexandra Henning

This statement is true to an extent, however if a video game is accused as the sole cause of violence in people, it fails to recognise other hugely influential factors. These types of accusations never seem to grasp the reality that, any normal person with a shred of dignity or care about them can see that these are exactly what they are called, a game. As a gamer, I could never see myself recreating the violence that I see in games, and I never will. Arguably the most influential factor in these cases are mental illnesses, or how the person was brought up.

11999_10151275017886275_629463261_nI would agree that if a child grew up with years and years with violent video games, it could have potentially negative effects on the person. However that issue lies on the parent’s shoulders to teach the child what is wrong and what is right. Video game ratings curb these cases; however they very rarely stop children from playing the actual content. The recent launch of Grand Theft Auto V showed that quite blatantly. Parents just ended up buying them for their kids, and it makes video game ratings largely ineffective. There is no denying that violent video games can produce aggressive thoughts in the short-term, but beyond that, murders which are related to violent video games are almost non-existent.

“Currently, some of the popular video games, such as Grand Theft Auto (GTA), portray and even reward sexualized violence towards women without emphasizing any negative consequences to the perpetrator. Previous research has shown that aggressive behavior increases when violence is perceived as normative and socially approved.” – Alexandra Henning

Again, comments like these raise the idea that video games are a huge factor for real violence. Violence depicted in video games to most gamers are completely fictional with no strings attached. If video games are a huge influence on a person’s crime, the real fault lies either with a mental illness, or the lack of discipline about modern society.

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Video games aren’t all bad though, the positives about the industry are why it is such a huge factor in people’s lives. It provides endless varieties of enjoyment and employment as well as helping those disadvantaged to overcome their problems. Grand Theft Auto V recently reached a landmark which shows how big the industry has become. With a grand budget of over $200 million, it became the most expensive video game ever. It also became the best-selling form of entertainment on release, racking up a huge $1 billion in the first three days of release. MMORPG World of Warcraft reached over 11 million subscribers at its peak, which again shows how worldwide video games have become.

However video games have expanded itself from the entertainment industry, and involved itself in training and learning skills:

“Within the video game, the user must adhere to the set expectations and rules of the environment. The video game provides opportunity for learning relevant content through situated role-play, problem solving and goal attainment.” - Elizabeth Simpson

Having a viable alternative from a classroom environment where a student may struggle to overcome their disadvantages is absolutely vital, which is where video games/simulators can play their part. Particularly when a person has ADHD or an issue similar, they may find it much easier to focus and learn through an interactive medium:

“Approximately 12 percent of children in U.S. schools are labelled as at risk for failure due to a disability that interferes with learning; over 50 percent of those students are labelled as having a specific learning disability. Another 10 to 15 percent of school children are labelled as at risk for failure due to social, cultural, and economic influences which may interfere with their learning. Yet, the vast majority of these children play video games successfully.” – Elizabeth Simpson

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Video games offer a completely different aspect to traditional learning, as they thrust the person into a world where they must react to certain rules and goals. While it can aid those struggling with learning difficulties, video games/simulators can also promote workplace skills – particularly in management. Video games are increasingly becoming involved in the workplace to enhance skills, which they might otherwise lack. Particularly games like World of Warcraft in which the world acts as the training facility, the quests become the conveyed information and the NPC act as trainers in a simulated environment. The video game industry has become so diverse in modern society, that it not only provides huge amounts of entertainment, it has pushed into the realms of teaching and training. It can also aid in cognitive development, which is a vital practice for people like surgeons.

Video games in relation to play have arguably become one of the most diverse forms of play. With that diversity though it brings positive and negative aspects to society. With gaming becoming increasingly realistic through advanced technology, it has opened the doors to addiction and violence. Video games like Grand Theft Auto because such huge controversy because of their realistic depiction of violence, sexual acts and drug use which cause people to point the blame at games in relation to criminal activities. While video games can induce short spans of aggression, there is nothing to prove that it causes people to commit murder – that responsibility typically lies with mental illnesses and how they have been raised. The more realistic aspect is video game addiction.

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While still not thoroughly considered an actual addiction, more people are beginning to see the negative effects of long periods of gaming. Like any addiction, it affects people socially, mentally and financially and has to be taken seriously. On the other end of the spectrum, video gaming has become a pivotal aspect of people’s lives through the form of entertainment. However it has slowly been introduced to aid those with learning difficulties or disabilities. Video games and simulators are also beginning to be enforced into the workplace – particularly management.

Ryan Livingstone is the PC Editor at Analog Addiction. You can also follow him on Twitter, or send him an e-mail at ryan_13_10@hotmail.com.


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One thought on “Violence, Addiction, Teaching: The Three Dimensions of Video Games

  1. I have definitely had my moments with addiction. I think it says more about how I was at the time and not much about the games specifically. I got massively into EVE online for a time and ended up uninstalling due to what I could recognize as a problem. But at that time I had just moved countries, alone. Now that I’m settled into my new home I’m not as compelled to play games and don’t feel as attached.

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