A. Thesis Statement
You are what you watch. Easy to say, and not too difficult to imagine either. A little over a decade ago, two boys who later became household names in America, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Colorado and went on a mass murdering spree where they killed 12 students, 1 teacher and injured 23 others before shooting themselves (Anderson & Dill, 2008). While their motives behind doing so cannot be ascertained, one possible contributing element which did surface was the influence of violent video games. At the risk of oversimplifying what is possibly a complex psychological minefield, Harris and Klebold did enjoy playing a game called Doom, which is licensed by the American military for the purpose of training soldiers to kill effectively.
Harris had customized his own version of this game and put it up on his website, which was later tracked by The Simon Wisenthal Center (Anderson & Dill, 2008). This version of the game had two shooters with an unlimited supply of weapons and ammunition, and their targets lacked the ability to retaliate. A class project required them to make a video of themselves similar to the game, and in it, they dressed in trench coats, armed with weapons, and conduct the massacre of school athletes. Less than one year had gone by when Harris and Klebold played their videotape out, in real life, and became the protagonists of the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history (Anderson & Dill, 2008).
II. Body paragraph #1
There is nothing new about the presence of violence in our tools of entertainment. Whether they were ancient Greek dramas, theatre in the Elizabethan era or the modern electronic dramas of today, a healthy dose of violence was never missing. In Macbeth for instance, Shakespeare showed Macbeth’s head being brought on stage at the end of the play (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). The Great Train Robbery, an 11-minute film directed by Edwin S. Porter was the first firm considered to tell a story in a systematic manner. In one scene, he shows an intense scene where a cowboy fires a pistol directly at the camera, which when first showed to audiences, had them running out of the theaters in disarray and fear (Bushman & Anderson, 2001).
A. Since the advent of media itself, there have been countless studies on the connection between depiction of violence in media and its occurrence in real life.
B. Discussions, debates, conclusions and grey areas have all been further examined and while television is the most prominent target of accusations, comic books, jazz, rock and roll music and video games have not escaped blame either.
C. Research on this topic started as early as the 1960s when television was a recent entrant in the media fray and a causal connection has been derived between media violence and aggressive behavior.
III. Body paragraph #2
Opponents fuss over the definition and measurement of media violence, does actual physical bodily harm constitute violence or can a threatening statement also be deemed so? Then, does media violence cause aggression, or are the two simply associated? Consistency of the relationship also causes doubts over agreed upon data when the example of Japan is quoted, where violent media is extremely common, yet crime rates are significantly low (Anderson & Dill, 2008). Then is media solely to blame for violence in society? Doesn’t that take the blame away from a lot of other contributing factors in society itself and make the argument generally unrealistic?
A. All these issues and thorny areas can be settled by the simple logic of the social learning theory which proposes that when people see that a certain behavior causes positive or desired results, there is a high probability of them imitating and enacting that behavior (in this case, violent) themselves (Anderson & Dill, 2008).
B. So while the strength of the relationship and the presence of other factors and the measurement of violence itself can be debated till the end of time, the fact remains, when children view aggressive behavior and violence in cartoons, video games, movies, as well as on the internet, it encourages similar tendencies in them and these children are more likely to be aggressive as children and later as adults.
C. Research started as early as 1956 when researchers analyzed and compared the behavior of 24 children, half of whom had watched an episode of the cartoon Woody Woodpecker with distinct depictions of aggressive behavior, while the other half were exposed to the cartoon The Little Red Hen which did not depict any violence at all (Huesmann. 2003).
IV. Body paragraph #3
Studies have also shown that the kind of violence which affects their psyche and causes them to model their behavior as depicted in media is when they can associate real life with the situation depicted, because they can identify with the character responsible for the violence and observe him/her/it getting rewarded for the violence.
A. Research conducted by Boyatzis, Matillo and Nesbit (Gunter & McAleer, 1997) proved earlier theories about media violence getting encoded in the cognitive map of viewers and subsequently instigating violent thoughts and acts upon repeated viewings.
B. The popular children’s series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was used to prove that after watching a single episode from this show, children incorporated more aggression into their play with other children.
C. Results showed that children who had seen the episode became significantly more aggressive at play the following day as compared to the children from the control group:
V. Body paragraph #4
TV is not the sole culprit in this regard. Other mediums and tools of entertainment have an equal role to play. In “Effects of Video Games on Aggressive Thoughts and Behaviors During Development”, Koojimans (2004) explains the General Aggression Model – the name coined for the phenomenon which explains how video games and their depictions of violence influence people and make them more susceptible of indulging in violent behavior themselves. This model elaborates on how various situational and personological factors combine to influence a person’s internal state which includes his thoughts, feelings and physical arousals (Koojimans, 2004).
A. Research conducted on video games by Nicoll and Kieffer, presented to the American Psychological Association as “Violence in Video Games: A Review of the Empirical Research” found that youth upon playing a violent video game, if only for a short while, displayed more aggressive behavior than before (Nicoll & Kieffer, 2005).
B. Another study was conducted with more than 600 students of 8th and 9th grade as participants and showed that children who played more video games also had more of a tendency to get involved in arguments with their seniors and other teachers, and they would also be more likely to get into physical rows with their peers (Nicoll & Kieffer, 2005).
C. Not only that but it was also found that children who spent more time watching video games imitate the characters they acted out in the video game
and their moves while playing with their friends.
The plethora of research knowledge available about the effects of violence in the media definitely supports initial concerns about media violence as well as the efforts to control its harmful effects. While causality can be debated till time eternal, what can’t be denied and what should absolutely not be brushed under the carpet for any longer is that a steady diet of violence does in fact instigate violent tendencies in viewers, be it through violent television programs, movies, cartoons, video games or any other forms of entertainment which incorporate violence in various forms.
Media today plays a key role in nourishing children’s minds, and for the larger case of public health and societal betterment, we need to ensure that we provide more nourishing fare for our children and youth. Reducing their exposure to violent media is definitely the first step in the right direction, with the potential to yield positive benefits. An intervention is needed before we start reaping the seeds of aggression and rebellion that have been planted in young minds owing to careless media policies.
Anderson, Craig and Karen Dill. “Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78 (2008): 772-790.
Bushman, Brad and Craig Anderson. “Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Fact Versus Media Misinformation” American Psychologist 56 (2001): 477-489.
Gunter, Barry and Jill McAleer. Children and Television (second edition), Routledge: London, 1997.
Huesmann, L. Rowell, Jessica Moise-Titus, Cheryll-Lynn Podolski, and Leonard Eron. “Longitudinal Relations between Children’s Exposure to TV Violence and
their Aggressive and Violent Behavior in Young Adulthood: 1977-1992.” Developmental Psychology 39 (2003): 201-221.
Kooijmans, Thomas. “Effects of Video Games on Aggressive Thoughts and Behaviors During Development”. Rochester Institute of Technology. 2004
Nicoll, Jessica and Kevin M. Kieffer. “Violence in Video Games: A Review of the Empirical Research.” Presentation to the American Psychological Association, August 2005.