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Video games have been taking the flak for the surprising rise in teen and childhood violence over the past few decades. Everything, from the increase of guns among inner city kids to the Columbine tragedy, have been blamed on video games. Some US Senators have even attempted to have the entire industry banned based on the ‘fact’ that video games turn kids into violent, amoral, sadistic monsters. However, these moralist crusaders tend to ignore the other potential factors in such a ‘transformation.’ What is not often discussed about this issue is the possibility of parental neglect and the predisposition of some children to violence even prior to being exposed to video games. Some studies are now being conducted to determine how video games affect a person’s mental health, in the hope of getting to the bottom of this ‘video game debate’ once and for all.
While research is always necessary, there is always the possibility that the results of these studies would be too generalized. For starters, like literature, video games have different genres, with each genre having a separate set of core elements that define how the game is played. For example, the role-playing game (RPG) genre is traditionally focused on developing a long, continuous plot, hoping to ascend from being a mere game to becoming a sort of emotional investment. In contrast, action games rely more on a fast trigger-finger and quick thinking, with little or no attention given to how the plot or characters develop. Both genres of games can have completely different effects on a person’s mental health, if there is even any effect at all. Sure, playing a dating simulator or a ‘visual novel’ can have some effect on how a person deals with social situations. However, these games do not automatically turn players into sociopaths like Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper.
Violent video games, according to recent studies, can actually have other uses. In a study conducted by the University of Southern California, environmental simulations are being used to treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. This is done by ironically immersing them in the same combat environment they came from. While the data as of now is not yet complete, it does reflect that it is actually helping them cope with combat stress, and not twisting their mental health. This actually keys in to what video game players have been saying for decades, which is that video games make for excellent stress relief.
Indeed, in contrast to the sales numbers, very few violent incidents have been blamed entirely in video games. There is no concrete study that has been conducted into it, but the anecdotal evidence of countless gamers the world over can attest to just how good a stress relief tool for a person. Yes, there will always be some who will have their mental health affected by playing a video game, but it would be far too simple and far too easy to make a scapegoat of a massive, global industry that makes billions every year. This is especially true when one considers that not all games are violent, and not all of them encourage causing mass destruction and mayhem. Yes, violence sells games, but blood and gore do not a hit game make. For example, the ‘Final Fantasy’ and ‘Mario’ series of games have both set and broken sales records in the past, but neither of them espouse the same level of violence as ‘Grand Theft Auto’ or ‘Resident Evil.’
Whether video games are a modern form of stress relief or a tool for twisting someone’s mental health will likely always be a subject of debate. However, the debate always tends to ignore other factors, such as how the games ended up in the hands of children in the first place. It is illegal to sell a game with an ‘M’ rating to someone below 18, which means that unless the parent or a similar authority figure bought it for them, there is no way a child can get their hands on the game. Yes, there are those flashy and violent arcade games, but if a child is spending hours on end in an arcade, doesn’t that imply just a little bit of parental neglect? Besides, peer pressure and parental influences can often have a more powerful effect on a child’s mental health and social development than whatever was playing on the X-Box 360.