I played GTA IV without going postal in real life

If, like me, you are fed up of the seemingly continual string of easy headliner stories in the red top and serious press alike which blame video games for the increasing problems of violence, aggression and crime in society, then you will probably rather like this posting. You see one Patrick Kierkegaard of the University of Essex has suggested that there is very little evidence that this is the case. His research, published in the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry yesterday, actually found quite the opposite: that there is a real argument to be made for such games reducing real world violence.

The really interesting thing being that his research involved actually reading and analysing all the previous research that had been done on the subject of video games and links to violence, the very same studies that ‘experts’ are quick to call upon and which journalists quote from when screaming for the likes of Grand Theft Auto to be banned. Kierkegaard admits that the GTA effect, where graphical realism is really quite intense, is becoming more important and most gamers look forward to each release precisely because of the violence, the crime and yes even the sexual or drugs related plots. However, there remains a huge difference between visiting a virtual prostitute and a real life one, for a start your crotch is likely to remain much less itchy and no actual women will have been exploited in the process (sits back and awaits angry comments from the bra burning brigade and the manbag men arguing that somehow a pretend prostitute does exactly that) and there remains a huge difference between committing a virtual crime and a real one.

Kierkegaard analysed a wide range of research papers, many of which concluded (at least since the early 1980’s when graphical video games started to get real) that playing violent games can lead to violent behaviour such as fighting at school or even robbery and assault out on the streets. Some studies have even linked aggression related areas of the brain with being stimulated during game play. He argues that violent crime among the young has actually decreased since the early 1990’s while video games have steadily increased. Using US based official crime reporting statistics he argues “with millions of sales of violent games, the world should be seeing an epidemic of violence – instead, violence has declined.”

Perhaps the main point that we should take away from all of this is that while, as Kierkegaard admits, it is quite possible that some video games can have an affect on emotional response, behaviour and attitudes, there is no hard evidence to suggest that they do so to any greater degree than books, television or listening to Radio 2. The truth is that if someone is already predisposed to violent behaviour then any input which triggers an emotional response can trigger that violent behaviour. Should we therefore ban all books, magazines, television and radio in case a couple of nutters might decide to go kill someone because Terry Wogan told them to in a cryptic message?

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