Cause and effect. Violent games and violent actions.

If I crash my mountain bike and get hurt, the basic cause (crash) and effect (hurt) relationship is pretty obvious. But what if I told you that it was Sean’s fault that I fell off in the first place? What if I told you that my crash was a direct result of trying to beat Sean at the next Colville Connection? You’d say that was unfair, but there is some logic in that statement.  Any competitive situation pushes you to train a little harder, which increases the chance of accidents. Sean contributed to my crash.

People often blame technology for things where no clear causal relationship can be established. One of the most interesting is the assertion that violent games make people violent.  In fact, for a while, every crime seemed to be linked to Grand Theft Auto. It was widely reported that Anders Breivik played first person shooters. Ipso facto, violent games make people violent.

However, the statement “violent games make people violent” is not true. Or at least, it is not scientifically true. There is no proof that definitively links the playing of violent video games to violent actions.

Equally, I cannot say that the opposite is true – because a lack of proof doesn’t prove the opposite. People who say it can’t be true as violence hasn’t increased with the growth in playing violent video games are being too simplistic. Society isn’t a controlled experiment.  It is plausible that other factors are causing a fall in violent crime which is countered by video games. And don’t get me started on how pointless the I play those games and don’t get violent “evidence” is. The theory is not that all violent video games make all people more violent.

For any unproven theory, the weight of evidence either supports or opposes it. There is evidence supporting the violent games create violence theory. There is evidence that players of violent games show increased aggression in the aftermath of playing. We also know that our emotional response to violence changes due to desensitisation. There isn’t enough evidence to say that violent games causes aggressive behaviour – but there is some evidence that suggests in might increase it, in some circumstances.

For now it is safe to say there is no proven relationship, but there are indications that games can influence behaviour. With that in mind, the games classification system provides a logical approach.

Whatever the alleged causal relationship – whether it be violent games and violent behaviour, pornography and changed sexual attitudes, or social networking and social isolation – its best to keep an open mind. After all, there was a time when there was no established causal link between smoking and adverse health effects.

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