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Similar to other forms of media, video games have been the subject of argument between leading professionals and restriction and prohibition. Often these bouts of criticism come from use of debated topics such as video game graphic violence, virtual sex, violent and gory scenes, partial or full nudity, portrayal of criminal behavior or other provocative and objectionable material, particularly since video games are primarily aimed and marketed for children and young adults.[citation needed] Video games have also been studied for links to addiction and aggression. Several studies have found that video games do not contribute to these problems.Furthermore several groups have argued that there are few if any scientifically proven studies to back up these claims, and that the video game industry has become an easy target for the media to blame for many modern day problems.[1][2][3] Furthermore, numerous researchers have proposed potential positive effects of video games on aspects of social and cognitive development and psychological well-being.[4]


Controversial topics


In psychology, aggression refers to any behavior that demonstrates a malicious intent to cause harm. There are three types of aggression, measured along a mild-to-violent severity continuum: physical, verbal, and relational. Violence refers to physical aggression of which the victim is likely to suffer serious physical injury. However, the general public uses these terms in broader ways than researchers and such "differences in usage lead to much confusion between aggression scientists, public policymakers, and the general public. "Sexual" refers to content with nudity and virtual intercourse, themes, and some humor.[5]



Although proponents of video games have argued that most players are adults, with the average age at 35 years,[6] only one-third of players are adults; however, the adult demographic is the fastest-growing segment of the American video-game market. Nearly all American youth, aged 8 to 18, are exposed to video games. Confusion about, and the resulting misuse of, the average-age statistic is due to the fact that there are more adults, which skews the statistic older.[5]


While nearly half of players are female,[6] a 1998 study conducted at the University of Central Florida found that of the 33 games sampled, 41% do not feature female characters, 28% portrayed women as sex objects, 21% depicted violence against women, 98% depicted violence against men, and 30% did not represent the female population at all. Furthermore, characterizations of women tended to be stereotypical: highly sexualized ("visions of beauty with large breasts and thin hips"), male dependent ("victim or as the proverbial 'Damsel in Distress'"), opposed ("evil or as obstacles to the goal of the game"), and trivial ("females depicted [...] in fairly non-significant roles").[7]

Crime and violence

One of the most common criticisms of video games are that they allegedly increase violent tendencies among youth.[8][9][10] However, several major studies by groups such as The Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health, The Journal of Adolescent Health, and The British Medical Journal have shown no conclusive link between video game usage and violent activity."[11][12][13] One study did find an increase in reports of bullying, noting, "Our research found that certain patterns of video game play were much more likely to be associated with these types of behavioral problems than with major violent crime such as school shootings.[11][12] One of the first widely accepted controversial video games was developer Exidy's 1976 title Death Race, in which players controlled cars that ran over pixelated representations of "gremlins". The game caused such an outcry that it was pulled from store shelves and profiled on 60 Minutes. Long Island PTA president Ronnie Lamm pushed for legislation in the early 1980s to place restrictions on how close video game arcades could be to schools, asserting that they caused children to fight.[14] Portrayals of violence allegedly became more realistic with time, and so politicians such as U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman conducted hearings during the 1990s regarding what he referred to as "violent video games" which, in his opinion, included such games as Mortal Kombat. His sentiments have been echoed by certain researchers, such as Dr. Craig A. Anderson who testified before the Senate, "Some studies have yielded nonsignificant video game effects, just as some smoking studies failed to find a significant link to lung cancer. But when one combines all relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques it shows that violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social (helping) behavior."[15] Anderson himself was later criticized in a 2005 video game court case for failing to cite research that differed from his view.[16] Much of the research has been criticized for overstating effects, ignoring negative results and using unstandardized and unreliable measures of aggression.[17]

Disbarred attorney Jack Thompson has filed lawsuits against the makers of violent games, alleging the simulated violence causes real-world violence.

An example of video game controversy Grand Theft Auto: Vice City came under similar criticism, also for implying allegedly racist hate crimes: The game, taking place in "Vice City" (a fictional Miami) in 1986, involves a gang war between Haitians and Cuban refugees, and the player often serves both gangs to plot against one another. Haitian and Cuban anti-defamation groups highly criticized the game for these actions, including using phrases such as "kill the Haitian dickheads" (a phrase used in the game, actually referring to the Haitian gang with which the character is having a shoot-out). After the threat of being sued by the Haitian-American Coalition, Rockstar removed the word "Haitians" from this phrase in the game's subtitles.

Lt. Col. David Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, has written several books that pertain to the subject of violence in the media, including On Killing and Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. During heights of video game controversy he has been interviewed on the content of his books, and has repeatedly used the term "murder simulator" to describe first-person shooter games. He argues that video game publishers unethically train children in the use of weapons and, more importantly, harden them emotionally to the act of murder by simulating the killing of hundreds or thousands of opponents in a single typical video game.

A study by Craig A. Anderson et al. says "The 14-year-old boy arguing that he has played violent video games for years and has not ever killed anybody is absolutely correct in rejecting the extreme “necessary and sufficient” position, as is the 45-year-old two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker who notes that he still does not have lung cancer. But both are wrong in inferring that their exposure to their respective risk factors (violent media, cigarettes) has not causally increased the likelihood that they and people around them will one day suffer the consequences of that risky behavior."[18][19]

Other studies, however, reach the conclusion that violence in video games is not causally linked with aggressive tendencies. This was the conclusion of a 1999 study by the U.S. government, prompting Surgeon General David Satcher to say, "We clearly associate media violence to aggressive behavior. But the impact was very small compared to other things. Some may not be happy with that, but that’s where the science is."[20] A meta-analysis by psychologist Jonathan Freedman, who reviewed over 200 published studies and found that the "vast and overwhelming majority" did not find a causal link, also reached this conclusion.[21] A US Secret Service study found that only 12% of those involved in school shootings were attracted to violent video games, while 24% read violent books and 27% were attracted to violent films.[22] An Australian study found that only children already predisposed to violence were affected by violent games.[23]

In Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, researchers/authors Lawrence Kutner, PhD, and Cheryl K. Olson, ScD, refute claims of violent behavior increase caused by violent video games. The researchers' study shows that adolescents that don't play video games at all are most at-risk for violent behavior (but without statistical significance), claiming that video game play is part of an adolescent boy's normal social setting. However, they do not completely deny violent (M-rated) video games' negative influences on pre-teens and teenagers.[24][25]

It is also worth noting that violent crime rates in the USA have declined dramatically since the early 1990s, among both juveniles[26] and adults,[27][28] even as sales of violent video games exploded and such games became increasingly graphic over time.[29]

Biological links to aggressive behavior

Some researchers believe that while playing violent video games leads to violent actions, there are also biological influences that impact a person's choices. According to Sean P. Neubert of Rochester Institute of Technology, a person who is biologically predisposed to aggression will be more strongly influenced by violent scenes and thus will have a greater risk for carrying out destructive actions. For example someone with Antisocial personality disorder, like Charles Manson, has a greater risk of going out and shooting someone after playing hours of Grand Theft Auto or a game of a similar nature. By exposing someone to violence who is already predisposed to lack a sense of judgment and be reclusive is like turning on a switch and giving them the fuel to go out and perform dangerous acts of violence on themselves and others around them. [1]

Sexual themes

Sexual themes in video games are much less tolerated than violent themes. An example of such a controversy can be seen in the Hot Coffee controversy: in June 2005, an entire portion of unused code for an interactive sex minigame was found within the main script of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The game could be accessed in the PC version via a mod, and through Action Replay codes in the PS2 and Xbox versions.[30] The fact that the scene was left on the disc and could be accessed by altering a few bytes of the game's code via a hex editor prompted the ESRB to change the rating of San Andreas to "Adults Only" on July 20, 2005. The game was pulled from many stores; Rockstar Games posted a loss of $280.8 million that quarter.[citation needed]

Almost no North American video games display full frontal nudity (with the exception of Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned[31]). Sexual themes are more common in some Japanese PC games, but console companies such as Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony do not license adult only content games for their systems. One exception is the game 'The Witcher' there is full frontal nudity present in the form of cards that the player receives after completing 'sexual conquests'; this nudity is also found in the depiction of the game's dryad.

In 2006, Illusion released RapeLay, in which a rapist stalks and rapes a mother and her two underage daughters. It featured a realistic sexual simulator which allows the player to grope and undress the characters on a crowded train. Later, the player may have forced intercourse (they are tied up or handcuffed) with all three women at player's leisure. The player has a variety of sexual positions to choose from such as reverse cowgirl, forced fellatio (irrumatio), and threesomes. It has been subject to recent controversy in 2009 when feminist group 'Equality Now' put it under public scrutiny.[citation needed]

Social development

Over two hundred studies have been published which examine the effects of violence in entertainment media and which at least partially focus on violence in video games in particular. Some psychological studies[32] have shown a correlation between children playing violent video games and suffering psychological effects, though the vast majority stop short of claiming behavioral causation.

The American Psychological Association summarizes the issue as "Psychological research confirms that violent video games can increase children's aggression, but that parents moderate the negative effects."[33] Craig A. Anderson has testified before the U.S. Senate on the issue, and his meta-analysis of these studies has shown five consistent effects: "increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social (helping) behavior".[34] Nevertheless, some studies explicitly deny that such a connection exists, most notably Anderson and Ford (1986), Winkel et al. (1987), Scott (1995), Ballard and Lineberger (1999), and Jonathan Freedman (2002).[35] More recently, Block and Crain (2007) claim that in a critical paper by Anderson (and his co-author, Bushman), data was improperly calculated and produced fallacious results.[36]

After conducting a two-year study of more than 1,200 middle school children about their attitudes towards video games, Harvard Medical School researchers Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson found that playing video games did not have a particularly negative effect on the researched group.[37]

The portrayal of race in video games has also recently become an issue, seen in games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, and Def Jam: Fight for NY. In 2009, the issue of race emerged with the release of Resident Evil 5, which has the player kill numerous African zombies, resulting in arguments from both sides of the issue. Supporters of Resident Evil 5 argued however that to censor the portrayal of black antagonists was discrimination in itself, and hence the issue was dropped quickly.[38] These and other games demonstrate an interesting trend towards the increased presence of racial differences in video games. Indeed, it is true that “Significantly, these games, and particularly their questionable claims of authenticity, establish compelling learning environments that help facilitate how young gamers develop their knowledge of and familiarity with popular views of race and urban culture.”[39]


Video game addiction is excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games that interferes with daily life. Incidents have been reported in which users play compulsively, isolating themselves from, or from other forms of, social contact and focusing almost entirely on in-game achievements rather than broader life events.[40][41]

Publicized incidents

Several incidents speculated to be related to video games in recent decades have helped fuel controversy.

  • On April 20, 1999, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher in the Columbine High School massacre. The two were allegedly obsessed with the video game Doom. Harris also created WADs for the game, and created a large mod named "Tier" which he called his "life's work". Contrary to certain rumors, however, neither student had made a Doom level mimicking the school's layout, and there is no evidence the pair practiced the massacre in Doom.[42]
  • On April 2000, 16-year-old Spanish teenager José Rabadán Pardo murdered his father, mother and his sister with a katana, proclaiming that he was on an "avenging mission" by Squall Leonhart, a character in the video game Final Fantasy VIII.[43][44]
  • In November 2001, 21-year-old American Shawn Woolley committed suicide after what his mother claimed was an addiction to EverQuest. Woolley's mother stated, "I think the way the game is written is that when you first start playing it, it is fun, and you make great accomplishments. And then the further you get into it, the higher level you get, the longer you have to stay on it to move onward, and then it isn't fun anymore. But by then you're addicted, and you can't leave it."[45]
  • In February 2003, 16-year-old American Dustin Lynch was charged with aggravated murder and made an insanity defense that he was "obsessed" with Grand Theft Auto III. Long time video game opponent and former attorney Jack Thompson encouraged the father of victim JoLynn Mishne to pass a note to the judge that said "the attorneys had better tell the jury about the violent video game that trained this kid [and] showed him how to kill our daughter, JoLynn. If they don't, I will."[46] Lynch later retracted his insanity plea, and his mother Jerrilyn Thomas commented, "It has nothing to do with video games or Paxil, and my son's no murderer."[47]
  • On June 7, 2003, 18-year-old American Devin Moore shot and killed two policemen and a dispatcher after grabbing one of the officers' weapons following an arrest for the possession of a stolen vehicle. At trial, the defense claimed that Moore had been inspired by the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.[48]
  • On June 25, 2003, two American step brothers, Joshua and William Buckner, aged 14 and 16, respectively, used a rifle to fire at vehicles on Interstate 40 in Tennessee, killing a 45-year-old man and wounding a 19-year-old woman. The two shooters told investigators they had been inspired by Grand Theft Auto III.[49]
  • On February 27, 2004 in Leicester, UK, 17-year-old Warren Leblanc lured 14-year-old Stefan Pakeerah into a park and murdered him by stabbing him repeatedly with a claw hammer and knife. Leblanc was reportedly obsessed with Manhunt, although investigation quickly revealed that the killer did not even own a copy of the game. The victim's mother Giselle Pakeerah has been campaigning against violent video games in the UK ever since.[50] The police investigating the case have dismissed any link, as discussed in the relevant articles.
  • In October 2004, a 41-year-old Chinese man named Qiu Chengwei stabbed 26-year-old Zhu Caoyuan to death over a dispute regarding the sale of a virtual weapon the two had jointly won in the game The Legend of Mir 3.[51]
  • On December 27, 2004, 13-year-old Xiao Yi committed suicide by jumping from a twenty-four story building in Tianjin, China, as a result of the effects of his addiction, hoping to be "reunited" with his fellow gamers in the afterlife, according to his suicide notes. Prior to his death, he had played 36 consecutive hours playing Warcraft III.[52][53]
  • In August 2005, 28-year-old South Korean Lee Seung Seop died after playing StarCraft for 50 hours straight.[54]
  • Controversy of speeding and evading the authority in racing games surfaced when a copy of Need for Speed: Most Wanted was found on one of the street racers' car in Toronto in January 19, 2006, when two 18-year-olds, Alexander Ryazanov and Wang-Piao Dumani Rossracers, were involved in an accident resulting the death of taxi-driver Tahir Khan. Nevertheless, the police did not find any connection between the game and the incident.[55]
  • In September 2007, a Chinese man in Guangzhou, China, died after playing Internet video games for three consecutive days in an Internet cafe.[56][57]
  • In September 2007 in Ohio, 16-year-old Daniel Petric snuck out of his bedroom window to purchase the game Halo 3 against the orders of his father, a minister at New Life Assembly of God in Wellington, Ohio, U.S.[58] His parents eventually banned him from the game after he spent up to 18 hours a day with it, and secured it in a lockbox in a closet where the father also kept a 9mm handgun, according to prosecutors.[59] In October 2007, Daniel used his father's key to open the lockbox and remove the gun and the game. He then entered the living room of his house and shot both of them in the head, killing his mother and wounding his father. Petric is sentenced to life in prison without parole, which was later commuted to 23 years in imprisonment.[60] While defense attorneys argued that Petric was influenced by video game addiction, the court fully dismissed these claims.[61]
  • In December 2007, a Russian man was beaten to death over an argument in the MMORPG Lineage II. The man was killed when his guild and a rival one challenged each other to a real-life brawl.[62]
  • False reports initially claimed that Seung-Hui Cho, the killer in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre was an avid Counter-Strike player. However, police reports said that roommates of Cho had never seen him play any video games.[63] Despite these discoveries, disbarred attorney Jack Thompson continued to erroneously claim that video games were to blame.
  • In June 2008, four teens went on a crime spree after being obsessed with Grand Theft Auto IV in New Hyde Park, New York. They first robbed a man, knocking his teeth out and then they stopped a woman driving a black BMW and stole her car and her cigarettes.[64]
  • On August 2, 2008, an 18-year-old Thai teenager stabbed a Bangkok taxi driver to death during an attempt to steal the driver's cab in order to obtain money to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. A police official said that the teen was trying to copy a similar act in the game. As a consequence, New Era Interactive Media, the distributor of the game, withdrew it from shops across Thailand.[65][66]
  • On October 13, 2008, 15-year-old Brandon Crisp from Barrie, Ontario, Canada ran away from home on his mountain bike after his parents confiscated his Xbox 360 following an argument regarding the time he spent playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. His body, which had fallen from a tree, was found on November 5, 2008 by some local hunters.[67]

Regulation of video games

In response to concerns about video games, governments around the globe have enacted or attempted to enact legislation regulating, prohibiting, or outright banning video games. Similarly, support for video game and media regulation has been linked to moral panic.[68] To that end, different video game content rating systems have been introduced across the globe.

Voluntary rating systems adopted by the video game industry, such as the ESRB rating system in the United States and Canada, as well as the PEGI rating system in Europe, that are aimed at informing parents about the types of games their children are playing (or are asking to play). Certain game publishers’ decision to have controversial games rated seems to show that they are not targeted at young children.[citation needed] They are rated by the ESRB as "Mature" (M) or "Adults Only" (AO) in the US, or given BBFC ratings of 15 or 18 in the UK. The packaging notes that these games should not be sold to children. In the US, ESRB ratings are not legally binding, but many retailers take it upon themselves to refuse the sale of these games to minors. In the UK, the BBFC ratings are backed up by law, so it is actually illegal to sell the game to anyone under the indicated age, and many UK retailers go beyond that and also enforce the PEGI ratings, which are not backed up by law. No video game console manufacturer has yet to allow any game to be published in North America with the harshest ESRB rating, "Adults Only", signaling that the game is only appropriate for ages 18 years and up. Additionally, no major retailers are willing to set aside shelf space for AO-rated games. Although Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was given a rating of AO after widespread surfacing of an add-on originally deleted from the game, "Hot Coffee," in which the player controls a fully clothed sexual encounter. It was later fully removed and the game retained the M rating. GTA San Andreas is the best selling game to ever receive the AO rating.

The sales of M- and AO-rated games to minors has been an issue of much concern to parent groups and public officials, and bills have been submitted to government agencies, including the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act introduced to the US House of Representatives in both the 109th Congress and 110th Congress. The proposed legislation would require an ID check for M- and AO-rated game purchases. Neither bill was passed into law, and other proposed bills were stopped because of First Amendment violations.

Although no law mandates ID checking for games with adult content, a 2008 secret shopper survey done by the Federal Trade Commission shows that video game retailers have voluntarily increased ID verification for M- and AO-rated games, and sales of those games to underage potential buyers have been reduced from 83% in 2000 to only 20% in 2008.

See also



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  56. ^ Man in China dies after three-day Internet session|Technology|Internet|Reuters
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  62. ^ GameSpot News: The definitive source for video game news, announcements, ship dates, rankings, sales figures, and more
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