One day after the mass shooting at a Florida high school, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin told a radio host he believes the “culture of death that is being celebrated” in violent video games and movies was the trigger for the violence that led to the deaths of 17 students and teachers.
Bevin, in an interview with radio host Leland Conway, said violent video games that glorify murdering people and even allow players to rack up points for showing less compassion was at the core of the increasing number of attacks on schools, churches and concerts.
"There are video games that, yes, are listed for mature audiences, but kids play them and everybody knows it, and there's nothing to prevent the child from playing them," Bevin told Conway. "They celebrate the slaughtering of people. There are games that literally replicate and give people the ability to score points for doing the very same thing that these students are doing inside of schools, where you get extra points for finishing someone off who's lying there begging for their life."
It is not the first time Bevin has called out the makers of video games where players score points for killing. In January in Bevin's own state, a 15-year-old boy killed two classmates and injured 14. After the shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky, Bevin posted an 11-minute video on Facebook where he said violent videos were a "cultural problem" that sparked the incident.
"We are desensitizing young people to the actual tragic reality and permanency of death," Bevin said. "This is a cultural problem."
After the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, Bevin stepped up his attack, calling out other cultural influences such as music, television and movies, slamming them for violent lyrics or plots.
"Why do we need a video game, for example, that encourages people to kill people?" Bevin said. "Whether it's lyrics, whether it's TV shows, whether it's movies, I'm asking the producers of these products, these video games and these movies, ask yourselves what redemptive value, other than shock value, other than the hope you'll make a couple of bucks off it. At what price? At what price?"
According to a story from The Miami Herald, Nikolas Cruz, the Stoneman Douglas school shooter, would play video games for up to 15 hours a day. Cruz family friend and neighbor Paul Gold, who owns a film and video production company, said he sometimes played a game or two with Cruz.
The games Cruz liked to play were violent ones, he told The Herald.
“It was kill, kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day,” Gold said.
Bevin isn’t the only one speaking out against violent video games. Others have pointed to such games as inspiration for similar attacks. But is there evidence that links playing violent games with taking a rifle and shooting people at a high school or some other venue?
The psychological community is split.
A study by researchers at the University of York in York, England, found no evidence that adults who play violent video games were any more likely to commit a violent act then those who do not play the games.
The study of 3,000 participants released in January showed the games do not “necessarily increase aggression in game players.
The York study also examined the realism of the games and whether that had an effect on the way players later acted. They looked at games that used characters that moved and reacted as a human would, not just an animated character. Researchers concluded that “there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.”
The York researchers pointed out in their conclusions that the tests were conducted on adults. "We also only tested these theories on adults, so more work is needed to understand whether a different effect is evident in children players."
A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association contradicts the York study in part. The APA study found that playing violent video games is linked to increased aggression in players, but that there is "insufficient evidence" to link game playing with criminal violence or delinquency.
Those conducting the study stressed that while an increase in aggression was seen in the subjects of the study, the games’ effect on certain people with certain risk factors needs to be studied further.
“We know that there are numerous risk factors for aggressive behavior,” said Mark Appelbaum, the chairman of the task force that conducted the study. “What researchers need to do now is conduct studies that look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors. For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?”
A study of 105 Canadian teenagers – boys and girls – found that the teens that spent more than three hours a day playing violent video games were in danger of delayed emotional development .
Mirjana Bajovic, the author of the study, noted that not all the teens playing violent games showed a delay in emotional development, and that no correlation existed between the level of emotional development and those who played nonviolent games. Bajovic did note that the time spent playing those games was the main factor in influencing "empathic behavior and tendencies.
A study published in Psychological Science led researchers to conclude that for some, assuming an identity in a video game can have real-world impact.
Researchers asked 200 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to choose to be either a villain or a hero in a video game, and what they saw was an impact in levels of consideration in the students.
“Our results indicate that just five minutes of role-play in virtual environments as either a hero or a villain can easily cause people to reward or punish anonymous strangers,” said Gunwoo Yoon, lead author of the study.
The students were given the choice to serve chocolate sauce to a stranger or to serve hot chili sauce. Researchers found that those who chose to play the hero – in this case, cartoon character Superman – would serve chocolate to the stranger. Those who assumed the villain role – Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels – would serve the chili sauce.
The choices from the students were measured after as little as five minutes of playing the games.
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