The anger games

May 3, 2012


Every time a convicted killer says they’ve played First Person Shooter (FPS) games, the media is flooded with arguments both for, and against, games like Call of Duty. Do you think they’re harmless fun - or a trigger for real world violence?

Anders Behring Breivik, the mass murderer who mowed down 69 youths on the Norwegian island of Utøya last year, has told a packed courtroom he "trained" for the attack using the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The 33-year-old described how he practised his aim using a "holographic aiming device" on the war simulation game, which he said is used by armies around the world for training.

In 2009 the same game received flak for a scene where the solo game player’s character, in order to remain undercover inside a band of terrorists, has to mow down civilians in an airport terminal. Flimsy contextual/plot justifications aside, the hard-hitting game stage even disturbed long time Call of Duty players, who found the shift from fighting Nazis in earlier Call of Duty Games, to attacking unarmed civilians, an uncomfortable leap too far.

And the controversy goes back further: On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched their infamous assault on Columbine High in Colorado, USA, murdering 13 and wounding 23. Both enjoyed playing the crude but gory video game Doom, a game at the time also used by the U.S. military in training.

The evolution of FPS from pixelised…

DOOM (1993)

…To visceral. MW3 (2011):

Today, as PC and console games become ever more realistic, the alarm is growing around their potential effect on young minds.  But it remains a complex issue because, while one or two serial killers may have played X,Y,Z, so have millions of perfectly well-adjusted gamers – with no obvious ill effects apart from ‘PlayStation thumb.’

You could possibly argue that a killer is just innately going to become a killer, whether they grew up playing The Darkness 2 and listening to Slayer, or playing Angry Birds and warbling to Cliff Richard.

To date, scientific researchers have come to no clear conclusion regarding the danger of FPSs. A number of studies have been carried out, with some surmising that violent games lead to an increase in aggressive behaviour, while others claim the opposite.

One study from Texas pointed out that such games could actually trigger a decrease in crime rates, because gamers “engaged in virtual violence are not simultaneously engaged in actual violence”. Furthermore, “To date, there is no evidence that violent video games cause violence or crime". In fact, two recently published studies analysed the effect of violent media (movies and video games) on crime, and found increased exposure may have caused crime rates to decrease”. A different study carried out by the University of Missouri, meanwhile, claimed the brains of violent video game players become less responsive to violence, predicting an increase in aggression

So who’s right, and who’s wrong? As the debate continues, games continue to sell like hotcakes… Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the most lucrative entertainment product ever sold, grossing $1 billion in its first 16 days of release in 2011.


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