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Similiar to other forms of media, video games have been the subject of debate and censorship. Such criticism often stems from the inclusion of controversial material such as graphic violence, sexual themes, drug use, nudity, profanity, criminal behavior or other provocative and offensive content. Video games have also been studied for links to addiction and violent behavior. Some studies have found that video games do not contribute to these problems, while others claim to have established a link. Recently, several groups have argued that there are few if any scientifically proven studies to back up such claims, and that the video game industry has become a scapegoat for the media to blame for various social ills.[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.

Controversial topicsEdit


A common argument used by advocates of video games is that the majority of gamers are adults.[4] Statistics show that between 40 - 50% of computer game players are women, and that the average age of players is increasing - currently standing at mid to late 20s. [5] Most of the critics of video games however, agree that it is the large portion of children playing that is the issue.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Crime and violenceEdit

One of the most common criticisms of video games are that they allegedly increase violent tendencies among youth (Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Funk, Hagan, Schimming, Bullock, Buchman & Myers, 2002; Gentile & Anderson, 2003.) 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. However, Kutner and Olson do state "On the other hand, reports of bullying are up ... 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."[6][7][8]. 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.[9] Portrayals of violence allegedly became more realistic with time, and so politicians such as U.S. Senator Joseph 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."[10] Anderson himself was later criticized in a 2005 video game court case for failing to cite research that differed from his view. [11] Much of the research has been criticized for overstating effects, ignoring negative results and using unstandardized and unreliable measures of aggression. [12]


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.

These concerns have led to voluntary rating systems adopted by the industry, such as the ESRB rating system in the United States and 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.[How to reference and link to summary or text] They are ESRB rated as "Mature" or "Adults Only" 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.

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.

Some studiesTemplate:Which? have shown that children who watch violent television shows and play violent video games have a tendency to act more aggressively on the playground, and some people[attribution needed] are concerned that this aggression may presage violent behavior when children grow to adulthood. A study by A. Crag 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." [13] [14]

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."[15] 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.[16]. A US Secret Service study found that only 12 percent of those involved in school shootings were attracted to violent video games, while 24 percent read violent books and 27 percent were attracted to violent films.[17] An Australian study found that only children already predisposed to violence were affected by violent games.[18]

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.[19]

Currently, some educators have begun to address "the controversy over the effects of violent gameplay on gamers" and have also discussed ways in which teachers might incorporate video games into their classrooms, as is the subject of the book Playing to Learn: Video Games in the Classroom written by a Ph.D. at Brock University.[20]

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.[21]

Sexual themesEdit

Sexual themes in video games are much less tolerated than violent themes. An example of such controversies can be seen in the Hot Coffee controversy. Almost no American video games display full frontal nudity. Sexual themes are more common in some Japanese PC games, however, console companies such as Nintendo and Sony do not license adult only content games for their systems.

Exception: In 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 games dryad.

Example: In June 2005, an entire portion of unused code for an interactive sex mini-game was found within the main script of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The game could be accessed in the PC version via a modification, and through Action Replay codes in the PS2 and Xbox versions.[How to reference and link to summary or text] 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. (see hot coffee mod) Among other offenses is the controversy over the sexual cut scene in popular Xbox 360 and Windows PC game Mass Effect. The game allegedly contained full frontal nudity and interactive alien/human sex, both of which were proved false. The game received an "M" rating from ESRB and was banned from Singapore in July of 2008, only to be lifted from ban with an M18 rating.

Social developmentEdit

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[22] 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."[23] 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".[24] 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).[25] 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.[26]

On March 6, 2005, the American television news program 60 Minutes took on the case of 18-year old Devin Moore, wherein plaintiffs have argued Grand Theft Auto: Vice City inspired him to kill three police officers that came to arrest him for stealing a car. In October 9 2005, a judge sentenced the convicted killer to death by lethal injection.

Many responded that video games can enhance children's social interaction because many video games are multiplayer games, where two or more players can have fun competing or co-operating on the same television screen, and that if a child is isolated and antisocial, this is not the fault of video games, but perhaps of the child's inborn disposition, or perhaps of the parents' lack of attention to making sure their child has enough opportunities for social interaction with other children.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Additionally, with the advent of online video gaming, it is not difficult for children to find others to play with, although these experiences are often anonymous.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

One response came from social critic and author J.C. Herz, who suggested that some criticisms of video game violence come from distinctly Marxist and socialist viewpoints from academia, and do not reflect the realities of modern life:

That's what we do in America: glorify autonomous individualists. What else would we possibly glorify? The autonomous collective? One can only imagine the kind of arcade game that would pass muster with the leather-elbow-patch set (leap over the running dogs of capitalism, liberate the oppressed proletariat, and accumulate enough petition power to defeat the evil Murdoch). (Herz, Joystick Nation, 1997).

Some psychologists claim that while causation has been linked between playing violent video games and an increase in hostile behavior, the effect is very low.[How to reference and link to summary or text] They also claim the effect tends to increase depending on how angry the person was to begin with. Some also claim the effect violent video games have on adults is very similar in magnitude to the effect they have on the behavioral processes of children.[27]


Main article: Video game addiction

Some criticisms from both game players and non-game players alike are directed at the game-play in and of itself. This primarily is focused toward RPGs, especially MMORPGs, and First-person shooter (FPS)'s, whose game-play, critics feel, causes obsession or addiction. This is often joked about and admitted in the MMORPG communities[How to reference and link to summary or text]. A prominent aspect of RPGs is the immersion factor, or virtual reality, which is seen by critics as "escapist"[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Finally, as most RPG leveling mechanics allow for getting stronger by repetitive fighting of weaker enemies for a long time, this is seen as discouraging risk taking or instilling a fear of losing in the gamer. In fact, most MMORPGs place a level range requirement for getting experience points, in which the lower the enemy's level is relative to the player's, the less experience is gained (until it reaches zero).

Publicized incidentsEdit


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

  • In April 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, and before the shootings, Harris claimed that the massacre would be "like Doom". Harris also created WADs for the game, and created a large mod named "Tier" which he called his life's work.
  • 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."[28]
  • 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."[29] 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."[30]
  • 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,[31] although some have later pointed out that the defender would have said anything to avoid blame.
  • 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.[32]
  • 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.[33] 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 Legend of Mir 3.[34]
  • In August 2005, 28-year-old South Korean Lee Seung Seop died after playing Starcraft for 50 hours straight.[35]
  • In September 2007, a Chinese man in Guangzhou, China, died after playing Internet video games for three consecutive days in an Internet cafe.[36][37]
  • 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 guild challenged each other to a brawl in the real world.[38]
  • 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 fox hunters.[39]
  • 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.[40] 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.[41] 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 now faces up a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. While defense attorneys argued that Petric was influenced by video game addiction, the court fully dismissed these claims.[42]

Video game legislationEdit

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.

See alsoEdit


  1. "Video Violence: Villain or Victim?", Guy Cumberbatch, London Video Standards Council, 2004
  2. "It's Not the Media", Karen Sternheimer, Westview, 2003
  3. includeonly>Benedetti, Winda. "Why search our souls when video games make such an easy scapegoat?", MSNBC, 2008-02-18. Retrieved on 2008-08-27.
  5. Flew, T 2005. New Media: an Introduction (second edition), Oxford University Press, South Melbourne. Pg 108.
  6. Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, Lawrence Kutner PhD and Cheryl K. Olson ScD
  7. "Video Games and Real Life Agression", Lillian Bensely and Juliet Van Eenwyk, Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 29, 2001
  8. "Video Games and Health", Mark Griffiths, British Medical Journal vol. 331, 2005
  9. Gonzalez, Lauren. When Two Tribes Go to War: A History of Video Game Controversy. Gamespot. URL accessed on 2008-08-03.
  10. Anderson, Craig (2003). Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions.
  11. ESA v Blogojevich. (PDF)
  12. Kutner & Olson (2008). Grand Theft Childhood.
  14. includeonly>Lynch, Paul. "[ The Effects of Violent Video Game Habits on Adolescent Aggressive Attitudes and Behaviors.]" (PDF), Society for Research in Child Development, April 2001. (in English)
  15. includeonly>Wright, Brad. "Sounding the alarm on video game ratings",, 2004-02-18. Retrieved on 2007-12-10.
  16. includeonly>Williams, Ian. "US teen violence study exonerates video games", IT Week, 2007-03-06. Retrieved on 2007-12-10.
  17. (2002). Safe School Initiative Final Report. (PDF) U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education.
  18. Study: Kids Unaffected by Violent Games. Wired.
  19. includeonly>Alcoba, Natalie, Patrick, Kelly. "Drag-racing teens killed cabbie", National Post, 2006-01-26. Retrieved on 2007-12-10.
  20. Associate Professor David Hutchison, "Video Games in Schools? Some Practical Advice for Teachers and Students," Game Informer 173 (September, 2007): 60.
  21. Video games don't create killers, new book says
  22. Bushman, Brad, Anderson, Craig. Media Violence and the American Public: Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation. (pdf) URL accessed on 2007-07-10.
  23. American Psychological Association. Violent Video Games - Psychologists Help Protect Children from Harmful Effects.
  24. Anderson, Craig A. (2003). Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions. American Psychological Association.
  25. Freedman, Jonathan L. (2002). Media violence and its effect on aggression: assessing the scientific evidence, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  26. Block JJ, Crain BR (2007). Omissions and errors in "media violence and the American public.". The American psychologist 62 (3): 252–3.
  28. Addicted: Suicide Over Everquest?. CBS News.
  29. Hudak, Stephen. 'State gets; OK to try teenager as adult 16-year-old accused of killing Medina girl." Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2003-05-13.
  30. Hudak, Stephen. "Teen can stand trial in girl's murder; Father of slain Medina High pupil upset that video game critic won’t be in court." Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2003-09-16.
  31. Can A Video Game Lead To Murder?. CBS News.
  32. Calvert, Justin. Families sue over GTAIII-inspired shooting. GameSpot.
  33. BBC NEWS | England | Leicestershire | Game blamed for hammer murder
  34. Cao Li. Death sentence for online gamer. China Daily.
  35. S Korean dies after games session. BBC News.
  36. Man in China dies after three-day Internet session | Technology | Internet | Reuters
  37. AFP: China web-user dies after three-day online binge
  38. GameSpot News: The definitive source for video game news, announcements, ship dates, rankings, sales figures, and more
  42. Teen convicted of killing mother over video game, Yahoo News, 12-Jan-2009

Template:Video game controversy

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