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Do children become violent by playing violent video games?

DISAGREEMENT: - There is no connection between violent video games and aggressiveness of the gamers, says gaming researcher Rune Mentzoni. But violence researcher Ragnhild Bjørnebekk disagrees.

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Text: Eva Alnes Holte. Translated to English by Ratan.

Violence researcher Ragnhild Bjørnebekk (Photo: Eddy Grønset) and gaming researcher Rune Mentzoni (Photo: University of Bergen). 
– Interactive media influence people more than the other media, says violence researcher Ragnhild Aspen Tombre Bjørnebekk.

– We can see an increased aggression effect if the gaming has been going on over time. Not for everyone, but for some.

Bjørnebekk is a researcher at the Police Academy. However, she points out that the influence does not necessarily have to be reflected in violent behaviour.

– Some are more strongly influenced than others, sometimes they also have a desire to be influenced. The risk is greatest if the player is in conflicts with others or is in an environment where violent acts provide a higher status, she says. – I think it can be problematic that someone says violent games have no effect. Research also shows that fantasy stories over time may feel like reality to some. There are some associations to the reality they themselves are in that allow them to be influenced to violent behaviour.

Over time, fantasy stories may feel like reality to some.

The most important buffer

However, Ragnhild Bjørnebekk says that violent game does not have to result in aggressiveness in the player at all, in most cases it does not.

– Young people who have good norms and good attitudes are almost vaccinated against violent attitudes. Children who possess empathy can keep themselves away from violence. The most important buffer against violent behaviour is the values they hold, she says.

Bjørnebekk believes that parents do not have to be anxious about the violent games if the children are in good social environments.

Violence and aggression are not the same thing

Rune Mentzoni works at the National Competence Centre for Game Research at the University of Bergen. He confirms that some studies show a connection between violent computer games and aggression.

– There is a lot of discussion about this in the research world. Overall, there are a number of studies that suggest a connection between violent video games and aggression. The problem is that these do not say anything about what people are really looking for. There is in fact nothing from research that suggests a connection between violent video games and violent behaviour. Violence and aggression are by no means the same. By the way, I have not seen any research that suggests that interactive media works stronger than other media in terms of triggering violent behaviour.

Mentzoni says there is no research that shows a clear connection between violent video games and violent behaviour.

– Another theory is that people who play violent games become so used to seeing violence around them that they will stop reacting to violence you see around them in the real world. But this too has been difficult to demonstrate in research and must be regarded as speculative.

– Fortnite is not dangerous

Mentzoni does not think parents should be worried if their children play Fortnite, for example.

– It is admittedly a shooting game where you have to kill your opponents on the island. But it has cartoon-like graphics, funny costumes, and you never see any blood. On the whole, there are too many games that have violent content, without anyone being able to tell when there is a problem. In Mario games you jump on animals and in Lego games you can chop Lego heads of other characters. The age recommendations are largely based on assumptions that some content is problematic, without one actually having coverage in research to say that children are actually harmed by watching it.

Mentzoni thinks parents should be more concerned about the social stuff around the games than the game itself.

– Parents probably do not have to worry so much about the violent content of games like Fortnite, but you should definitely follow the social things that come with it. Fortnite is a social arena that has all the same challenges that other social meeting places children are in, including the risk of exclusion and bullying. It is a good idea to follow how the children feel while they play.

The gaming researcher thinks many parents are anxious because computer games are something new.

I think children and young people are well able to distinguish between playing, imagination and reality.

– No one has reacted to the episodes of violence in Harry Potter, he says and recalls the usual «violence games» in the old days: 

– As children, we may have played «police and robbers» or «cowboys and Indians». How violent the game turned depended on who were playing? This is how it is today as well. I think children and young people are well able to distinguish between playing, imagination and reality, says Rune Mentzoni. 

– Rough claim by Bjørnebekk

He strongly disagrees with violence researcher Bjørnebekk that children who have good values ​​from home have been vaccinated against violent acts. 

– I think this is pure speculation. Her claim implies that children with violent behaviour have parents with poor values. I think that is a pretty big statement! says Rune Mentzoni. 

«Pure speculation»

He also believes that it is «pure speculation» that in bad environments people use violent games to get excited. 

– In fact, what happens is just the opposite. If you look at the prevalence of violent crime in society, there is probably coverage to say that it has declined worldwide as violent gaming has become more and more popular. Today, games are played with violent content by the vast majority of boys and probably also a very large proportion of girls, says Mentzoni. 

– So what happened? The theory here is very simple. The group of perpetrators of violence is dominated by young men, the same group that spends the most time on computer games. Then we can simply assume that some of those who previously – before computer games became a widespread hobby – would have been out on the streets and ended up committing violence, now sit at home and play. This does not mean that the games have made them less violent, but simply that they do not commit violence because they are busy with other things, namely playing! 

The article was previously published in Barnevakten’s magazine «Digital Barndom».  

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