Mitt Romney, during his presidential campaign, proclaimed, “Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games. The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool”. The argument that violent video games causes kids to become violent has been made for a long time, fueled to some degree by the Columbine High School massacre, after it was discovered that shooters Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold were avid computer gamers. Ironically, Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter was seen by his roommates as odd, because he never joined them in video games. Researchers have yet to find any evidence between violent video games and youth violence.
A large number of U.S. adolescents actively play video games. According to one study, up to 97% of kids between ages 12-17 play video games on the web, video consoles or computers. What we know based on the research conducted, is that there is much more we do not know about the connection between gaming and violence. Moreover, the majority of research conducted in this area has been on the negative outcomes of playing video games, measuring behaviors such as hostility, empathy, and aggression. Developmental and social psychologists have focused very little on its positive impact. A 2004 study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed video games kids were playing, how much time they played and the possible relationship to delinquent behavior. It uncovered that a majority of the kids who played violent games, played them to cope with their emotions, enjoyed challenging situations, played to keep up with peers playing similar games, to create their own worlds, as well as to relieve stress.
While research suggests that exposure to violent video games can boost aggression and increase bullying among adolescents, it can also be beneficial. For example, gaming among adolescents has been found to improve strategy and anticipation skills, situational awareness, developing reading and math skills, pattern recognition, and inductive reasoning and hypothesis testing, just to name a few.
On a day when we witnessed yet another school shooting, and on the advent of the Newtown tragedy, we need to keep in mind that the United States has the highest homicide rate in the world. Japan on the other hand, with equally high rates of avid video game players, has homicide rates close to zero. What’s the difference? Certainly gun control is one major component. In addition, we should use this opportunity to highlight the need for additional mental health resources in our school system.