James Mallory, Robin Lewis, and Richard Keene

Social Responsibility in the Media Final Project

December 15, 2007

Video games have been a target of media attention ever since they appeared on the scene in the late 1970’s. As technology improved video games began to depict more and more realistic scenes of violence and because of this ever-increasing realism games have increasingly become the target of special interest groups who believe that imagery in video games has a direct cause and effect relationship with youth deviance. Like other forms of media video games reflect the wants and desires of the modern media consumer. As such video games contain violence, stereotypes, and sex and are rated based on these criteria. But is there truly a correlation between mature rated game use and the acts of today’s youth?

If one were to go by the titles and content of many of the articles in today’s major media articles one would surely come to the conclusion that violent video game use by children causes violent behavior in the real world. A recent article on CNN.com titled Video game ‘sparked hammer murder’ tells of the murder of Stefan Pakeerah by Warren Leblanc in the United Kingdom. The game accused of causing the murder is Manhunt, which rewards more points to players for killing enemies in the most gory and sadistic manners possible. The article quotes a review by Videocity which states that, “Manhunt is by far the epitome of what all governors and statesmen complain about when they discuss the violence in video games and other entertainment methods. Never has there been a game with as much gore, and violence than this” (1). When CNN reviewed the game “raises the bar for video game violence and gore. It’s not just part of the game, it is the game” (1). Stefan’s mother claims that Leblanc was obsessed with Manhunt and was “inherently evil” (1). Stefan’s father states that “[he doesn’t] play these games but if they are influencing kids to go out and kill people then you don’t want them on the shelves” (1). The father went on to say that, “The way Warren committed the murder this is how the game is set out, killing people with weapons like hammers and knives.” Jack Thompson, a United States attorney, was interviewed stated that there was evidence which suggests that children playing these games cannot distinguish fantasy from reality and stated that “we have had dozens of killings in the U.S. by children who had played these types of games. This is not an isolated incident. [And that] these types of games are basically murder simulators. There are people being killed over here almost on a daily basis” (1).

Another article titled Computer games ‘cause brain damage’ was published by CNN in August 2001. The article claims that playing video games “only stimulate[s] activity in the parts of the brain associated [with] vision and movement” (2). The researcher who conducted the study, Processor Ryuta Kawashmia of Japan’s Tohoku University found that playing computer games halts “the development process in other key areas of the brain, affecting their ability to control potentially anti-social elements of their behavior” (2). The professor conducted the experiment with two groups of children and monitored them while one group played Nintendo games and the other completed basic arithmetic problems. Based off of these two groups the researcher concluded that unlike video games which only stimulates the areas of the brain associated with vision and movement the arithmetic group had the areas linked to learning, memory, emotion and behavior stimulated.

An article found on Fox News titled Parents Neglect Starved Babies to Feed Video Game Addiction tells of two parents who were charged with neglecting their children because of a video game addiction. The article states that prosecutor Kelli Ann Viloria said that the ‘Reno couple were too distracted by online video games, mainly the fantasy role-playing “Dungeons and Dragons” series, to give their children proper care. The article states that the parents, Michael and Iana Straw had food but chose not to give it to their children because they were too busy playing video games. The article states that Michael Straw received a $50,000 inheritance and spent on computer equipment and a large plasma television. The article then went on to say that the American Medical Association denied a proposition to categorize obsessive playing of video games as an addiction.

A Fox News article called Group Cites Growing Video Game Violence is an article that covers the National Institute on Media and the Family and its twelfth annual video game report card. Institute officials blamed game retailers and the gaming industry on a “growing complacency” in relation to its video game rating system. The Institute “cited figures showing that nearly half of kids between 8 and 12 have played M-rated games intended for those 17 and over” (4).

These four articles all have one thing in common: they all blame video games for a specific instance of violence or societal ill. The Video game ‘sparked hammer murder’ article blames a video game for the brutal murder of a teenager, the Computer games ‘cause brain damage’ article suggests that today’s youth are becoming socially isolated and violent because of video games, the Parents Neglect Starved Babies to Feed Video Game Addiction article blames video games for two parents depraved indifference to their children, and the Group Cites Growing Video Game Violence article says that the gaming industry is not doing enough to prevent M-rated games from getting into the hands of children. Is however the beliefs of those in the above mentioned articles justified?

Even in the article titled Video game ‘sparked hammer murder’ there are certain points within the article which throws into doubt the assertion that Manhunt was a major factor in the slaying of Stefan Pakeerah by Warren Leblanc. In contrast to Attorney Jack Thomspon’s assertion that teens are killing people because of the violence in the video games they are playing Peter Joyce QC prosecuting “told the court that the defendant had planned to rob his younger friend to help repay a drugs debt” (1). This contradicts Thompson’s assertion that Warren Leblanc could not distinguish fantasy from reality and instead links the murder to the fact that Warren owed a drug dealer money. Surely someone who realized that he must pay someone for owed money must know fantasy from reality. In addition the article found on Fair.org titled Bashing Youth states that “eighty-three percent of murdered children, half of murdered teenagers and eighty-five percent of murdered adults are slain by adults over the age [of] twenty” (5). Again this contradicts Jack Thomson in that he stated that “there are people being killed over here almost on a daily basis” (1). Statistics shown in the Fair.org article contradict the likelihood of Thompson being correct.

The article titled Computer games ‘cause brain damage’ states that computer games deter brain development and only engage parts of the brain associated with vision and movement and not with “memory, emotion, and behavior control” (2). Raph Koster, game designer, writes in his book A Theory of Fun that games are about patterns and that “seeing patterns in how kids learn is evidence of how pattern-driven our brains are” (6). If it is true that games about patterns, and patterns are how the human brain learns, then the professor who conducted the study is wrong. Indeed all games are about learning: when playing a game that player learns what works and does not work in the game space, the player learns the most efficient route through the game, and depending on the type of game the player might learn something about him or herself or humanity as a whole as is the case with many deep role-playing or other story driven game. It stands to reason that if the professor was wrong about games being about learning then he may be also wrong about video games not engaging the parts of the brain associated with emotion, memory, and behavior control as well.

The Fox News article titled Parents Neglect Starved Babies to Feed Video Game Addiction states that a video game caused two parents to not feed their two children even though they had the food to do so. However is it proper to blame a video game addiction when the American Medical Association does not recognize playing video games a lot as an addiction. The American Medical Association stated that “more study was need on the addictive potential of video games” (7) before it could be labeled an addiction.

The Fox News article Group Cites Growing Video Game Violence reports on the National Institute on Media and the Family, a special interest group, and their contention that the ESRB rating system does not help parents as much as it should. In contrast to this statement a report by The Competitive Enterprise Institute, as Washington D.C. think tank (as reported on Gamepolitics.com Think Tank Issues Study on Video Game Ratings), in which the Institute reports that among all the rating systems in the United States “the ESRB system for evaluating computer games works better than most… Parents can tell, at a glance, exactly what they might find objectionable” (8). In addition it is well known that fifty-three percent of Americans believe that the government should regulate game the rating system but the Institute finds that “The best ratings systems have evolved in response to market forces. The First Amendment, correctly we believe, has long been interpreted to limit political control over entertainment media, anyway. Ratings systems that avoid government involvement will do a better job giving people the information they need” (8).

The impact of these sensationalist articles, which are not backed up by scientific fact, is that the average American believes that violence and values portrayed in video games will lead to violent behavior by teenagers that play them. Currently there is no concrete evidence to suggest that there is a direct correlation between violent video games and user violence. Indeed there is more evidence in the correlation between violent offenders and how their violent home lives made them that way. There is also no reason to suggest that video games stunt learning in children as games are at their core learning tools and have begun to be used by medical, scholastic, and government agencies to teach their students and personnel the tools of their particular trade.

In terms of recommendations for the media in reporting the effects of violence in video games it is this writers belief that the new currently reports too much of opinions and not enough of facts. As there is no consensus of a cause and effect relationship between violence in video games and violence in the real world there should not be as much media attention given to the subject as there is. This is not to say that the news should not report opinions it is just that the media outlets need to let the readers know that none of the special interests group’s claims have been backed up by scientific fact.







(6) Koster, Raph. A Theory of Fun. Scottsdale: Paraglyph, 2005


(8) - more-1851

Works Cited

"AMA Will Not Label Video-Game Playing as a Psychiatric Addiction." Fox News. 28 June 2007. 17 Dec. 2007 <

"Computer Games 'Cause Brain Damage'" CNN. 20 Aug. 2001. 17 Dec. 2007 <

Goldstein, Jeffrey. "DOES PLAYING VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES CAUSE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR?" Cultural Policy. 27 Oct. 2001. University of Chicago. 17 Nov. 2007 <

Males, Mike. "Bashing Youth." FAIR. Mar.-Apr. 1994. 17 Dec. 2007 <

Miga, Andrew. "Group Cites Growing Video Game Violence." Fox News. 4 Dec. 2007. 17 Dec. 2007 <

"Parents Neglect Starved Babies to Feed Video Game Addiction." Fox News. 14 July 2007. 17 Dec. 2007 <

"Think Tank Issues Study on Video Game Ratings." Game Politics. 12 Nov. 2007. 17 Dec. 2007 <

"Video Game 'Sparked Hammer Murder'" CNN. 29 July 2004. 17 Dec. 2007 <