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How Games Make You Healthy *And* Violent
by Dan Felder on 06/20/14 06:53:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

There are lots of arguments against the people that blame violent games for mass-shootings and similar atrocities. However, I think the most obvious one gets seriously overlooked in mainstream objections.

The core argument of the game-blamers is that games encourage kids to kill people in real life by simulating the act of killing people in a game environment and glorifying the act. Apparently the effect is so strong that it can overcome all social pressures that tell a normal person that killing people is a bad idea.

Well, we can test this really easily. I can think of something that many of these violent games simulate even more than murder: Exercise!

I spend more time exercising in most games, whether running around or performing athletic feats, in games than I ever do in killing people. The games industry is also full of examples of glorifying characters that are athletic and physically fit. Players simulate exercise in a game environment and the game definitely glorifies it. Not only that, but society is entirely for exercise! It's legal (unlike murder), it's encouraged (unlike murder) and the effects of it are rewarded (unlike murder).

Surely we must have seen an explosion of exercise among hardcore gamers. There should be a dramatic correlation between how much you play these kind of games and how much you exercise. After all, which do you think is easier - convincing someone to go for a jog or convincing someone to commit mass-murder?

No wonder the hardcore gamer culture is so renowned for its often-exercising individuals and its pinnacle of physical fitness. Now we know why.

Clearly, this argument doesn't work. If the claim is that simulating something in a game makes replicating that behavior in real life far more likely, we'd be seeing that effect across all categories of simulated activities as expected. If, however, games are just a convenient scapegoat for atrocities - we'd expect to see no significant replication of behavior in any of those categories. Correlation sure isn't causation.

I'm not saying that games can't or don't have a meaningful effect on players. I'm not saying we shouldn't care about social issues. I'm just saying that this kind of claim isn't consistent with reality in any way, and I believe that's the reason this proposed media effect has not yet been conclusively demonstrated in studies (to my knowledge at least).

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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