In the 30 years since the introduction of “Pong,” the first video game, the video game industry has become one of the most popular and profitable types of entertainment, generating more than $7 billion in sales last year.
In the process, games considered violent or aggressive have consistently led sales.
A recent study by a group that monitors media consumption estimated that 90 percent of U.S. households with children have rented or owned a video or computer game, and young people average 20 minutes per day playing video games.
An estimated 145 million Americans, or 60 percent, play video games on a regular basis.
David Walsh, a researcher with the National Institute on Media and the Family, wrote that, “the increasingly realistic and exciting nature of electronic games has helped to make them enormously popular.”
While violence in video games has caused a large amount of controversy, experts still debate possible long-term effects.
Extensive research has been made in the study of violent games and their possible impact on society.
More than 80 percent of the best selling video games contain violent content.
The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have all concluded that there is a relationship between television violence and aggression among children.
Some researchers argue that studies on television violence could be reasonably inferred to video game violence as well. Other researchers have focused on whether graphic violence in games encourages violent behavior
One example of a game with high levels of graphic violence and gore is “Carmageddon,” a game released several years ago in which players run down pedestrians and crash into other cars. If all levels are completed, one researcher estimated the player would have killed nearly 33,000 people.
Another game frequently studied was Mortal Kombat, where researchers found that playing the game with depictions of blood “turned on” resulted in more aggressive behaviors than playing a cleaner version of the game.
“Grand Theft Auto 3” and “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” criminal adventure games containing detailed depictions of shooting, violence and drug usage, have been among the best-selling games.
Games rated “Mature” accounted for 12 percent of 2002 video game sales.
However, some experts argue that the most studies on video game violence could prove is a correlation to violent behavior, not that video games actually cause violent behavior.
Many BYU students expressed doubts about possible relationships between violence and video games as well.
“It’s just entertainment,” said Ben King, 22, an international relations major from Gaithersburg, Md. “Some games maybe push it a little far, like killing innocent bystanders and getting points for it. But still, it’s just a stupid video game.”
Point-and-shoot games like “James Bond: Nightfire” and “Halo” are two of King’s favorite games, but King said he is not any more likely to shoot someone after playing them.
King said he still feels bad about killing spiders, but he believes a computer generated image doesn’t really exist and isn’t real.
Many of King’s roommates and friends have spent hours playing “James Bond: Nightfire” and similar games, and none could be considered violent people, King said.
The military has been using video games for years to help train soldiers for combat.
Lt. Col. David Grossman, a recently retired Army psychologist has, since retiring, become a strong advocate for restrictions to video games.
“Video games teach children the skill and the will to kill,” Grossman said in a March broadcast of 20/20. “We are teaching children to associate pleasure with human death and suffering,” Grossman said. “We are rewarding them for killing people and we are teaching them to like it.”
Grossman authored a book in 1995 titled “On Killing,” in which he described military training techniques.
In the book, Grossman claimed that point-and-shoot games are similar to efforts the military employed to encourage soldiers to fire their weapons in battle by replacing bull’s-eye targets with man-shaped heads.
Todd Hollenshead, CEO of the company that produced the video game “Doom,” said video games are just modern versions of childhood games such as cowboys and Indians.
After the Columbine High School shootings, the Federal Trade Commission investigated whether there was a relationship between the shootings and video games.
According to a September 2000 by the FTC, “Of the 118 electronic games with a ‘Mature’ rating for violence the Commission selected for its study, 83, or 70 percent, targeted children under 17 in their target audience.”
Although there was evidence video game companies were targeting children in advertising, conclusive evidence that video games encouraged violence could not be found.
Organizations and companies remain concerned about violent content in games.
The NFL made a recent decision to review video game content after handing out many fines to its players for especially hard hits.
The NFL told ESPN the league was talking with game makers to ensure violence wasn’t being advocated in video games endorsed by the NFL.
Others argue it is not the games themselves, but the media that is giving video games their bad reputation.
After the sniper shootings in Washington, D.C. area, there was speculation in the media that the shootings were caused by violent video games such as “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six,” which involves sniper shooting.
Industry spokesmen argued that no relationship could be proven between real-life shootings and video games.
Lawmakers have tried in recent years to introduce legislation barring the sale of “adult content video games” to people under the age of 18.
A failed bill in 2002 would have made it a federal crime to sell or rent adult games to minors and could have resulted in fines and jail time for offenders.
Other countries such as Germany and Australia have banned the advertisement of some violent games altogether.
Germany has placed such bans on more than 370 games since 1984.