The massacre in Suzano sparked a discussion about the possible influence of videogames on the development of violent behavior in young people
The massacre in Suzano sparked a discussion about the possible influence of videogames on the development of violent behavior in young people.
Vice-president of the Republic Hamilton Mourão fed the discussion when he suggested that tragedies such as the ones in Suzano or Realengo didn’t happen in the old times, when children’s plays were more ludic, without the presence of videogame consoles. Many ‘gamers’ were outraged at this association between games and crimes, and manifested their disgust with hashtags such as #SomosGamersNãoAssassinos (“#WeAreGamersNotMurderers”).
Blaming videogames for tragedies or public insecurity is nothing new. When new media appear they usually are targeted by prejudice and mystification from people who are not their consumers. In the past, violent crimes have been falsely associated with the influence of TV shows and comic books. It is a search for an easy answer for complex questions, something that is almost never healthy for the public debate.
Although this sort of association between videogames and violence has been present since the 1970s, they became more frequent after the school massacre at Columbine, in 1999, followed by several other mass attacks. A theory has been raised that the aggressors had a common trait: they all played violent videogames, which increased their murderous impulses.
Mourão is not the only politician who came forward to suggest the correlation between a media and the violent behavior of young offenders. In November 2018, for instance, Kentucky governor Matt Bevin defended that mass attacks were caused by the access of children to smartphones, videogames, and even TV shows about zombies.
Therefore, the idea that games helped to numb shooters regarding the consequences of their actions became popular. Several public policies have been put forward all over the world based on this belief. In a context where videogames are becoming more realistic and bloody, the issue became a subject of academic researches, with increasingly more robust methodologies.
There has been some evidence that playing videogames could spark hostile impulses and violent behaviors in a short period of time. However, they haven’t reached any conclusions regarding an increase in the probability of someone committing violent crimes, such as robberies or rapes, and much less a massacre such as the one in Suzano.
In the meantime, several academic researches, especially the most recent ones, go against the popular opinion that there is a causal relationship between the use of videogames and more violent behavior from young people.
What do the studies say?
There is an academic debate between psychologists and other health professionals about the effect exerted by electronic media on the behavior of young people. Throughout the last decades, researches have been made to investigate the negative effects of videogames, such as addiction, depression, and aggression.
In that sense, many academic researches, especially those who have been made at the beginning of the century, have concluded that a dose of violent videogames makes people act in a manner slightly more rude than they would act otherwise, especially for some minutes after they have played them. Several studies have shown that people who consume violent media (videogames and movies) may become desensitized regarding emotional stimuli, and display less empathy and increased aggressiveness. However, most of these studies investigated only the short-term effects, in which users were subjected to experiments soon after they played a videogame.
Determining whether the long-term exposure to this kind of media incites a hostile behavior in the real world, and in the long run, is a more complex experiment – one whose causality is yet to be verified. On the contrary, the most recent literature on the subject has been going in the opposite direction.
That happens because the consumption of violent videogames is in contrast with the number of violent crimes committed by young people in the United States: while videogame sales have doubled between 1996 and 2013, the amount of young offenders has dropped more than half between 1994 and 2010.
In a 2011 study, researchers have concluded that, by keeping young people entertained, whether because they stay away from real-life troubles or because that entertainment works as an escape valve for the impulses of young people, videogames caused a 0.03 percent reduction of crimes in the period and places analyzed.
A 2015 research by Oxford University has shown that bad behavior often seen among children is more associated with the time spent playing videogames, with no control or equilibrium, and not to the games themselves. They were also not able to establish an association between violent games and aggression in real life, or the academic performance of a child. On the other hand, they concluded that playing at least one hour per day may be beneficial for their behavior. Another study, done last year by the University of York, did not find any association between violent videogames and violent behavior.
A more recent research, from 2018, with a more robust methodology, which analyzed over three thousand people and analyzed long-term effects, provided strong evidence against the negative effects frequently debated of violent videogames on adults.
Lastly, regarding mass murders, experts currently understand they are multifactorial. Among possible factors are social tensions, the lack of family bonds, biological predisposition, as well as the tendency of criminal profiles to the repetition of behaviors committed by serial killers.
Even though it has been proven that there are no behavioral harms on gamers, it should be pointed out that that does not reduce the parents’ role. It is necessary to balance the number of hours spent playing by the children, as well as being aware of the content of the games they play, and which values, skills, and patterns are being conveyed by each game.
Benefits of the games
Steven Johnson published in 2012 the work “Everything Bad is Good for You: How TV and Games Make Us Smarter”. The book consists of a series of empirical analyses and scientific researches which argue that entertainment industry products are affecting positively the cognition of individuals through narratives, scripts, and challenges increasingly more elaborate. This phenomenon of stimulating the reasoning of consumers of these media is happening in a much more natural and dynamic way than a few decades ago, and that popular culture has become more complex and intellectually stimulating throughout the last years.
Although many people still consider videogames to be intellectually lazy, several studies have shown that they can strengthen a series of cognitive skills, logical reasoning, memory, and perception.
Researchers of the University of Toronto have concluded in a study that videogames may improve aspects of the visual attention – and not only violent ones, such as shooter games, but also racing games and those who involve driving vehicles.
Since 2012 there have been revealing studies on the positive effects regarding cerebral activity and improvements in visual attention. Similarly, there are studies being developed regarding how games may help to improve the condition of patients who suffer vascular cerebral accidents.
The literature revisited by the American Psychological Association has shown that videogames can also help in learning, social benefits, and even in their consumers’ health and well-being.
More recently, the effect of games on the treatment of dyslexia has become the subject of a study published on Scientific Reports. Results have shown that action games develop on their players a bigger capability of visual attention and reading regarding difficult situations faced by them, and that these stimuli may serve to fight dyslexia. Based on that, studies have been made to create specific software to help to treat and fight dyslexia.
Researches claim that RPG games can also help children to develop problem resolution skills, as well as improving their creativity with all sorts of games. These skills cannot be developed by using cell phones or computers.
The stereotype of a socially isolated player is now in the past, considering the development of the industry has made games more collaborative than competitive. People not only gather their friends to play, but online games have formed virtual communities.
It must also be pointed out a study which showed that simpler and more accessible games, such as “Angry Birds”, tend to improve the mood of their players, promoting a relaxed state and pushing away anxiety. In other words, they render emotional benefits which should be taken into account.
The authors of the study have also emphasized the possibility that videogames are effective tools to learn resilience in the face of failure. By learning how to cope with continuous failure in games, children build emotional resistance. For this reason, educators are already innovating classroom experiences, integrating games to stimulate learning.
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O massacre ocorrido em Suzano acabou despertando uma discussão sobre a possível influência de games para o desenvolvimento de comportamento violento em jovens.