Video Game Violence: A History and Education

Video Game Violence: A History and Education

Gaming is slowly gaining recognition in the mainstream as a pastime that’s healthy and beneficial as long as it’s done in moderation. However, there are still some tough stereotypes to overcome. If you try and talk to certain parents about possibly buying their offspring a game console, there’s a chance said parent will clap their hands over their child’s ears and drag them away, mumbling something about the evils of video game violence.

Every parent aims to raise their child in what they perceive to be the best manner possible, but it’s frustrating to be blocked out of even arguing the reasons why video games are not harmful for children. It’s still worth trying, though, as studies conducted about video game violence indicate that even young players recognize that they can make choices in “blood-splattery” games, and those choices come with consequences–not unlike real life.

If you come up against someone who believes video game violence can damage children psychologically, or if you’re hesitant yourself to let your kids indulge in games because of the violent acts that can be carried out in some titles, consider these quick points:

“Violence” in video games is pretty relative: A game that involves anything other than blowing up blocks or gems usually requires the player to overcome obstacles in order to achieve a goal. This can involve anything from mowing down soldiers with a gun, or jumping on turtles and kicking their empty shells to kill rogue mushroom people. Parents should consider what level of violence they’re comfortable exposing their children to, and do their research from there.

That’s why the ESRB exists: The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) does more than just slap letters on game boxes. It provides details on its website about how games earned certain ratings. These details include noted instances of violence (at all levels, from cartoon-like to realistic gore) and sexual content.

Games with minimal violence are as popular as gory games: A study conducted last year by the American Psychology Association (titled “Video Games: Old Fears and New Directions”) determined that while controversial franchises like Grand Theft Auto are popular with younger players, far less violent titles in franchises like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog are just as popular, even moreso. In fact, FarmVille, a completely nonviolent Facebook-based social game, has remained wildly popular for months.

Kids can derive lessons on morality from video games: It’s ultimately up to a parent to decide if their child should play M-rated games. But here’s an interesting point: A study conducted at the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry determined that kids can take away moral lessons from games like Grand Theft Auto, where “power comes with a price,” and bad guys end up suffering consequences for bad behavior.

Video games aren’t the first media to come under fire for corrupting the youth: In the past, multiple pastimes and hobbies have been frowned upon for supposedly elbowing kids from the path of studious righteousness. Some of these include comic books, music, cartoons, and novels. In her study on game violence, Cheryl K. Olson from the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry even brings up the fact that many of the European fairy tales kids are familiar with courtesy of Disney have been sanitized over the years.

Special Thanks: What They Play

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. This is a topic that can be debated for years. It is like you said Nadia, it is really up to the parents and the individual to decide if the violence is acceptable. Good parents should be able to get their children to distinguish between videogame violence and violence in the real world. I have been playing M rated games since I was 9 years old. I have never had the urge to reinact violent situations from videogames. The videogame world allows people to do the things they would never do in real life. Besides, gamers are so overexposed and desensitized to violence in all forms of media that getting a headshot in COD doesn’t even garner a reaction. They just see the +150 show up on the screen and are happy.

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