As the world comes to terms with the tragedy at Colorado that claimed a dozen lives and injured 59 people, reports pinpointed a similarity to the Norway bombing and shooting on July 22, 2011, by Anders Behring Breivik, which claimed 77 lives. Both Breivik and Holmes, it turns out, were addicted to violent video games.
Over the years, experts have suggested that explicitly violent video games increase aggression, blur the lines between fantasy and reality, increase the fight or flight response, and de-sensitise people reducing helping behaviour. Experts believe that these effects are mostly evident in the long term and have far-reaching implications on society at large.
The unreal world
Commenting on whether there is a connection between violence in society and video games, Dr Sarala Bijapurkar, Associate Professor of Sociology at the KJ Somaiya College of Arts and Commerce, says, “Nowadays, children and young adults are exposed to unrealistic situations on television and through video games.
Even 3-4 year-olds often watch violent content, which they may not comprehend but tend to absorb, nevertheless. Shooting / racing games create thrills through aggression and confuse them into imagining it as reality.”
She adds that parents must monitor the time spent playing games, talk and explain to teenagers and children that it’s all make-believe. “The games also make them lose focus of the consequences of their actions. Look at the morals these games teach children — that in real life if you want something, the solution is to get aggressive and snatch it without compunction. Hassled parents are also at times to blame; kids are looking for excitement and if they are engaged in games it affords parents some free time, which they crave for. Give kids an alternative activity to pursue, be it focus on sports, music or art, and they will not turn to these games,” believes Dr Bijapurkar.
A way to deal with the pain
Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Neha Patel, says, “As is the case with Rap songs, teens identify with video games as a way to right their wrongs. It’s often a warped way of coping with reality. Coupled with other issues, this may develop into an addiction where teenagers may start lying about their habits and over time become hostile towards others, become verbally aggressive, have fits of anger and so on.”
Patel advises parents to speak to their children to understand their viewpoint instead of complaining about their behaviour, and allow them to play in moderation and under supervision. “It might also help if they speak to a counsellor or someone they trust,” she adds.
Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist Varkha Chulani believes that video games are not so much the cause as a factor that aggravates existing conditions. “It might affect youngsters who already exhibit dysfunctional behaviour and are prone to violence and it could augment their aggressiveness. In the case of the Denver attacker, he was psychologically unstable already, and he enjoyed such games as a form of recreation rather than other activities.”
Chulani notes that the youth exhibit signs of dysfunctional behaviour (picking up fights, complaining about others, being aggressive, lack of self-analysing) coupled with a penchant for video games, it’s best to seek advice.
“If left untreated, such behaviour can affect a person in the long term as well and affect their daily functioning of life. It’s best to minimise their exposure to such games and educate them about the content that they are hooked on to,” she reiterates.
Bad boys of role-playing games