Smells like teen role-play

Jul 31, 2012, 09:04 IST | Soma Das

Reports suggest that James Holmes, the 24-year-old perpetrator of the mass shooting at a screening of Dark Knight Rises at Colorado on July 20, may have been addicted to violent role-playing video games. The Guide explores how similar video games can impact behaviour among today's youth, in the long run

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.

Illustration/  Amit Bandre 

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

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is an open world action-adventure video game, inspired from American culture in the 1980s. Set in the fictional Vice City (modelled after Miami), it revolves around a psychotic mafia hitman recently released from prison. It has elements of stealing cars, drive-by shootings and robberies.

Bulletstorm is a first-person shooter video game that is considered as one of the most violent video games of all time. The game focuses not just on whom you kill but how you kill. In the game, you get additional points for shooting a person in the head, in their sensitive parts, blow the enemy’s torso off with shotguns and kick them over cliffs. The more creative you get the more points you obtain.

In God of War II, you play the god of war in the pantheon of Greek gods. You ease your past and seek revenge through merciless vengeance and brutal murder scenes. 

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