I love video games, despite not owning an Xbox or any other assorted games console – I have in the past owned a console, just not right this minute. I brother and myself got our first serious game – for the play station – in 2004 – age eight, we got a couple of games for Christmas our favourite of which was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.  It should be noted for my parents benefit that we bellowed for San Andreas, but it was decidedly too violent. Vice City however, had been what we will call “product tested” by our 13-year-old friend from up the street and our uncle, who said it wasn’t too inappropriate.

And so we tucked in.

Being excited and elated at this new game we quickly mastered its simple controls and aced shooting people, remember the early editions of GTA didn’t do this “auto-aim” crap that they do now – we practiced.  Why wouldn’t we practice? If you shoot someone’s head off, a blood fountain spurts from their neck! As an eight year old that was nothing less than cool. The same with pulling people out of cars, stealing said car, strafing a nearby police car with bullets and then driving like mad as you get hunted down. We loved doing things like this and enjoyed many many hours doing this over and over,  over time we got access to cheats and widened our variety of weapons and cars – which allowed our virtual escapades to spill onto the second island. Which is locked at the beginning of the game, we never unlocked it because we never bothered playing many of the missions.

As we got older and things changed we were allowed to play other games, my personal favourites include: Kingdom Hearts, Guild Wars, Runescape (don’t judge me, this list is running from my youngest games to the most recent) Halo, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and finally Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Many of these games are incredibly violent and feature some pretty gut wrenching stuff. Kingdom Hearts for instance features such things like losing your soul and in the second one, the almost-kinda protagonist doesn’t exist. I played that game and was heartbroken. Call of Duty, features warfare and Modern Warfare features the level “No Russian”. At the beginning of Modern Warfare, we are given the option to take “No Russian” out of the game because of its upsetting content – the level consists of walking casually through an airport slaughtering innocent civilians.

I have played many games, shot many virtual people – for no reason, I have murdered prostitutes after sleeping with them to get my money back – virtually of course. Stolen cars, stolen airplanes, helicopters, I’ve murdered people with stolen helicopters to steal fast cars which I’ve then used to run people over – my point is: on video games I have done many immoral things – for fun and without a twinge of guilt and there is a good reason. I have committed all these crimes “on video games”, in real life I feel guilty for squishing flies or accidentally stepping in someone’s way – honestly. I’m not trying to paint the picture that I’m perfect, not by a long shot – but despite playing extremely violent, sexually explicit games from a young age. I am not warped and many people have shared similar experiences to me and are not murders.

This is not a closed case, I have more than my own experience to wield about my head.

Research does show that exposure to violence, including video game violence does in fact make people more aggressive, in the short term. This was shown by the University of Iowa who allowed 47 undergraduate students play Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance for fifteen minutes. Then they were told to dish out Hot Sauce – they were told who didn’t like hot sauce and that those people had to still eat it. Those who had played the video game dished out a significant amount more hot sauce to the people who disliked it than people who hadn’t played the game. This study although been one of many which have proven a link between video games and aggressive behavior, hasn’t proven a long term effect  – other studies do, but with self-confessed shaky evidence.

So, if we admit that playing violent video games can (not will) in the long run make us more aggressive, we should ask, as many people are, should violent video games be banned? The answer: no, don’t be so absurd. I’m not saying this because I’m a fan but because so many other bigger things make us violent – War for one, but also the news, which I complained about last week. The news is full of so much hate and violence and horrible crimes that it becomes impossible not to be affected, not necessarily in a good way.  Or the other offender, which is in the news at the moment: Alcohol. Most people get drunk at least once in their lives, many, again most, get drunk many times a year. Alcohol makes us violent, this is because alcohol reduces out inhibitions and stops us from being anxious – this means that when provoked people are less likely to take external factors (such as consequence) into account and are more likely to rise to the bait and become violent.  This is a quicker, more immediate effect than aggression caused through video games, but the Governments reaction to this is to raise drink prices – not banning alcohol. And if they did, could you imagine the uproar?

But that’s not all, governments and parents react to the fact that video games increase aggression as though it were a new thing – it is not. When the Romans ruled they had gladiators, in which slaves were forced to fight to the death against fellow slaves and animals. Children, young children watched these events and I understand that society was different back then, but that isn’t my point, my point is that not every child back then grew into a murderer, they simply grew up and took their children to see Gladiator fights. It was the ancient equivalent to boxing, another point – if we ban video games we must ban children from attending boxing matches, which merely offer “parental guidance”. Well, what does that mean? Children can’t come in here or they’ll see ugly things – but if they have a willing parent then sure, screw that child up! I’m sorry, I’d rather have my child (I don’t have children, this is hypothetical, but no less true) kill several virtual people than watch two real people knock the living day lights out of each other, at least the dead people on the screen don’t exist.

I should conclude before I become silly.

Video games can make people – mostly men, I imagine that’s testosterone’s fault, more aggressive in the short term and possibly more violent in the long run. But lets face it, it isn’t any worse than alcohol or seeing real images in the news – I’ve seen some really scary stuff on the news. So no, video games aren’t a  menace nor are they dangerous, as long as – and this applies to most things, as long as they are used responsibly. This doesn’t mean children of all ages should be watching and playing violent games, but they shouldn’t be exposed to violence in general.