It’s not news that violent video games incite aggressive behavior in regular players. One particular study conducted at Iowa State University back in 2012 found that games like “Call of Duty” and “Mortal Combat: Deadly Alliance” did in fact stir up more hostile urges in students than less violent games. While that’s enough to keep me from letting any future sons of mine play those types of games, this new study just pushed me over the edge.
Researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca and the University of Genova in Italy had 154 Italian high school students play a variety of violent video games, some with sexist undertones and some without (and what makes a video game sexist is females portrayed as prostitutes, strippers or similar sexual objects).
After the teen boys played the video games for a while, researchers had them evaluate two photos that each depicted a man enacting (or having enacted) a violent act on a woman. What they found was disturbing, to say the least, but not terribly surprising. The boys who played Grande Theft Auto (a sexist game) showed much less sympathy for the victimized woman in the photos than those who played Half Life (a violent but not sexist game). What’s worse: Some boys really identified with the main character in the game and feel like they become the character when they play. These boys felt the least amount of empathy toward the girl victim.
Now, this doesn’t mean that when these boys become adults they’ll definitely be violent toward women, but it does suggest the more they play these games, the less they’ll react to women in distress. That could mean they’d ultimately be more numb to female suffering over time, whether or not that suffering was caused by something they themselves did.
If video games are inspiring these ideas, that is not OK.
Co-author of the study, Brad Bushman, said the real influential danger lies in how these games are played today. Unlike watching a movie where you have some distance from a sexist lead character, these video games are designed to put you in the action and make you feel like you are the guy holding the gun. That kind of close connection has a proven negative impact on the player, at least in the short term.
“You may think the games are just harmless fun. But when boys play them and identify with the male characters in the game, it can lead to agreement with some pretty disturbing beliefs about masculinity and how to treat women,” Bushman said to Science Daily.
I have seen firsthand how differently adult men who still play these sorts of games treat women. There is often an emotional disconnect and much more devotion to stereotypical masculine traits. While I’ve never witnessed such influence turn to violence, I can easily see how it could.
The younger boys start playing these types of games, the more affect they could have on their development and subsequent views on how to treat women. If these games must exist, they should at least have an age restriction on them, rather than just a rating, for the sake of all the future women in these boys’ lives.