The recent tragedy in Munich, Germany last Friday, which killed nine people and wounded 35 others, has managed to bring a very notable issue back to the spotlight. With the revelation that the shooter, 18-year-old German-Iranian Ali David Sonboly, was a fan of first-person shooters like Counter-Strike: Source, the notion that violent content in video games are in some way related to violent behavior has emerged once more.
In a lot of ways, violence in video games has pretty much been an industry standard for decades. During that time, several studies such as those undertaken by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have determined that exposure to violent content in the form of video games would, in some way, negatively impact the development of children and teens.
After all, it is no secret that most best-selling mainstream titles today feature some form of violence. Even child-friendly games such as Kirby and Pokémon GO still involve fighting in one way or another. For titles like Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Call of Duty, the violent content is pretty much a no-brainer.
In a statement released by the APA August of last year, the organization stated that their study demonstrated a link "between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior ... and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement." Simply put, the more aggressive content a game has, the less empathy its games might develop.
The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with the APA's statement, asserting on its media violence guideline last July that "video games should not use human or other living targets or award points for killing, because this teaches children to associate pleasure and success with their ability to cause pain and suffering to others."
However, there are other studies which have arrived at a completely different conclusion. In fact, studies such as those undertaken by associate professor and co-chairman of the Department of Psychology at Stetson University Christopher Ferguson have concluded that violent video games actually lessen the chances of people committing violent crimes.
"Basically, by keeping young males busy with things they like, and this would include everything from playing sports and collecting stamps to playing first-person shooter video games, you keep them off the streets and out of trouble," he said.
Statistically speaking, the effect of violent video games to the frequency of violent behavior is indeed marginal. However, there is also no denying that committing questionable acts such as running over pedestrians or shooting random onlookers do, in some way, de-synthesize gamers to a number of otherwise shocking, violent events.
However, games do come with their designated ratings. For example, the Grand Theft Auto undoubtedly contains an immense amount of violent content. However, the game is also clearly marketed towards an adult and mature audience.
Now, if an 8-year-old plays GTA and develops a lack of empathy in the long run, then that is hardly the game's fault. That may already be a problem with the environment where the child was raised.