Samantha Nerove: Why so many mass murders? Study impact of violent video games and impose age restrictions

War is ugly and a nightmare to experience – neither glamorous nor enjoyable. It’s nothing like the violent video games that allow players to happily “kill” animated figures from the safety of their bedrooms.

As a combat veteran of two wars, I’ve seen the terrible human cost of violence close up – badly wounded fellow soldiers, others killed in the prime of life, enemy combatants burned beyond recognition. Destroyed homes, businesses and schools.

Now violent video games are in the news as a possible contributing factor to mass murders here in the U.S., following the horrific weekend massacres in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that claimed the lives of 31 people.


Americans are understandably wondering what can be done to reduce the gun violence that takes such a terrible toll in our nation.

The weekend’s mass shootings – following many others over the years – have triggered another round of calls to bans certain types of firearms. But the problem isn’t the gun; the gun is an inanimate object.

More from Opinion

The problem is the person who pulls the trigger on the gun and shoots innocent victims. What makes some people pull the trigger?

One factor that deserves closer examination is violent video games and their effect in desensitizing some young men so that they move from shooting figures on a screen to shooting flesh-and-blood men, women and children.

Millions of Americans play video games. The vast majority don’t turn to real-world violence. But regrettably, some do.

The massive growth of first-person shooter games that give a visceral, virtual-reality view of carnage sends a message to gamers that killing is OK, cool and the right thing to do.

Nearly all American gun owners use guns safely and properly – for hunting, at shooting ranges, or for personal protection if faced with a deadly threat.

What drives a very small number to use their weapons to attack others? There are many factors. But it’s time to look at the effects of glamorized violence, especially in first-person shooter video games that enable the player to experience the action through the eyes of a gun-toting “good guy” who kills “bad guys” in violent confrontations.


The shooter games are immersive and personal. They allow players to look down the barrel of a gun and blow people into a bloody mist, for example.

These video games have grown in popularity and technical sophistication, with some using 3D graphics, desensitizing players to the horror of killing another person.

A study by the American Psychological Association shows ties between these games and aggressive behavior, although not specifically with any mass shootings.

Violent video games are just one way our society glamorizes violence and killing through movies, TV, music and other forms of entertainment. We need to take a hard look at why we do this, and to decide if measures should be taken to promote more positive behavior.

The study concludes: "The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression."

These video games follow the same concepts that have made the field of advertising an effective multibillion-dollar industry. Advertising is designed to get you to do, think or buy something.

A first-person shooter video game has a large array of the elements that someone planning an advertising campaign would love to have presented to an impressionable person. How could these games not have an effect?
Some of the techniques used by the first-person video games are:

Use of repetition. If you show or tell people the same thing enough times, you can change their perception and sometimes change their behavior. Someone playing a first-person shooter kills “bad guys” over and over again. This leads to two major messages being ingrained: that the player can decide who the “bad guys” are, and that killing them is the proper response.

Association with positive role models. Many of the first-person shooter video games allow the player to pretend to be a member of the U.S. military – an extremely positive brand. Others allow the player to be an anti-hero or even a criminal, as Grand Theft Auto does. These anti-heroes become positive role models, because the game portrays them as such. So whether it’s a hero or anti-hero, the message is that “killers are cool.”

Appeal to emotion. The player in a first-person shooter video game is on a mission. It may be a good one – like saving innocents or winning a military battle. Or it may be a bad one, like being a great car thief or other type of powerful criminal. Either way, players are given the impression that they are the one who can make a difference and that they must not fail because they hold the fate of many in their hands.

A minority of video game players lack the emotional filters to separate game fantasy from their own tortured reality.

For those who discount this idea, explain to me what other factor has changed so dramatically in the past few decades to desensitize young people to committing acts of horrendous violence.

Creating a minimum age of 18 for people to play first-person shooter games, with an unlock function tied to a driver’s license or state ID, is one safety measure worth considering.

Another good idea would be for the federal government to fund a scientific study of how big an impact these games have on players. That could help lawmakers decide if some controls are needed on these games in addition to age limits.

Violent video games are just one way our society glamorizes violence and killing through movies, TV, music and other forms of entertainment. We need to take a hard look at why we do this, and to decide if measures should be taken to promote more positive behavior.


People were killing other people long before video games were created. But if these games are indeed causing some people to take violence from virtual reality to the real world, we need to determine if some reasonable limits can be placed on the games and who plays them, in order to save lives.

And as parents of children who grow up playing video games, we all need to ask ourselves: Is this glorification of death and destruction really what we want to expose our children to in their formative years?