Video Games and Violence: The Cultivation Theory

Since the 1990’s, there has been a sharp rise in the new digital forms of entertainment. Targeting the young adult population, the industry has released countless video games for various media platforms. Typically, too much exposure to violence leads to the development of aggressive behaviors. Accordingly, different research methods including the cultivation theory have been established to assess the impact of video game violence on young adults. The cultivation theory alludes that violent scenes and prejudices in the television media affect their audience’s perception of the world. In particular, they influence people’s view of the world and result in the emergence of various stereotypes.
The high presence of violence in video games has attracted a lot of research about their impact on players’ psychological condition, especially by causing the development of aggressive behaviors. Most past research works on this topic have relied on the cultivation theory to establish television effects on gamers’ attitudes towards the world. Unfortunately, there is no conclusive report on the impact of this form of entertainment (Greitemeyer, Agthe, Turner, & Gschwendtner, 2014). While some researchers are of the opinion that video games lead to the emergence of violent behavior, others have not established clear links between the former and the likelihood of a player committing a crime. According to Shanahan and Mogan (1999), television entertainment results in “first-order effects.” In this case, it only teaches people societal-level lessons about the world without necessarily affecting their perception. Other researchers believe that video games result in “second-order effects,” mostly due to the player’s high level of involvement (Sherry, 2001). The “first-order effects” mean reasonable estimation of social realities, while “second-order effects” are biased beliefs.
Lubarsky et al. (2015) observed that children learn aggressive behavior when exposed to violence. His argument is based on script theory, which alludes that a person’s environment determines what he/she learns. Scripts are sets of well-rehearsed and highly associated concepts that involve various linking goals and subsequent action plans (Lubarsky et al., 2015). Therefore, violent scenes in video games result in children having lasting memories of horrific views and strategies of how to counter them if they occurred in the real-life.
Sherry, Lucas, Greenberg, and Lachlan (2006) note that players of video games are usually inclined to personal and social gratification. Typically, these individuals enjoy the challenge of both “beating the game” and their friends. For many, there is also fulfillment in being ranked as a pro-player by their colleagues. Jan, Sultan, and Kareem (2012) collaborate this view by acknowledging that gratification is one of the important aspects of video games. They assert that this form of entertainment gives an individual the feeling of control. Additionally, video games are structured with the aim of promoting competition and challenge since players aim at reaching the next level by outplaying their colleagues and the “game” itself.
Most research findings show that competition is usually higher among fighter and sports genres (games that test a person’s agility and knowledge) (Sherry et al., 2006). Unlike the real world, digital entertainment environment does not discriminate based on a person’s physical abilities; therefore, it offers players a more even playing field. Similar to the real world, video games are used for social interactions and gratification (Sherry et al., 2006). Consequently, gaming also appears to be a type of diversion that promotes social interactions among individuals. The findings by Sherry et al. (2006) contradict those of previous research in this topic. In particular, they note that although video games make people experience events in an almost real-life manner, they do not promote isolation or development of violent behaviors. On the contrary, they enhance social interactions among individuals.
The research conducted by Lee and Bichard (2009) concluded that people who have excessive exposure to digital forms of entertainment have various types or racial stereotypes. In particular, the authors noted that such individuals believe that Africans and Latin Americans are violent, while all Caucasians are loving and caring. Although they did not explore the impact of video games on players’ behavior, their findings showed that, on the overall, digital forms of entertainment significantly affect people’s view of the real world.
Velez, Mahood, Ewoldsen, and Moyer-Gusé (2014) observed that social learning from digital entertainment occurs when individuals choose role models from what they are watching. Consequently, television shows provide individuals with an opportunity of selecting their preferred characters who, in turn, influence their behaviors (including the formation of stereotypes). On the contrary, they opine that players of video games do not usually acquire any behavior from playing games since these individual do not aim at learning from the games and are not aware or the self-reflective nature of their choices (Sherry et al., 2006). In this regard, any form of social learning from playing games is due to arousal transfer, desensitization, or priming.
Undoubtedly, an understanding of how mass media affects people’s behavior, in general, can enable scientists to gain insight of how video games influence the players’ psychological condition. The current theoretical contributions on this topic have not been conclusive due to the contradicting findings from researchers. In this regard, the research of the impact of video games on individuals will enable me to establish whether video games indeed alter young adults’ view of the world.
Greitemeyer T., Agthe M., Turner R., & Gschwendtner C. (2012). Acting prosocially reduces retaliation: Effects of prosocial video games on aggressive behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 235-242.
Jan, M., Sultan, K., & Kareem, W. (2012). Effects of video games on students: Test of uses and gratification theory. Asian Journal of Management Sciences and Education, 1(2), 146-156.
Lee, N., & Bichard, S. (2009). Television Viewing and ethnic stereotypes: Do college students form stereotypical perceptions of ethnic groups as a result of heavy television consumption? The Howard Journal of Communication, 20, 95-110.
Lubarsky, S., Dory, V., Audetat, M., Custers, E., & Charlin, B. (2015). Using script theory to cultivate illness script formation and clinical reasoning in health professions education. Canadian Medicine Education Journal, 6(2), 61-70.
Shanahan, J., & Morgan, M. (1999). Television and its viewers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sherry, J., Lucas, K., Greenberg, B., Lachlan, H. (2006). Video game uses and gratifications as predictors of use and game preference. International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, 8, 213-224.
Sherry, L. (2001). The effects of violent video games on aggression: A meta-analysis. Human Communications Research, 27(3), 409-431.
Velez, A., Mahood, C., Ewoldsen, R., & Moyer-Gusé, E. (2014). Ingroup versus outgroup conflict in the context of violent video game play: The effect of cooperation on increased helping and decreased aggression. Communication Research, 41, 607-626.