The virtual vice

Bryan Hooyman

Over the years, video games have become increasingly popular with nearly every demographic. But this popularity has led some experts to question what effects they may have on users.

Douglas Gentile, assistant professor of psychology, studies the effects video games can have on humans, so he understands gamers play video games to fulfill different desires. Whether it is for relaxation, escape or entertainment, gamers strive to interact with their virtual surroundings.

Dane Serafini, junior in pre-business, doesn’t play video games much, but reflects as to why people like his roommate are drawn to the violence of video games.

“Video game violence, like in ‘Command & Conquer,’ is so popular due to the adrenaline and excitement,” Serafini said. “It makes it seem like you’re getting away with illegal motives that one is unable to get away with in real life.”

With the virtual world booming and taking up so much of our time, medical professionals express a growing concern that some negative behavior may be potentially derived from video games.

“Dozens of studies now show pretty clearly that playing violent games increase aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings and aggressive behaviors. The effects are almost entirely out of our control, because they are based on basic learning principles,” Gentile said. “When you practice something, such as seeing a violent stimulus and choosing to respond aggressively, over and over, we get better at it. Practice makes perfect, whether or not we intend for it to.”

Jody Dierickx, senior in accounting, sees this gaming phenomenon as a definite truth in today’s society.

“I believe that playing the games could affect one’s behavior,” Dierickx said. “It could definitely affect how a person views violence – when they play violent video games, it seems fine to them, so when it comes to real life and they seem to be all right around violence, [it’s] because they see violence in the games they play.”

Gentile said “violent nature” in video games may just be a phase our social norm is experiencing at the present time.

“Certainly in times of war, the media follows suit,” Gentile said. “However, if we look longer across time, the media has been getting more violent over the past 50 years, partly because one of the effects of watching [violence] is desensitization. So to keep us from being ‘bored,’ the media keeps increasing the violence. This paradoxically just increases the rate of desensitization.”