Remember that time when a credible study proved playing violent games don't cause violence? And that other time? And another one again? Yeah, well, you can add one more to the list which completely gut the notion that someone playing lots of Grand Theft Auto will end up shooting people in real life.
While the "games cause violence" misconception isn't quite making headlines like it used to a few years ago, that isn't because it's gone - it just isn't newsworthy anymore. However, while video games and their enjoyment are becoming ever more mainstream and normalized, old prejudices among the demographic which doesn't play games have also become normalized. Just because they aren't talked about doesn't mean they aren't there.
This concept used to be big news at a time, especially with GTA specifically named. Even recently, there was some kerfuffle about a mod changing vehicles in GTA 5 to resemble those found in New South Wales due to the connotation with violent video games. You'd think this notion has been debunked enough times by relevant scientific studies, but it's widely known that the general group who subscribes to these ideas chronically cherry-picks what science they believe.
GTA has achieved much of its fame in part thanks to the constant controversy which followed the franchise during its entire life, from the very first title all the way to GTA 5, the latest release. We're also willing to bet a few Shark Cards on the next GTA game stirring up controversy as well - it just wouldn't be GTA otherwise.
Thing is, considering how overwhelmingly popular GTA is, if its capacity to induce violence in people were real, even to a smaller extent than believed by some, there would still be a vastly higher number of incidents with a clear connection to the game. Whenever the perpetrators of violent crimes just happen to also play games, it is always highlighted by the media, and yet these cases aren't flooding everyone's newsfeed daily.
Plenty of arguments that are tossed up stating that video games elicit violent behavior often have very practical counterpoints, just in case the studies weren't enough. Something which has come up often is that engaging in virtual acts of violence as recreation desensitizes players to actual violence, making these acts seem less severe or serious.
Thing is, there exists a very official and, generally speaking, respected organization which very much aims to desensitize people involved with it towards violence - the army. Countless times, when this desensitization argument is brought up, numerous people involved with the military chip in saying that if games would really have this effect, all recruits would have to play them.
Of course, this varies from the militaries of country to country, but the majority of people who engage in these discussions usually hail from the USA, where most training programs seek to eliminate any psychological barrier that might exist in recruits preventing them from pulling the trigger when a human being is on the other end of the gun.
In spite of what daily news would have you believe, barring a few outliers, humans generally have a basic aversion to murdering one another. When someone is being trained to become a soldier, this aversion must be removed. If playing a bunch of GTA really made people "okay" with violence, it would probably make for a much more efficient training method.
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Militaries around the world use software and simulations in training - though they might be functionally and visually similar, it would be a stretch to call them games - these serve the purpose of teaching tactics instead of altering the psychology of the recruits.
Now, the thing with GTA in particular is that, as opposed to other franchises, there have been specific cases where dangerous situations and even murders occurred where the perpetrator later outright referred to the game as inspiration. However, two things need to be remembered here.
When someone is actually compelled to commit acts of violence with a game as a catalyst, there are a number of underlying psychological issues present already. They're a prerequisite, and the game was just the trigger, in which case anything else could have also been the trigger.
Another is to consider the rate of such cases. Considering the whole audience of the entire GTA franchise since its conception in relation to the less than a dozen cases where the game was named specifically, you have a negligible percentage which under no school of logic is sufficient to draw conclusions from.
How many acts of violence can be tangentially linked to games with some mental acrobatics? And then, how many acts of violence are indisputably a direct result of, say, alcohol consumption? The differences are astronomical, and just like alcohol was historically used as a media sensation and banned in the USA temporarily, video games are the current scapegoat. Metal and Rap music went through this, TV went through this.
Whenever the next big scapegoat comes around - though VR may elongate gaming's position in this - games will be left alone just like all those that came before have. This is a discussion that drifted out of the spotlight, which is an easy reason to think that "we've won", but this amount of studies won't change the minds of those who took this position 10-20 years ago.
The major strides of normalizing gaming and removing its social stigma which was prominent in the nineties and noughties prove that much of society has moved beyond these misconceptions, but as the world moves more and more towards digitalization, larger and larger segments of the media are being utilized as discussion spaces exclusively by people who hold progressive views about technology.
We might think that the "games cause violence" and "games rot your brain!" *shakes walking stick* kind of mentalities are gone, whereas simply they remained in the older iterations of community discussion space while the rest of us moved forward. This means that we don't hear them, but they also don't hear us, or the scientific studies being toted here.
This is a discussion that needs to be kept alive, because while no politician will try to take down games in the USA after so many have failed, other nations still impose these bans. In some cases they are motivated by specific governmental decrees, in others by religious motives. But in some places, the people who think "Timmy will become a killer just because he likes playing his Nintendo" won.
We're betting that whenever Rockstar rolls out a new GTA title, this discussion will be - albeit briefly - brought back into the spotlight even in the USA. When it is, be prepared.