Graphic Video Games; Do They Desensitise Real Life Violence?

Picture by: Tom Hutchinson (2017). Sunday Express.

***Warning – Long article.***

Violence has come to be a part of life, no matter what we do. We often find it in video games, general life and on the news. Some situations of violence and abuse are unavoidable, however, there are some that are not; video games being a prime example. In modern-day society, children especially seem to become impressionable to acts of violence, because they cannot really differentiate between pretend and play. It is not always the case, but sometimes it is and the question is, how do we prevent that kind of behaviour from occurring in the future?


Violence in modern-day society has come to be a big part of video gaming due to how popular it is. Shooting games give children the chance to play as a soldier and eliminate ‘enemies.’ Games such as ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Resident Evil,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Bioshock,’ ‘Sniper Elite,’ ‘Far Cry,’ ‘Battlefield,’ and more. 

It is not only soldier type games that influence children, but also fantasy games and any games that encourage violence and/or bad behaviour. Example – ‘Fortnite‘ encourages players to eliminate other online players with weapons and ‘Destiny‘ encourages players to eliminate aliens with fantasy-like weapons. The use of weapons; be it knives, firearms and explosives etc, seem to be reoccurring objects in video games. 

Other games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ and ‘Watch Dogs,’ allow players to physically hit and murder innocent people, steal their money and purchase firearms to eliminate other people. Sometimes there is blood and other times there is not, however, gaming companies often want to make the games as realistic as possible, so include some aspect of gore and crime.

What does this teach the younger generation about the future? Does it influence them to commit crimes or does it seriously numb down how violence really is in real life? Below we are going to go into a little bit more detail on what effects these games have on young people and the controversies involved. 

First Person Games:

Video games such as ‘Call of Duty,’ have always contained violence and warfare, due to the storylines surrounding the soldiers. This gives children the chance to experience what it is and was like being a soldier, gives them an educational outlook on past times and what soldiers had to go through. However, it also exposes them to extreme violence and gore, which many parents want to avoid.

Call of Duty also includes ‘zombies,’ which has come to be incredibly popular in modern-day society, but also gory and violent. The aim of this is to survive with three other plays (online) and fight off the hoard of zombies that appear in each new round. The players must find weapons, upgrade those weapons and survive for as long as possible until they are overrun.

Physical Violence:

On the other hand, games such as ‘Mirrors Edge,’ and ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,’ incorporate violence but to a smaller degree. Mirrors edge, for example, expects you to survive by using parkour and physical violence to reach your destinations. 

Games that involve the use of firearms and general weapons can have a large effect on young people, due to how impressionable they can be. A common question that young people often ask real soldiers is “how many people have you killed?” This is extremely inconsiderate because video games are in no way similar to real-life, and if young people believe they have any experience with weapons simply by playing games, then they are gravely mistaken.

Popular Fantasy Games:

Games that are more fantasy and science fiction based can also incorporate violence. ‘Destiny‘ for example is a first-person shooter against aliens and encourages the use of fantasy-like weapons. Another popular fantasy game is ‘Bioshock,’ which is another first-person shooter with role-playing game customisation and stealth elements that guide you through enemy forces. 

A common game that does not include the use of firearms, is ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.’ This game guides you through a story line that involves the use of sharp weapons, such as swords etc, and also contains a bit of gore when fighting enemies. These enemies could include wild animals, the un-dead and different races of people.

Do games like this influence children to want to get into martial arts for the wrong reasons? Yes, martial arts is good for the use of self-defense, but what if they only learn to become as good as their favourite characters on a video game? What if a young person decides to learn parkour, but ends up having an accident that could have debilitating problems in the future? Even worse, what if they do not receive any training of parkour and end up making a fatal jump?

Horror Games:

Games that include aspects of horror and a thrill are also influential to young people, as it could give them nightmares, jumpy in real-life or could cause some aspect of traumatisation. A prime example of this is ‘Outlast,’ and ‘Alien Isolation.’ Both of these games require players to quietly sneak around an area whilst avoiding enemies in order to survive. The players must also keep an eye on their health and hide when an enemy is close, which brings about a sense of heightened fear and a little bit of an adrenaline rush. 

By playing video games like this, does it desensitise young people to horror and thriller films as well and does it make them less fearful of real-life scary situations? If so, it is a problem.

Mature Rated Games:

The most common 18 rated game is ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ due to the involvement of violence, blood and gore, adult humour, inappropriate language, sexual content and the use of sex and alcohol. Grand theft auto (GTA) is a very popular game for young people, but it is also highly disapproved by parents and professionals. Even though it is rated for over 18’s, children can still gain access to the game if it is not properly secured away somewhere. This could cause the child to view inappropriate scenes that could have an influence in their life and how they interact with others. Example – they could begin swearing in conversations with friends.

There are strip clubs in GTA, which demoralise women and make it seem like that is all they are good for. There are weapons shops that allow the players to purchase weapons, guns and explosives, as well as shooting ranges to practise in. Players can run people over and murder them in cold blood, then collect their money (almost like a hit and run) and more. The game practically encourages crimes, such as theft, murder, prostitution and more. So overall, there is a lot of influential action that can affect young people in grand theft auto. While a lot of professional gamers do not believe that games like this will have an effect, there are very impressionable people out there who would see these acts through and cause harm to others.

Is this really what we want this and the future generation to grow up with? Video games that encourage acts of violence?

Child Desensitisation:

Repeated exposure to media violence can be desensitising, but whether children will become aggressive or antisocial depends on a variety of other factors, including the amount of violence, the context and type of violence, the child’s temperament and the child’s environment.

Children on a typical media diet are exposed to a lot of graphically violent images and ideas through movies, video games and even advertisements. As children grow up, their brains and bodies crave stimulation, which violent media provides. The combination makes children, especially those with risk factors such as emotional challenges, are particularly vulnerable to the desensitising effects of video game and media violence. However, it could be viewed as slightly unethical to think that a slow progression of exposure to violence could ease someone into the subject matter. 

Emotional Desentisation:

According to Author, Christopher Bergland on Psychology Today, there is an ongoing debate about the impact of violent and graphic video games on players’ psyche. Playing certain types of video games can have neuro-cognitive benefits, however, a longitudinal study conducted in 2016 concluded that repeated play of hyper-realistic violent video games desensitised gamers to experiencing emotional responses to acts of violence and numbed their feelings of guilt and remorse.

A Longitudinal Experiment in 2016:

In 2016, a longitudinal experiment, ‘Repeated Play Reduces Video Gamers Ability to Elicit Guilt,’ was published in the ‘Media Psychology Journal’ by 4 researchers (Grizzard, A., Tamborini, R., Sherry, J. L., and Weber, R.). The researchers were curious to identify whether playing violent video games repeatedly could lead to emotional desensitisation. They also examined whether emotional desensitisation extended to other types of play situations and real-life experiences.

To conduct the study, the researchers had participants play alternative versions of the same violent game for the first four days. During these days, the character role of the gamer was changed between playing a ‘moral soldier,’ or an ‘immoral terrorist soldier.’

On the final day of the study (day 5), all the participants played a novel game as a terrorist and the results indicated two key findings:

(1) Firstly, that habituation occurs over repeated game playing and repeated exposure to violence in the video game lessened the ability of the original game to elicit guilt after committing violent acts for all of the players.

(2) Secondly, that the decreased ability to elicit guilt extended to other types of game-playing experiences. For example, the guilt elicited by the novel game on the last day of the study was reduced for the immoral character’s condition when compared to the moral character’s condition.

The Results – The researchers concluded that the study provides casual, longitudinal evidence regarding the potential of repeated violent video game playing to lead to emotional desensitisation with regard to future video game-play experiences.

Young People and Violent Games:

A study released by the ‘Oxford Internet Institute’ in 2014, suggested frustration at being unable to play a game was more likely to bring out aggressive behaviour than the content of the game itself.

There are a lot of instances where young people will become completely engrossed in a graphic video version of a game where nothing more than killing animated people with animated weaponry takes place. Violence, in some way shape or form, has been a predominant theme in the world of video games for a while. For long periods of time, players may get closer and closer to their screens, forget to perform basic day-to-day tasks and will intently focus on a blood and gore killing, that is a ‘game.’

It makes you wonder if young people that play become numb to the realities of violence and killing, but also to the value of human life. Could being so focused on a violent game be a form of video violence addiction? Therefore, by thinking upon this question, it also brings about a sense of sadness at the very thought of just how desensitised society (especially our youth), seem to have become to violence, abuse, death and trauma. This is a very concerning thought.

Video Game Ratings:

In Europe, video games give age-related ratings in accordance with the ‘Pan-European Game Information System‘ (PEGI). There are five ratings and these include – five, seven, 12, 16 and 18. Even though there are ratings available for games of violence, it does not stop children from being able to obtain them, and this is a huge problem. Especially in a modern-day society where games seem to be getting more and more violent.

One of the main problems with violence is that it is hard to classify. A PEGI 18 certificate may contain scenes of ‘gross violence.’ 

Gross Violence’ is often one of the most difficult terms to properly define as it can be very subjective, but in a general sense, it could be classed as the depictions of violence that would make the viewer feel a sense of revulsion.

It Is Not A Game For Survivors Of Violence:

Survivors know the realities of violence, trauma, neglect and abuse, therefore, know that it is anything but a ‘game.’ Society as a whole seems to forget about them and the support they need to recover both mentally and physically. How comfortably numb are we becoming to violence, abuse and emotional trauma? It seems that sitting next to people who play violent shooting games have come to be ‘the norm,’ and everyone seems to be comfortable with it.

Do not allow young people to become comfortably numb to a problem that is destroying and taking lives, and is being called a ‘game.’ Games like these are not educating the younger generation about violence, it is engaging them in it and lining corporate pockets with money that could be used to help those who are suffering in the recovery of violence and abuse.


The playing of video games is often cited as a factor in encouraging violent youth crimes in both the United Kingdom and The United States of America. 

One of the students who carried out the ‘Columbine High School Massacre’ in 1999 used a gun called “Arlene” – allegedly after a character in a novel inspired by the computer game, ‘Doom.’

However, according to Dr. Richard Wilson from Trading Body ‘Tiga,’ most people who do play graphically violent games such as ‘Call of Duty,’ ‘Dead or Alive,’ and ‘Mortal Kombat,’ do not resort to violence.

Conflicting Views:

With so much violence being engaged in virtually by so many people worldwide, is it having an effect on our outlook on violence? Is it desensitising us to mature themes? Below, are two opposing views on the matter.

(1) View One – Gruesome Video Games Reduce Brain Responses to Violence:

A 2011 study by the University of Missouri-Columbia, looked at the long recognised belief held by many scientists that playing violent video games could cause players to become more aggressive in their daily life. The study involved 70 young adult participants who were assigned to play either violent or non-violent video games for 25 minutes. The researchers then measured brain responses as they showed the participants a collection of neutral and violent photos. Researchers found that those who had played a violent video game were more aggressive in their blast by comparison to those who played a non-violent game.

Another study in the publication ‘Social Psychological and Personality Science,‘ found that aggression triggered by video games can last up to 24 hours after the game is played, if the player continues to think about it. It was noted that violent gamers often play for a longer period of time, making it more likely that they let thoughts of the game ruminate within their mind habitually.

(2) View Two – There Is No Casual Link Between Video Games And Violent Behaviour:

Several authoritarian organisations, including the ‘United States Supreme Court,’ the ‘US Surgeon General,’ the ‘Federal Trade Commission’ and ‘Federal Communications Commission’ all believe that there is no casual link between violent video games and violent behaviour. They stated that any theories to the contrary are a myth, and in response have compiled research to support this stance. However, they do advise that individuals (especially parents) make informed decisions about what they do and do not choose to expose themselves to. Each game is subject to a rating and suggested age range, and all major gaming systems are required to have parental controls, which prevent young people and children from accessing anything inappropriate or emotionally traumatising.


Many modern-day video games now include some aspect of violence and gore, and the effects on children can sometimes lead to emotional trauma, however, many children are also okay with the games they play and do not experience anything afterward. It all depends on the child and the person. So, the topic of whether video games desensitise violence will continue to be an ongoing debate.

Thank you for reading.

What are your thoughts?


I am a freelance writer and aspiring author. My passion lies within UK adult education, stigmatised topics and mental health, however, I aim to keep an open mind.

  1. YOUDIEMOFO 01/15/2018
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  2. brad kirchhoff 01/15/2018
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