Is there a connection between violent videogames and aggression? A definite Yes. Is there a connection between children who sexually offend and violent videogames? I don’t know. But if this were your client, would you want to take the risk by allowing him/her to continue playing these games?
Violent videogames and teen Sex Offenders
Why are videogames so violent? Does all that violence really matter when it comes to working with our teen clients? Do all roads lead back to Bandura and the Bobo doll experiment? These questions become especially important to answer when dealing with an already aggressive population: adolescent sex offenders.
I’ve taught a class on media before but never did I think I would need to refresh my brain on violence and videogames, at least not in my private practice. I had a stereotype in my head of what the young sex offenders looked like and behaved like. I couldn’t of been more wrong. My awareness increased due to my new clientele. These individuals present as normal teens with headphones around their ears and homework to attend to. I suppose I’ve watched too much television myself (too many “Catch the Predator” specials). In addition, these young people have many advantages. One of them is, when early intervention is present, these individuals are low repeat offenders.
Violent videogames have an impact on young people. In “Postal,” you become a paranoid psychopath and kill hostile people, with no penalty for shooting innocent bystanders. Once you have wounded someone, you can stand above them while they beg for mercy and then shoot them. In “Duke Nukem,” the shooter shoots posters of scantily clad women and then moves to murdering female prostitutes, who are often tied to columns naked and pleading, “kill me, kill me.” Playing violent videogames can elicit hostile expectations, leading one to expect that others will respond in a hostile way. It also heightens negative emotions in a way similar to possessing high trait hostility.
In the upcoming years, games will be more customizable, where one can scan in photos of one’s school, neighborhood, or “enemies.” In 1999, the computer of one of the Columbine assassins contained a customized version of “Doom,” where the killer had scanned in photos of his school and classmates he hated so that he could practice killing them.
Who are these teen sex offenders? They are mostly male. They have an inability to self-regulate impulsivity or negative affect. There is a lack of ability to feel empathy and remorse. They often have low self-worth. They are commonly self-centered and have a lack of respect for others. They exhibit pro-sexual offending behaviors. In males, there’s a belief that traditional gender roles are supreme. There is a need for power and control. Comorbid mental health issues are prevalent and environmental or genetic anomalous neurodevelopment is present.
Connecting the Dots
Children who sexually offend against other children are an interesting population. How do we as practitioners treat them effectively when they are surrounded by violence in the media? Videogames are a serious deviation from reality. One can hunt and kill individuals as well as delete or “do over” scenes in a game, but in reality, the stakes are much higher.
Violent videogames are the ideal construct to promote violence. They:
1) Place the player in the role as aggressor
2) Allow the player to rehearse the entire script from provocation to choosing a violent resolution.
3) Are addictive. Young people want to play them (especially isolated, depressed teens) for hours and repetition increases learning.
Following predictions from social learning/cognitive theory, game players learn shooting behaviors from playing the video game and imitating violent characters in the game. These children want to be in control. Allowing them to enter a world wherein they have total control seems counterintuitive.
Helping Children Cope with a No Videogame Environment
There are many ways to Help this vulnerable population:
1) Discuss the removal of violent videogames with your client
2) Educate his or her parents on exposure to violent videogames and the videogame rating system (which can be confusing).
3) Reintroduce the games, if substantial therapeutic progress has been made, but have a time limit of one hour/per day.
Bandura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant & D. Zillman (Eds.), Media effects (2nd ed., pp. 121-153). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bandura, A. Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582 .
Barbaree, H. & Marshall, W. (2006). The Juvenile Sex Offender. New York, New York: The Guildford Press.
Adina Silvestri is a licensed professional counselor, researcher, and counselor educator who works with adults and children in her private practice, Life Cycles Counseling.It is her passion to work with individuals with addiction through counseling, research and advocacy efforts with the hope of raising awareness to the lack of gender specific treatment and recovery programs. Read more about her at www.adinasilvestri.com