The video game industry has grown quite quickly. They started first as the single game machines, like asteroids, only found arcades, and moved to game machines like Pong or the Atari system in homes. Now personal computers and advanced gaming consoles have brought computer gaming to a new level within the home and online with the rise of high-speed internet connectivity. Leading analysts predict that revenue from video games and related businesses could surpass the music and movie industries within five years . The market is already huge, over 43 percent of US households have at least one game console  (a machine hooked directly to the TV). This overlaps somewhat with the 51 percent of US households that reported having personal computers in 2000 , which also play video games.
Recently, there have been a number of games come under fire because of actions in the real world. This coverage of video game violence and the impact in society has become something of a moral panic in the US in recent years. There are a few major cases that blame the effects of video games, especially on youth, as the cause of serious crimes. Because of this, quite a bit of research has been done on the effects of video game violence on people, but the results of the studies are largely inconclusive. The way the panic has grown is quite similar to the way TV and movie violence have been targeted as well. Many of the same organizations involved in those campaigns are also involved in targeting video game violence. The issue is, though, are video games really the threat that the anti-violence advocacy groups and other moral entrepreneurs would like us to think? Are online video games only going to get worse treatment in the next few years as they continue to gain in popularity?
The talks about video games and violence have been numerous. One of the bigger organizations talking about video game violence and its effects is The National Institute on Media and the Family. Every year since 1998, they have released a report  rating the video game industry in general, as well as specific ratings of the popular games at the time. In each report they make observations of the game industry and the problems surrounding it. They also rate the response and changes since last year’s recommendations. They also breifly overview the latest research related to video game violence and portrayals. In 2000, they made many recommendations related to displaying ratings on video games, and enforcing those ratings at retailers. The ratings have been made very public by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and are now seen not only on all retail video games, but arcade games as well. In 2001 they distinguished the most popular games approved by the organization, verses games they say to avoid. In 2002, they said “A Dark Cloud Descends Over the Industry,” with the release of games that not only had violence (or even “ultra-violence”) in them, but also violence directed against women.
Almost all video games are designed and produced by men. Many games appear to reflect young male fantasies. It is very disturbing that the most popular games reflect a violent and misogynist attitude toward girls and women or treat girls and women as sexual playthings. 
Also in 2002, more was mentioned of addictions to video games, both in children and adults, citing the signs of video game addiction. The 2003 report card correlates video game “screen time” to the rise in obesity in the U.S. Also in the latest issue, the Institute on Media and the Family invents a new word: “killographic.”
This year’s example of a “killographic” game is Manhunt. (If pornographic is the “graphic depiction of sex,” then “killographic” should enter our vocabulary to describe the “graphic depiction of brutal violence.) This year’s report card shows that children and youth still have easy access to such “killographic games.” 
The invention of this word by the Institute was quickly picked up by major media organizations. The report was released just before Christmas of 2003 (December 8, 2003), and the news programs ran with the new word. Though the reports and coverage of video games have been largely negative, much of the blame is not targeted at the games themselves, but at the retailers and parents. This is an important distinction to make, because for the most part, video games are violent in the same way that movies and TV are. Movies and TV have been protected speech media for a while now, and there is little reason that video games would not also fall under that category. The general portrayal in the news media, however, tends to gloss over the fact, and the major blame is upon the video games, and their makers, in reports.
The view that the games or game makers are to blame is quite apparent when such claims come up in courtrooms. After the Columbine High School shootings, a group of the parents of victims filed a law suit against game makers. Sony America, AOL/TimeWarner, ID Software, Atari, Sega of America, Virgin Interactive Media, Activision, Polygram Film Entertainment Distribution, New Line Cinema, GT Interactive Software and Nintendo were among 25 companies named in the suit, and the group sought over $5 billion in damages . The suit argued that the murders would not have occured were it not for these violent video games, and that “the legal case is trying to change the marketing and distribution of violent video games that turn children into ‘monster killers’.” The main reason for the suit was evidence that the killers at Columbine, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, had used a modified version of the First Person Shooter video game Doom, as well as been influenced by the movie ‘The Basketball Diaries’ and other video games such as MechWarrior. The case was thrown out by Denver U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock, saying that “it isn’t reasonable to hold the creators of movies and games liable for the acts of others that can’t be foreseen.”  Other similar cases were all thrown out for similar reasons, including a suit after the Kentucky school schootings. “Babcock said the defendants have a First Amendment right to create and distribute their works.” The coverage doesn’t only come from lawsuits though. Two defendents in a recent case involving the two teenage stepbrothers shooting motorists on Interstate 40 said they were imitating the game Grand Theft Auto. They fired over 25 rounds into traffic, killing one man and injuring a young woman. They pled guilty to reckless homicide, reckless endangerment and aggrivated assault. 
Online games are far from immune from this kind of coverage. A group at Yahoo Groups called EverQuest-Widows  was started in June of 2000 and has over 2500 members. This group was formed to talk about the effects that the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) EverQuest has had on family members and relationships. This group gained a lot of press when first news of suicides possibly caused by an addiction to EverQuest came to light. One such suicide has prompted organizations like Media and the Family to ask for warning labels, like those on cigarettes, warning about the addictive properties of online games . Yet, others have used the previous media attention to draw attention to themselves, creating a hoax suicide under the same guise .
Probably more shockingly, a number of articles from Korea have reported on online gaming grudges spilling into the real world in the form of gangs. In Korea, online gaming has nearly become the national pasttime, and the major game is called Lineage, with over 2 million subscribers. Lineage is called a Player vs Player (PvP) game, where people can attack eachother in game. Actual violence carried over as retaliation for in-game actions has become so common place, it is called “off-line PK (Player Killing)” . The occurances in Korea seem isolated there, to a population where over 50% have subscriptions to online games.
There are a small number of real research papers on the subject of violence in video games, and its effects on people. One of the more complete papers available online is “Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life” , a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Two studies were completed, one studying violent video game play in real-life, and the other a laboratory experiment studying the effect of graphically violent video games on agressive thoughts and behavior. The studies both showed an increase in agressive behavior and deliquency. “Violent video games provide a forum for learning and practicing aggressive solutions to conflict situations.” The short term effects found were that violent video games primed agressive thoughts in players, and the effects in the long term could be that more agressive reactions to situations are available. The paper says that some research has said that “video game playing may be a useful means of coping with pent-up and aggressive energies”, and admits that previous research was sparse and weak. The paper admits that much more study needs to be done on the subject, both for studying different short term effects and long term effects of video game violence. Other research has been mixed in conclusions about the effects of video game violence .
Articles about the lack or mixed results of research have painted a different picture about the state of video game violence and the moral panic surrounding it. An article in Salon Magazine in May of 1999, shortly after the Columbine shootings and the rise in panic about video game violence pointed out the research that many of the organizations were basing their views off of . According to Boal, the studies cited by MediaScope (another organization policing media violence) largely did not paint a picture that video games caused violent or agressive behavior. In fact, many proved the opposite, that children were better able to internalize those behaviors or that the video games were a discharge of the need for agression. So any ‘overwhelming evidence’ stated by leading news organizations was simply not there, creating much of the moral panic about video game violence we have today. The game-related site Avault also covered some of the same material, after the Surgeon General’s findings of violence in the media said that it was not a major factor in violence today .
Legistlature to keep violent videogames out of the hands of minors has largely been unsuccessful, even with the backing of organizations such as the Institute on Media and the Family, MediaScope and ChildrenNow. Recently a couple of bills have been proposed to state legistlatures attempting to ban the sales of mature rated games to minors. In California, a bill was recently defeated which would ban the sales of mature rated games, on a rating scale different than the one that the industry uses, and impose stricter penalties on retailers . Other bills in states have come and gone without effect.
So the major question remains, is this a moral panic, and is it justified? The moral entrepreneurs are certainly there, looking to extend the previous anti-violence advocacy focused towards movies and TV to video games, and it seems, looking to make a few bucks in the mean time. ChildrenNow currently charges for access to their report on media violence, and MediaScope also charges for their materials, as well as provide consulting and speaking services. The National Institute on Media and the Family is certainly one of the bigger organizations lobbying for video-game controls, and as well, they have carried over from movies and tv to video games. Currently the research is vague, incomplete or just plain contradictory. There is little peer-reviewed and confirmed research saying that video games do indeed contribute to violence in society through players, and there are other reports saying nearly the opposite, that video games can reduce violence and agression in players. Luckily, judges and legistlatures through the country have been able to see where this trend is going, for the most part, and have blocked attempts at strengthening controls on video games based on the research and previous events. Judges have stated repeatedly that just like movies and TV, video game makers have a First Amendment right to create and produce this media, and that any adverse effects are not their fault, but more likely the fault of supervision and other problems. This is an age where children are often placated with entertainment without supervision, and when things happen, much of the blame initially goes towards the makers of that entertainment, instead of the ones that are supposed to be supervising. This has happened time and again with TV and Movies, and the increased interactivity and entertainment of video games simply makes it the new big target.
1: Daniel Kayser, Gaming Industry to Surpass Music Industry in Revenue?, 2004, http://general.gamerfeed.com/gf/news/5866/
2: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, Computer Use and Ownership: August 2000, 2001, http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p23-207.pdf
3: Institute on Media in the Family, MediaWise Video Game Report Card, 1998-2003, http://www.mediafamily.org/research/report_vgrc_index.shtml
4: David Walsh, Ph.D.; Douglas Gentile, Ph.D.; Marilyn VanOverbeke;Emily Chasco (intern), MediaWise Video Game Report Card: 2002, 2002, http://www.mediafamily.org/research/report_vgrc_2002-2.shtml
5: David Walsh, Ph.D.; Douglas Gentile, Ph.D.; Jeremy Gieske; Monica Walsh; Emily Chasco, MediaWise Video Game Report Card: 2003, 2003, http://www.mediafamily.org/research/report_vgrc_2003-2.shtml
6: Mark Ward, Columbine families sue computer game makers, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1295920.stm
7: Karen Abbott, Sanders’ videogame lawsuit dismissed, 2002, http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/columbine/article/0,1299,DRMN_106_1014458,00.html
8: Thomas Layton, EverQuest and Grand Theft Auto are implicated in deaths in Arkansas and Tennessee., 2003, http://www.gamespot.com/all/news/news_6074253.html
9: , EverQuest-Widows, , http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/EverQuest-Widows/
10: Stanley A. Miller II, Death of a game addict, 2002, http://www.jsonline.com/news/state/mar02/31536.asp
11: Bruce Rolston, ISP: EverQuest Suicide Appears to be a Hoax, 2000, http://www.avault.com/news/displaynews.asp?story=11172000-105925
12: Michelle Levander, Where Does Fantasy End?, 2001, http://www.time.com/time/interactive/entertainment/gangs_np.html
13: Craig A. Anderson, Karen E. Dill, Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life, 2000, http://www.apa.org/journals/psp/psp784772.html
14: John Sherry , Research Papers, , http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~sherryj/videogames/papers.htm
15: Mark Boal, The shooters and the shrinks, 1999, http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/1999/05/06/game_violence/
16: Bruce Rolston, Everything You Know About Video Game Violence Is Wrong, 2001, http://www.avault.com/articles/getarticle.asp?name=everything
17: Justin Jouvenal, Video game ban loses vote, 2004, http://www.sanmateocountytimes.com/Stories/0,1413,87~11268~2082918,00.html