RAY JOHNSON: Are Violent Video Games Making Your Child Violent?

sac-button-rayOPINION – Other than the most obvious argument — that video games have been able to lure, entertain and captivate many children from a healthy and vigorous outdoor play in the sunny park — there is research now supporting that certain video games are causing detrimental behavioral changes in children, such as aggressive, impulsive and violent behavior, by influencing their mindset with deviant values.

As a former youth correctional counselor for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, I will qualify myself to validate the above research. I remember writing my book Thug Mentality Exposed in a coffee shop, in a gang-infested area in Sacramento.

Across the street there were some posters that captured my attention. They appeared at first to me to be a movie poster ad; the ad was plastered across in multiple rows on an abandoned building,which read Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas. Again, initially I believed it to be a movie poster, however with closer examination I realized it was actually a video game. First thought being, why would a company advertise a game, glorifying a violent felony offense in this gang-related part of the city? Later I discovered at the time it was the No. 1 selling game in America.

So the next day I decided to continue my research of this game at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility, in Stockton, California, an institution at the time which housed California’s most violent inmates, between the ages of 18-25.

That morning I was working on a lock-up unit, where the most assaultive inmates in the facility were housed. We would escort the inmates in solo, paired by staff in full restraints to the recreational yard, where they would be placed in individual recreational cages. There were seven cages, in the shape of a “U.” These inmates who were rivals of each other, would curse back and forth, disrespecting each others’ gang, family, mother, “dead homies,” girlfriend etc…, for the entire three hours of their recreational period.

Irritated by this monotonous routine, I decided to distract their battle of insults by a simple question: “Have you guys played Grand Theft Auto?” To my surprise it stopped them in their tracks. Not only did it bring forth an enthusiastic response, but also cultivated a friendly conversation between rivals.

Excerpt from “Thug Mentality Exposed” Book

“Yeah I played it at my old lady’s house,” a White Supremacist gang member yells out to a Fresno Bulldog gang member, in an enthusiastic manner as he animates how the video game character he was controlling “jacked” an innocent licensed driver for their car. The Bulldog yells back with mirrored enthusiasm, “You can have shoot-outs with cops.” Another inmate from the cage across shouts, “You can kill cops.” The inmate then begin to smile and shake their head in agreement towards each other after reminiscing together about the violent acts that they committed playing within the video game world. They then, one by one, start rambling off a list of other violent and hostile video games on the market. A inmate yells out with a passionate voice, “I want to see blood. I can’t play a game without blood!”

At this time, I can’t take any more; I have to ask them a question. “Why do you like these video games?” I ask in a subtle and sincere tone. The ward with the “mark of the beast (666)” and a barcode tattoo looks at me calmly and replies with sincerity and says, “You want a game that’s going to show you how reality is, that’s not going to hide it.” Right after his reply, a ward yells out, “You play that “Sniper” game”, as he chuckles he says, “I use to snipe civilians and everything.”

The most disturbing part of the conversation, was when an inmate told me you can get a download to the game Grand Theft Auto, which will allow the player to pick up a prostitute, beat and rape her, then kill her. As an inmate was educating me on this, another one yelled out, “And you get hood points for killing her.”

“I loved the game because I would love to do work for the mafia”

(Inmate Essay)

I had this one game called “Driver” and it was cool because this dude would ride around town doing business with the Italian mafia and they would send him on missions to kill certain enemies they wanted dead to rob and steal money from rich guys to wreck and crash into other enemy vehicles and to pick up women they called show girls that worked for the mafia. I loved the game because I would love to do work for the mafia for the amount of money they were putting out for this “driver” dude. He was making $50,000 a mission and in 4 missions that’s $200,000 so in 10 missions you are making a cool amount of money so that’s why that video game has me deeply entrenched.

“Grand Theft Auto, Vice City,” this game also has a lot to do with mafia because this Italian guy himself is running around a city killing people for money, he has to eat, sell dope, do missions or hits for an extraordinary deal of a lot of money. It has entrenched me because I will do the same to sell dope, kill for money at the same time, do business with a mafia that is mandatory going to pay me some damn good money to make these hits I would put my life on the line for $50,000 a hit and the hits are not complicated you could do them if you put yo mind to it and you won’t falter if you do it the way it is suppose to be done. 2nd have your mind set on accomplishing it not being shaky having low self-esteem being paranoid and different feeling that you have when you know you are doing things your not suppose to be doing. This is why some negative video games pump me up and have me somewhat deeply entrenched.

The real tragedy is that an individual can purchase games like these at their neighborhood department or toy store. I hope this article was able to enlighten you on how video games can influence an individual’s beliefs and behavior. So parents and youth workers, please check the theme of a video game before you purchase. This should be a mandatory practice for all media content.

Never underestimate the power of a video game, please remember; a book tells us something, a movie shows us something, music lets us listen to something, but video games allow an individual to actually do something.”

I discuss this issue in more detail in my book Thug Mentality Exposed, which you may read on-line for free or purchase @:www.thugexposed.org.
By Ray Johnson
Executive Director/Founder
ThugExposed.Org Gang & Drug Prevention

  • Scully

    Mr. Johnson,

    Stop perpetuating this fallacy. Parents who don’t monitor/control what games their children play are the problem, not the game. Any version of GTA is rated for adults. Children shouldn’t be playing anything rated M for Mature/adult to begin with. The responsibility lies with the parents – not the games.

    Stop giving lousy parents a scapegoat. IMHO, articles like yours are more dangerous than any game. Working at CYA doesn’t mean you’re qualified to validate any of this behavior – except perhaps what happens when children are raised by bad parents. I’m sure they allowed their children to see/experience a LOT of activity that was inappropriate – say… drug use/violence in the home/inappropriate movies/inappropriate TV.

    My son is getting ready for his junior year in college and has been playing video games with me for years – but only games that were appropriate for his age. You want to know how he turned out? He’s intelligent, thinks rationally and is able to make decisions while factoring in consequences – and he doesn’t want to become a hitman when he grows up or engage in any other violence.

    You sir, are another example of someone who knows nothing of which he speaks, yet feels compelled to scare parents into blaming video games for all of societies’ ills.

    Parents: You can’t blame video games, TV or music if your child decides to throw a tantrum in a restaurant or engages in violence. YOU are responsible for how they turn out, not entertainment that you allowed them to use/listen to/watch because you were using TV/video games as a babysitter instead of doing your job: Preparing them to become responsible members of society.

    Mr. Johnson, authors like you make me sick.

  • Kyle Silbaugh

    Mr. Johnson, I’ve had very similar discussions with young adults; glorifying the finer freedoms and ills of violent video games they’ve played. Only difference here is, my young adults were not in cells, they were college graduates, teachers, parents, even correctional officers. Many of them didn’t just try the game or check it out at a friend’s house, yet poured dozens of hours into it. Why aren’t they now disposed to commit crimes? Why hasn’t this criminal culture, glorified by GTA, brought them down?

    To me, it sounds like your youth were already pre-disposed to accept the criminal lifestyle, they already identified as a criminal. The game did not plant the criminal intent, it spoke to their already established intent; which I think many of your quotes identify straight away. “I loved the game because I would love to do work for the mafia…”

    So, from this frame of mind, there must be another variable which caused the criminal intent. By blaming the video game, which only appealed to an already intent criminal, what have you accomplished or hope to accomplish? Ironically, by calling the appealing item into the light, you fail to make others focus on what caused the initial intent!

    Another ironic point from your quotes: violent crime has decreased when game popularity increased. It’s quite to the point of crime ticking down a notch when games tick up a notch. Your quote: “Not only did it bring forth an enthusiastic response, but also cultivated a friendly conversation between rivals.”

    Video games are a cultural medium which brings youth together. Despite it being violent or not, it unites them together in a past time. GTA has given them the freedom to use a prostitute and then beat her to death and rob her, yes. It has given them the freedom to kill as many police officers as possible, yes. Did you also know it gives them the freedom to be a police officer and stop as many crimes as possible? Did you also know it gives you the freedom to be a firefighter and save innocent people? It also gives you the freedom to be a photographer, a lazy bum, an active jock, a pilot, a racer, a treasure hunter, a gamer, a cab driver, or a paramedic. The game is filled with freedoms to do whatever, whenever, however. It is a life simulator, and people will use it to simulate all aspects of life, good and evil.

    San Andreas is one of the best selling and highest rated games of all time. It is a standard which many other games seek to achieve. If you cannot understand the medium, cannot understand our youth, and fail to make any real difference, please desist and re-evaluate your argument.

  • Anthony Amore


    You mentioned research? This is a testimonial, and a considerably biased one at that.

    I played all the gta games, probably since I was 12 yrs old. I’m 26 now, never been arrested.
    Not a violent person at all.

    If anyone would be affected by violent videogames, it would have been me. I played pretty much every day for hours on end, sometimes is even get up early to play a couple hrs before school.

    I could easily play more than 12 hrs a day on a weekend. In fact, i was too busy playing violent videogames to go get in any trouble at all.

    Truth of the matter is it comes down to parenting.
    Stop making excuses, put the blame where it belongs, on the individual, their community, their family.
    Violent video games have nothing to do with it.

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  • Rayford Johnson

    Academic excellence is a skill-set not necessary a moral value. Many of the king pin drug lords have impressive academic achievements and use that knowledge to advance their criminal empires.

    So it’s ok for you and your child to be entertained by the theme and simulation of inflicting violent crimes such as murder and rape upon the innocent? ” I suggest you think about what you think about.” In my opinion it’s a crime when parents condone immoral behavior before their children.

    Praying for you.

  • Rayford Johnson

    You ask why hasn’t it brought them down?
    When you can obtain enjoyment from a game through simulating violent acts of robbery,rape and murder on the innocent, it already has brought you down.

  • Rayford Johnson

    When you can obtain enjoyment from a video game which simulates violent acts such as robbery,rape and murder on the innocent, you already have been affected.

    Thank you for your comment.

    God Bless

  • Anthony Amore

    Im affected? Maybe. But what I define as “entertainment” has absolutely no relevance to my actions, in the real world, which is the connection being explored.

    I also do not understand why video games are singled out when there is so much violence and crime teens are exposed to through other mediums that are completely accepted by society, such as TV.

    A “M” rated game means mature and cannot be purchased by a minor. Even so, it is a parents responsibility to know what games their children are playing, the content of those games, and who they might be playing those games with, if playing online.

    I look forward to experiencing these games together with my future children, someday.

    I also don’t see how enjoying this game would be any different to enjoying “The Godfather”, “Casino”, “Oceans Eleven”, or any other successful movie. With the lower-quality graphics of the ps2, I’d say that Rocky or Rambo is far more violent.

    Lastly, video “games” are truly forms of art, interactive storytelling you can shape, and that emotionally connects you to an individuals story in a way no other passive medium can, whether involving violence or not.
    I challenge you to try them for yourself, with an open mind instead of viewing them with suspicion.

    Other than that, I really enjoyed reading/responding to this article, and you’ve obviously managed to write an article that resonates in your audience, so even if we disagree, well done.

  • Anthony Amore

    Again, not to beat a dead horse, but sincerely, you have never enjoyed watching a violent movie, a movie involving illegal activities, having the capacity to know those images were fictional and not actually being performed on the “actors”?

    I’d presume you have, and maybe I’d be wrong, but even children can understand that just because something is on TV doesn’t make it real. So can any healthy teenager playing a violent videogame, so I don’t see that as proof that they have been “affected” or “brought down”.

  • Anthony Amore

    Actually, what Scully said is, “Parents who don’t monitor/control what games their children play are the problem, not the game. Any version of GTA is rated for adults. Children shouldn’t be playing anything rated M for Mature/adult to begin with.”

    Meaning, Children shouldn’t be playing GTA.

    Then she went on to say, “My son is getting ready for his junior year in college and has been playing video games with me for years – but only games that were appropriate for his age. You want to know how he turned out? He’s intelligent, thinks rationally and is able to make decisions while factoring in consequences – and he doesn’t want to become a hitman when he grows up or engage in any other violence.”

    Meaning, She was responsible parent and only allowed him to play suitable games, and now he is an intelligent, productive member of society with excellent critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

    Meaning, Its a parents job to make sure their kids don’t play violent video games, not the job of big nanny-state government to regulate what free market products can be developed.

    Getting into the political side of this issue, may I make the assumption you lean neo-conservative? For some reason, violent video game critics usually do, despite the fact that the traditionally conservative values of self-determination, free speech, and small government should make this an obvious non-issue.

    So to summarize:
    1) Scully neither condoned or allowed the “immoral behavior” of playing violent video games.

    2) If you ever enjoyed a violent / illegal work of fiction, then you are also immoral, and in no position to judge. (Cast no stone, btw.)

    3) Might want to actually read the complete text of your readers responses, instead of just the first and last sentences.

    4) Calls to legally regulate the free market industry of video game development infringes on 1st amendment rights, conservative principles of rugged individualism, and is unpatriotic.

    Fun stuff, thanks for posting.

  • Rayford Johnson

    Again anyone who justifies a game where you the player kills,robs and rapes innocent citizens, really needs to reevaluate their values. I’m sorry but when we have evolved into a society that attacks articles that exposes evil which is impacting our children, this is scary.This is Bible prophecy of the last days. Christ is coming back soon.

    God Bless

  • Anthony Amore

    There may be a God, but I doubt it.

    Totally different discussion, but I’ve read Revelations and I don’t recall any mention of GTA 3, 4, OR 5.

    Guess that’s the great part of the bible, you can use it to justify anything, including why video games are evil.

    Jesus is coming, eh? Well, forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for cold pizza.

    Also, noone is attacking you, we disagree with you and feel you’re perpetuation of this misleading and flawed belief on video game violence distract from the true issue, bad parenting.

    Please don’t get all sactimonious victimized Christian on us, its not like youre being fed to lions or anything.

    Oh the trials of being Christian, strangers saying things on an internet forum.

    Also, there is no rape in GTA.
    Prostitution, yes, but no rape. And most the people you kill are bad people.
    Also, we aren’t talking about real people or crimes. For all you know, all those fictional pedestrians I’ve ran over were pedophiles and sleeper-agent terrorists.

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  • Rayford Johnson

    Basic logic; intelligent design, involves an intelligent creator. 2+2=4 all day, whether I believe it or not. I’m sorry but God doesn’t need our justification. He is Soveriegn God and loves you whether you accept it or not, your disbelief does not impact truth(John 3:16). We are all accountable to Him, the wages of sin is death(Romans 6:23). We will all stand before Him and give an account for our lives.(Romans 10:9)

    By the way there is rape in gta, google it.

    God Bless