Scene from Grand Theft Auto IV, card game

Cape Town - New research that demonstrates a link between violent videogames and aggressive behaviour in young children has raised alarm in South Africa where levels of violence are already among the highest in the world.

Presented at an international conference in Canada earlier this month, the report says a “single brief exposure to violent media can increase aggression in the immediate situation” while “repeated exposure leads to general increases in aggressiveness over time”.

In South Africa, says Kevin Southgate, a community leader in the notoriously violent Lavender Hill region of Cape Town, it would be “very naive of us to think young people don’t make the connection between what they play or see on screen, and what is happening around them”.

There is no doubt, he says, that exposure to violence in gaming and in reality is leading to “younger and younger” residents taking on the same characteristics.

“They see this as a form of exposing themselves to the realities they experience daily,” he says, “and that makes it all seem normal. In school, more than ever we are seeing young people acting out forms of violence and bullying.”

This is in a national context of violent crimes that echo the themes portrayed in games like the Grand Theft Auto series, which has players taking on the role of a criminal in a big city and rising through the ranks of organised crime.

When the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released its Global Study on Homicide last year, South Africa featured in the “top 10” countries with the worst murder rates, and the list of countries was then featured in an article on the popular Huffington Post online news.

Another symptom of South Africa’s infamy for its levels of violence was when Interpol dubbed the country “the rape capital of the world” and reported women were “more likely to be raped than educated”.

William Bird, the director of Media Monitoring Africa, said: “In this context, it would hardly be surprising that if children are exposed to more violence in games and media, it is likely to negatively affect them. Violence begets violence.”

He also noted that South African politicians used violent discourse, and that “some of our biggest media stories, like Marikana, Dewani and Pistorius, are focused on violence”. But “I’d be loath to suggest that exposure to violent games or media alone will lead to violent behaviour. It is more likely to flow from the home experience and at school”.

He says we urgently need to change the culture of violence in the country, and suggests highlighting non-violent role models, from celebrities to politicians to musicians.

“We shouldn’t play the music of musicians found guilty of assault. We also need to build conflict resolution into play at school so alternative forms of resolving conflict can be found and practised.

“We should expose our children to a diversity of media with non-violent heroes and where violence is strongly condemned,” said Bird.

Journalists should also highlight the consequences of violence and not just the acts of violence. - Cape Times