Electronic and video games are one of the most important branches of technology entertainment. During the last several decades, interactive video games have emerged as one of the most popular forms of entertainment, particularly among adolescents. Video game content is extremely varied. In addition to their entertainment value, reflected in their enormous popularity, video game proponents point to their constructive uses in education, medicine, and other fields.
However, some observers find certain game-playing trends disturbing. For example, newer generations of video games often feature graphic depictions of violence. This has intensified public concern of potential harmful effects.
Video Game Violence
Video games first appeared during the 1970s. In the last 3 decades, they have gone from bouncing a little white ball from side to side on a screen to virtual reality games in which one is a character in the game itself. Newly emerging on-line games enable a person to play and compete with many others in cyberspace. The majority of games developed with this evolving technology are entertaining, engaging, and appropriate for children.
One segment of the market, however, features violence as a theme. Its depiction of violence has evolved from early shooting games blasting mostly spaceships out of the sky to gory violence, where characters literally tear each other apart with all the realistic details accompanying the act. Many of these games often require the use of increasing levels and intensities of violence to advance through the levels. Thus, violence is used as a problem-solving technique.
Toys and Children
Toys are commonly associated with children. Technology has produced many electronic toys, more specifically, computer and video games. Since there is no extensive body of research on the effects of video game violence, some people state that it does not harm children. The same argument was used to defend television violence for more than 3 decades.
Others assert, theoretically, that video violence actually may benefit children, because it gives them an outlet for aggression. This “catharsis” hypothesis was advanced in the earliest days of the television violence debate, and even compared to the violent elements in literature and art. After many years of research, however, it was abandoned. In Shakespeare the violence is offstage; we see the effects and learn the evil of violence without seeing the act. Classic mystery dramas focus on crime solving, not crime commission; the chief weapon against the villain is intellect, not brute force; and a hero is selected for his or her strength of character, not his or her physical power to dominate. Today’s video game “heroes” often show a violent response as the only effective-and frequently first-response to any conflict.
Is There Any Impact?
There are a few reasons why the games are violent. One is economics: violent games really bring in the quarters for an arcade. Many modern games are designed to let a player fight for a certain amount of time, then compulsively buy more coins to continue. Another reason is that they let you do something that, in real life, is impossible, which is the whole idea of virtual reality and simulation anyway. If you want to unwind after a tough day at work, you cannot take your AK-47 and destroy McDonald’s. However, you can go to an arcade, sit down at an X-Men console, fight a few hundred bad guys and then leave thinking about your game instead of your worries.
Games are just that-games. But when applying these concepts to children, the picture changes, for young children are in immediate danger of copying antisocial behavior. Values are formed very early, and antisocial programming negatively impacts one’s respect for authority, for others, and for self. Given this, parents are asking what effect video violence has on their most frequent players: children 8 to 14 years old and younger.
Research is beginning to give us a picture of what these effects might be. Due to the recent arrival of ultra-violent video games, few studies are available. Research done by the Mediascope Nonprofit Organization shows that heavy exposure to entertainment violence negatively affects children.
Research done by the Media Analysis Laboratory in Simon Fraser University shows that 95 percent of teens surveyed had access to either a video game machine or a home computer, and a similar proportion (90 percent) said they owned at least some video games. The majority said that playing computer games produced a pleasant, exciting, challenging, and interesting experience. Many also felt gaming to be involving (77 percent) and sometimes frustrating (63 percent). Boys and girls experienced games differently, with boys more likely to associate positive emotions with play (e.g., pleasing, exciting, and involving) and girls more likely to associate negative emotions with play (e.g., frustrating, boring, and stressful).
Jeanne B. Funk and her colleagues surveyed the video game habits of more than 900 teenagers, primarily fourth through eighth graders. They found that almost half of the favorite games chosen were of the fantasy violence or human violence type. Girls more often chose games with fantasy violence; boys preferred games with human violence.
A 1998 study examined thirty-three popular video games, and found that almost in 80 percent of them, kids preferred to have violence or aggression as part of the play. Almost half of this violence was directed toward other characters. Twenty-one percent of the games had violence toward women.
There seems to be an imitative effect of playing and observing video game violence, especially among young children. For example, researchers found that in a group of 5 to 7 year olds, children imitated during free play what they had just been exposed to on video games. Children playing active but nonviolent games reflected that in their play, while children playing games with violent themes showed more aggression. The followings facts are taken from Screen Smarts:A Family Guide to Media Literacy by Gloria DeGaetano and Kathleen Bander:
Violent video games send the following messages:
• Problems can be resolved quickly and with little personal investment.
• The best way to solve a problem is to eliminate its source.
• Problems are basically black or white, right or wrong.
• It is acceptable to immerse oneself in the video game’s rule-driven reality without questioning the rules.
• It is better to use instinctual, rather than thoughtful, responsible behaviors to react to problems.
• Personal imagination is not an important problem-solving skill.
In contrast, playing maze games, puzzles, and simulation or treasure hunt video games teaches children that:
• Problems are solved through patience, personal initiative, perseverance, tolerance, and flexibility.
• Gathering information requires work, and information must be analyzed carefully so that informed decisions can be made.
• Problem definition and solving require the use of complex skills.
• A solution in one instance might not be suitable in another one.
• It is important to use such critical and creative mental skills as planning actions, organizing information, predicting outcomes, experimenting with trial solutions, evaluating ideas, and analyzing solutions and their consequences.
• Use imagination and thinking abilities to cocreate, with the game’s writer, inventive situations.
• Use personally-generated, thoughtful responses to solve problems.
In Time magazine’s cyberguide, video games were classified according to their educational value and violence. The authors write that the most child-appropriate hardware is that which encourages them to think and formulate ideas. Games like Carmen San Diego and Where in the USA? make learning fun. Even though the battles are bloody, children learn fast with strategy games like Age of Empires and Warcraft, because looking ahead, plotting strategy, and husbanding resources are the only ways to win.
In any computer hardware store, you also will find a lot of so-called splatter games. Unfortunately, there is a huge diversity in choice for such games. Games like Doom and Quake put guns in the hands of players and reward them for blasting everything that moves. Residential Evil is nothing less than blowing off a zombie’s head and hacking off its limbs. Home computer games can be even more disturbing: I once saw a 14-year-old kid playing a game in which the winning creature actually urinates over its victim’s body.
Rating Systems and Other Alternatives
With the progress of technology and consequently video games, society began to express concern about growing violence. Funk et al’s report stated that in late 1993, video game and software manufacturers began discussing a rating system. Two eventually emerged: the video game system sponsored by the Interactive Digital Software Association (including Nintendo and Sega) and a set of age-based categories developed by Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) (formerly the Interactive Digital Software Ratings Board). They developed joint content-based guidelines for video games through the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC).
The ESRB initially proposed four rating categories: Universal (appropriate for all ages), Teen (13 and older), Mature (17 and older), and Adults Only. The board then responded to the concerns of professionals, including the first author, that the categories were too broad at the lower age levels by adding an Early Childhood (ages 3 and older) category. The ESRB also changed Universal to K-A (Kids to Adult, suitable for 6 and older), and added content descriptors that give a general indication of the level of violence, sexual themes, and crude language.
Although such ranking and debating appears to be designed to stop producing violent games, their main purpose should be to let parents know exactly what they are buying. Parents usually purchase the software and decide what games their children will play. Many video games are toxic and inappropriate for children. The best antidote is to teach children to find such games repugnant.
It also is crucial to teach them nonaggressive problem solving techniques through discussions with adults about the consequences of using violence to solve problems. While living in Japan, I noticed that Japan has almost as much entertainment violence as the United States. However, Japanese society is far less violent. The key may be that Japanese films, television programs, and society as a whole tend to show the consequences of violent acts, whereas their American counterparts do not. Finally, trying to keep children from seeing violence in the home, community, and media is the most effective method of ensuring that they grow up mentally normal.
This article points out how much our lives revolve around computerization. Computers dominate the lives of adults, children, and adolescents. At the same time, American youth have become increasingly involved in extremely violent crime, both as victims and offenders. Every aspect of our society, starting with parents, schools, and organizations to the mass media, the entertainment and software industries, and the federal government should be involved in controlling, rating and, if necessary, prohibiting interactive violent video and computer games. Not to sound too clichÃ©, but it is our children who will have to adapt, live, and survive in this automated world. The “game medium” may be an obstacle in achieving their survival.
DeGaetano, Gloria and Kathleen Bander. Screen Smarts: A Family Guide to Media Literacy. Boston: Honghton, 1996. (Taken from: Media Awareness Network. March 1999
Funk, Jeanne B., et. al. “Rating Electronic Games” Youth & Society (March 1999). (Taken from: Masterfile Premier. 24 May 1999
Qnittner, Joshua. “Are Video Games Really So Bad?” Time (10 May 1999): 50-59.
“The Social Effects of Electronic Interactive Games: An Annotated
Bihliography.” Oct. 1998. (Taken from: Medioscope Network
25 May 1999 Excerpts>. “Video Game Culture: Leisure and Play Preferences of B.C. Teens.” (Oct. 1998). Simon Fraser University. (Taken from: Media Awareness Network. 25 May 1999. http://www. media-awareness.ca/eng/issues/violence/resource/reports vgames.htm).
“Video Game Culture: Leisure and Play Preferences of B.C. Teens.” (Oct. 1998). Simon Fraser University. (Taken
from: Media Awareness Network. 25 May 1999. http://www. media-awareness.ca/eng/issues/violence/resource/reports vgames.htm).