The video game industry has grown by leaps and bounds since it's inception in the 1970s. One of the industry's giants, Nintendo, sold an average of three games every second from 1983 to 1995. That adds up to over one billion games. That is equal to one game for every teenager on earth, or enough games that, laid end to end, scan the entire equator two and a half times ("Nintendo sells one billionth game," 1995). An industry war has begun to see who can build the newest, fastest, most popular game.
The explosion of the video game industry in the past decade has had many people questioning the content of the games being released. The main concern is that of violence and violent acts within the games. The newest generation of games is so realistic that the line between "simulations" and video games has greatly been blurred. They are so realistic that the United States government has even released a game, entitled America's Army, to help train the next generation of military specialists. In the late 1990's a large number of high-school shootings were blamed on violent video games, the most devastating being the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. These shootings raise a valid concern that violent video games may be affecting the aggression of children and developing adolescents.
The term aggression is very general and can refer to and influence a large number of personality traits and behaviors. Connor, Steingard, Cunningham, Anderson, and Meloni (2004) defined two specific types of aggression. Reactive aggression is an angry, defensive response to a threat or frustration. An example of this would be getting revenge on someone that has done you wrong. Proactive aggression is a deliberate behavior that is controlled by external reinforcements and is usually a means of reaching a desired goal. An example of this type would be robbing a bank to get money. There have yet to be any studies that take into account these two specific types, but most studies in the past have focused on both in some way.
A Brief History of Violence in Video Games
With the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980s and Sony's Playstation in the 1990s came new generations of games, with better graphics and more capabilities. Game developers were no longer as limited by their media, and tried to simulate reality as best as possible. New innovations in technology meant more realistic violence and gore. All these new capabilities meant developers could focus more on details also. One example is the game Soldier of Fortune, released in 2000 for the personal computer. In this game each character has 26 "kill zones," or areas that the character can be hit by a bullet (Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004). The game also employs a first-person perspective, making it seem as though the player is seeing through the eyes of the in-game character.
Past ResearchUntil the recent resurgence in interest in video games in the past decade, research on the topic was minimal. There were few correlations found, and several had conflicting results. There were three studies which used self report data. Dominick (1984) found that the amount of video games played had a positive correlation with one of three measures of aggression among tenth and eleventh grade boys. However, Gibb, Bailey, Lambirth, and Wilson (1983) found no relation in a larger study of 12-34 year olds. Another study found a correlation between use of arcade games and teachers' ratings of aggressiveness (Lin & Leper, 1987). Due to the conflicting results of these studies, no conclusive correlations could be drawn. Most data seemed to show a positive correlation between videogame play and aggression, yet Gibb et al.'s (1983) study showed otherwise.
There were few experimental studies done on the topic at this time also. Cooper and Mackie (1986) found fifth grade girls to be more aggressive in one of two measures when playing a violent game versus a non-violent game. This data however conflicted with Graybill's (1987) study of second though sixth graders in which he found no greater aggression when playing a violent versus non-violent game. Once again, due to the conflicting results, no conclusive evidence could be drawn to help support that aggression and videogame play are related.
Unfortunately these early studies were not much help in determining a relationship between aggression and video games. These experimenters helped to show that there was a relationship, but there was not enough evidence to prove it strongly in either direction. With the resurgence of interest in violent video games in the past decade, this has changed. This resurgence has been due to a number of factors, but the greatest of which has been the large number of high school shootings that have been blamed on violence in the public media. There were over a dozen incidents of violence, most involving death, that have been blamed on violent video games between 1997 and 2003. These ranged from beating deaths to shooting sprees to sniper shootings, and were not limited to the United States.
Until this resurgence, research on the subject of video games was highly lacking. Considering the amount of time young children and adolescents spend playing them, much more research is needed. Recent contributions have given us a much clearer understanding of the relationship between aggression and video games. They have shown that the relationship may be much more complex than originally thought. The greatest contribution in recent years has been Anderson and Bushman's (2002) general aggression model (GAM).
The General Aggression ModelThe GAM attempts to explain both the development of aggression and individual differences in susceptibility to the influence of violent video games. According to the GAM, both situational and personological variables interact to affect a person's internal state (Anderson & Bushman 2002). The internal state contains cognitions (thoughts), affects (feelings) and arousals (physical). All three of these items influence each other, and each has and effect on an individual's interpretation of an aggressive act. Once the brain's interpretation is complete, decision-making processes start to occur.
The GAM also states that violent video games have both short term and long term effects. In the short tem, the games are a situational variable, causing an increase in aggressive cognitions, affects and arousal. The long term effects are just hypothesis, as insufficient research has been done to test its effect's. This is due to the fact that research on this topic is fairly new, so no longitudinal data is yet available. Anderson and Bushman (2002) hypothesized that violent video games influence behavior by promoting aggressive beliefs and attitudes, thus creating aggressive schema, aggressive behavioral scripts, and aggressive expectations. They also claim that it desensitizes individuals to aggression. This can be seen on a large scale if one looks at the progression of violence in video games over the past 20 years. When Super Mario Bros. was first released in the 1980s, it was considered a violent game. Even though the game was highly fictitious and featured a very cartoon-like look, the main character broke blocks and attempted to destroy his enemies by jumping on their heads. The Super Mario Bros series hardly seems violent by today's standards. Recent games such as Mortal Kombat feature realistic graphics and controls, but also extreme blood and gore. In this game you fight a human-like opponent in attempt to wear him down. The match is finished with a "Fatality," a move which kills your opponent in a very graphic fashion. Common "Fatalities" include burning opponents alive, cutting their heads off, and even ripping out their spinal cord using the skull. Games like this have greatly affected today's standards of a violent game.
The GAM helped to show how complicated of an issue the relationship between violence, video game, and aggression really is. Gentile et al. (2004) claim it has an additive effect. This means that those whom already are high in certain factors, mainly hostility, are much more at risk to become more aggressive due to influence by violent video games. Those subjects who are rated as low in hostility have been found to have almost no affect on their aggression levels when influenced by playing violent video games.
Formulation of the GAM greatly helps us in understanding this complex relationship between aggression and violent games. Kirsch (2003) was the first to apply the GAM specifically to adolescents. Because of the large amount of biological and physical changes that occur during puberty, exposure to violent games should affect the processes that operate within the GAM. These processes are already in place at adolescence, but during this time they are still influenced by current environments (Kirsch 2003). During adolescence there is a general increase in the aggression (Lindemann, Harakka, & Keltikangas-Jaervinen, 1997). This aggression combined with the exposure to violent media will reinforce and increase aggressive cognitions, affects and arousal. This interaction has a negative affect on the internal state, leading to increased aggression. The effects of this exposure are greater during early adolescence than middle and later adolescence. This is because the amount of physiological arousal is greatest during this time (Spear, 2000).
Considerations for Future Research
TherapyAlthough the majority of video games are violent in nature, there are many emerging that take an intellectual standpoint. These include puzzle games such as the wildly popular Tetris. These types of games stimulate the mind by presenting challenges and puzzles to the player rather than enemies and worlds. Many play them just to keep the mind active and alert. This type of game-play has brought about the idea that video games can be used as a form of therapy. Some of them are relaxing and soothing, and they can be specifically altered to meet an individual patient's needs. A video game can be created to help a specific type of person, whether it is to help connect certain memory cells in the brain, or just help stimulate brain activity in general. Due to the programmatic nature in which video games are created, their possibilities of creation are endless. Gardner (1991) attempted the first research on this issue. He successfully used video games as a form of psychotherapy in children. This success has stimulated much research on this issue, but mostly dealing with mentally-ill or brain-damaged patients.
Eye-Hand CoordinationPlaying many of the modern video games requires some sort of skill. The player is required to do quite a bit to "win." There are many things going on in the game at once. For example, the character may be running and shooting at the same time. This requires the real-world player to keep track of the position of the character, where he/she is heading, their speed, where the gun is aiming, if the gunfire is hitting the enemy, and so on. All these factors need to be taken into account, and then the player must then coordinate the brain's interpretation and reaction with the movement in their hands and fingertips. This process requires a great deal of eye-hand coordination and visual-spatial ability to be successful. A relationship has been shown between increased videogame playing and improvements to eye-hand coordination, as well as manual dexterity, and reaction time (Drew & Waters, 1986). Some true experiments would greatly help to support this claim.
SimulationsA simulation is interactive multimedia used to try to simulate some real world phenomenon. Many video games are nothing more than simulations. They are very closely related, and much research that refers to simulations could most likely apply to video games as well. The most well known simulations are flight simulators, which attempt to mimic the reality of flying a plane. All of the controls, including airspeed, wing angles, altimeter, and so on, are displayed for the player, as well as a visual representation of the world, and are updated in real time. For many years large corporations have used simulations to help train and better their employees. However, simulations have so much more possibilities. The United States government has released a game entitled America's Army, which simulates a real war-time experience. The government hopes to use it to help train the next generation of recruits.
Another use for simulations is to mimic the effects of nature. Many modern games use particle systems, thousands of tiny particles in three-dimensional space, which mimic natural phenomena such as rain, fire and smoke. Another popular use is to simulate flocking birds and schooling fish. An excellent example of this is seen in Pixar's Finding Nemo. With deeper research, these simulations can give us a better understanding of our world and our selves.
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Playing video games is perceived as an exciting aspect of the media landscape and has experienced much expansion in recent years. There has been a rise in the number of children who use video games in many parts of the world, particularly in the United States (Hagan,et al. 2002). Among children in the United States, playing hours of video games have increased from 4 hours every week in the 1980s, to about 13 hours per week in recent years. Video games have also taken the attention of the public, particularly by the controversies regarding first person shooter games (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007).
Various studies have shown that violent content in video games desensitizes players, especially children, to real-world violence. When players become desensitized, they tend to increase their aggression and decrease their empathy. Other researchers have indicated that playing video games among children does not lead to significant aggressive behavior, since the magnitude of the effect in the meta-analysis may be an outcome of publication bias. Despite pressure from various societies, many video games contain a considerable amount of violence. Violent games are seen to promote feelings of excitement, satisfaction, and empowerment among players (Hagan, et al. 2002). However, Przybylski et al, carried a study on video games and concluded that the desire and enjoyment for future play were linked to competence and the experience of autonomy in the video game, and not the level of violence. Different scholars have argued about the negative and positive effects of playing video games among children. This research paper will discuss the various effects that playing video games have on children. They impact children’s lives socially and they increase violence among children (Sherry, 2001).
The debate on whether video games have social effects and cause violence among players, especially children, can be traced back to 1976 when a video game entitled Death Race was released on the market. The main aim of the game was to run over screaming gremlins using a car which would then turn into tombstones. The pace of the game was pedestrian and the gremlins resembled human figures. There was a public outcry over this video game and eventually its production ceased. There were other violent video games that were produced later in 1993, such as Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, which were followed by public outcry. In the same year, a board was established in the United States to look into video games and rate them according to their content (Siwek, 2007). The board is known as the entertainment software rating board (ESRB). The other video game that attracted media attention was Rapelay, produced in 2006 (Siwek, 2007). The video game required players to rape and stalk a woman and her two girls. Such video games are said to cause behavioral change among children.
There have been several incidents that are linked to video games, such as the massacre at Columbine High School that claimed 13 lives. Laws have been enacted to ban or control the sale of video games. For example, on the 27th of June 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the law in California that banned the sale of video games to minors (Siwek, 2007). The court ruled that the law violated the freedom of speech even though the state has an obligation to protect kids from harm. Another aspect that should be noted regarding video games is that boys spend more time playing than girls. Not many girls are interested in playing video games, hence they are not affected as much as boys of a similar age (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).
The Drawbacks of Children Playing Video games
Most of the negative effects as a result of playing video games among children can be blamed on the violent scenes contained in these games. When a child spends an extended amount of time playing such video games, they becomes socially isolated. This means that a child does not have enough time to interact with other members of their society (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). The child who spends many hours a day playing video games will have little time to meet and make new friends. They may in turn become more depressed and lonely in their homes. Children will also spend little time on other activities such as sports, reading, and doing homework. The child becomes socially inactive since they do not get involved in social activities.
Some video games teach children wrong values (Gunter, 1998). Most of the children who spend much of their time playing video games are likely to perform poorly in school. A solid number of video games are addictive. Rather than studying or completing homework, a child spends time playing video games. As a result, poor performance will be seen at schools. Video games reduce a child’s imaginative thinking as well. This means that a child who ends up spending most of their time playing video games does not get a chance to think creatively or independently. Imaginative thinking is crucial in developing a child’s creativity. By fostering isolation, video games may also affect a child’s health. Since they do not get enough bodily exercise, children who spend the majority of their time playing video games are likely to suffer from video-induced seizures, obesity and skeletal, muscular and postural disorders like tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, among others.
Video games promote children to associate happiness and pleasure with the capability to cause pain to others. They develop the feeling that in order to be happy, one has to make other people suffer. Children who play video games tend to develop selfish behavior (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Video games teach the player to be dependent and since the child is often left alone while playing a video game, he or she can develop selfish behavior. A certain study that was done at a Minneapolis-based national institute for media indicated that kids can get addicted to video games and exhibit social phobias. The interactive quality of video games is quite different from passively viewing movies or television. The games allow players to be active participants in the script. The players who are able to benefit from acts of violence are then able to proceed to the next level (Sherry, 2001).
As a negative result of playing video games, violence in children has shown an increase. “Anderson and Dill found that males who were high in aggression and irritability, showed the strongest association between video game play and aggressive behavior” (Lillian Bensely & Juliet Van Eenwyk, 2001). There are many incidents of violent behavior among children who play violent video games worldwide (Gunter, 1998). One of the high-profile incidents is the Columbine High School massacre that was caused by 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, and 18-year-old Harris Eric. The massacre happened on the 20th of April, 1999, at Columbine High School, located in Jefferson County. 12 pupils and a teacher were killed by two pupils. It was later revealed that the two shooters in the massacre were frequent players of weapon-based combat games. It was also noted that the two shooters used to play Wolfeinstein 3D and Doom, games which are violent. After the incident, many newspaper articles claimed that the key cause of that incident was violent video games.
Another incident occurred in April, 2000, when Jose Rabadan, a sixteen-year-old Spaniard, killed his parents and his sister using a katana sword, claiming that he was Squall Leonhart, the main character in the video game titled ‘Final Fantasy V111,’ on a mission of revenge. This was a consequence of playing the game too much and fantasizing about what he saw in the video game (Williams, & Marko, 2005). In 1997, there was the case of a thirteen year old, Wilson Noah, who was killed by his friend using a kitchen knife. The mother of the deceased claimed that Noah was stabbed because of the obsession his friend had with the video game known as Mortal Kombat. She alleged that the child who killed Noah was obsessed with the game, and thought he was one of the characters in the game named Cyrax. In the game, Cyrax uses a finishing move whereby he grabs the opponent and stabs him in the chest. It was alleged that this was the move that motivated the killing of that child. There are many other incidents that were caused by the effects of playing video games. A report that was compiled by the FBI in the year 2006 showed that the playing of video games among children was one of the behavioral traits linked to school shootings. The report outlined several factors behind school shootings of which playing violent video games was the most obvious (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).
According to Gentile and Anderson, playing video games increases the aggressive behavior of the player, since the acts of violence are continually repeated during the game (Gentile, & Anderson, 2003). “Although heightened physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance) can be beneficial in certain situations, physiological arousal produced by violent media (or by other sources), can be linked to an increase in aggressive behavior, especially when that arousal can be erroneously attributed to another provoking event, rather than to the violent media. Repetition of an act has been considered an effective teaching method, reinforcing learners patterns” (Barlett, Harris & Bruey, 2007).
The games encourage the players to roleplay or identify with their favorite character (Gentile & Anderson, 2003). The increase in physical bullying in many schools can also be linked to the popularity of video games that contain violent content. A study done in 2008 indicated that about 60% or more of middle school boys ended up striking or beating somebody after playing at least one mature-rated video game. The research also showed that about 39% of boys who never played violent video games were not involved in any form of violence. When playing video games, players are rewarded for simulating violence. This enhances the learning of violent behavior among the children who find pleasure in violent video games. When violence is rewarded while playing video games, players tend to develop aggressive behavior. As noted earlier, video games desensitize players to real-life violence. The exposure to video games causes a reduction in P300 amplitudes that are contained in the brain. The child will later experience aggressive behavior and desensitization to violence (Bartholow, Bushman & Sestir, 2006).
After children experience violence while playing video games, they are likely to develop a fear of becoming victims of violent acts. According to the report compiled by six leading national medical associations in 2000, children do not trust their fellow children and hence will develop violent, self-protective measures. The exposure to cruel video games also leads to reduced empathy among the players. From a survey conducted by Jeanne Funk in 2004, video games are the only media linked or associated with low empathy. Empathy is described as the capacity or ability to understand other people’s feelings. The level of empathy plays a noteworthy role in evaluating a person’s morals. Empathy also controls aggressive behavior among individuals, especially children (Bartholow, Bushman & Sestir, 2006). After lacking empathy as a consequence of violent video games, these children are likely to be violent. Repetition of actions when one is playing a video game affects the subconscious mind, hence a behavioral script is developed. An example of a behavioral script is that developed by drivers. It urges the driver to first get into a car, fasten their safety belt and then start the car. Similarly, video games induce a child to develop a behavioral script that urges them to respond violently to certain situations (Gunter, 1998).
Playing video games teaches children that violence is an acceptable way of solving their conflicts. Those who play video games, especially games with violent content, do not develop the belief that using non-violence means can solve a problem. They tend to be less forgiving when compared to those children who play non-violent video games (Sherry, 2001). Children tend to confuse real-world violence with video game violence. After fantasizing about the violence in video games, children are likely to fight in schools and in the streets. New video games allow a lot of physical interaction with the players. Some video games train players on how to be a killer. For example, in 1996, the Marine Corps in the United States authorized the release of Doom 11, which was a violent video game. The game was previously used to train marine soldiers. Such games can train children to be high-profile killers. Also, most video games have portrayed a negative attitude towards women. Violence against women is likely to increase in a child who plays brutal video games (Gunter, 1998).
In any life situation and with any sort of problem, there are those who disagree with the majority. Likewise, there are researchers who present various counter arguments to support the idea that video games can be beneficial for children. The first counter argument against the side effects of video games is the fact that children are not isolated, as they have online gaming communities. Children who are unable to associate with others do not feel isolated since they can play video games. For example, a child who is not physically fit to play with others can turn to video games during their free time to reduce boredom (Dietz, 1998).
It has been noted that violent juvenile crimes have been decreasing in the recent years, yet the popularity of video games has been increasing. For the period from 1995 to 2008, the rate of the arrest of juvenile murderers decreased by 71.9%, while the overall arrest cases concerning juvenile violence decreased by 49%. In the same period, the sale of cruel video games increased by almost 4 times compared to the years before. From these statistics, one can conclude that there is no direct correlation between violent juvenile crimes and video games. There has been no scientifically-proven link between violent behavior among children and video games. Most of the surveys carried out on video games are affected by design flaws. The surveys are done within a short duration of time and do not follow kids for any considerable period of time. After a short observation, conclusions are drawn (Barlett, Harris and Bruey, 539-546).
The other counter argument against video games is that children learn real life-skills when playing video games. Players of brutal video games are able to learn how to regulate their emotions when playing (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). The level of control developed while playing video games in terms of directing actions and pace are prudent ways of regulating the emotional state of children. The perception of being in control of actions minimizes emotional and stressful responses to events. Aggressive and angry feelings can be relieved by playing video games. When a child plays video games, it is one of the best ways of relieving aggression and depression. Many children play video games to relieve anger while others play video games to relax their bodies. Children are given healthy and safe opportunities to virtually explore the rules and consequences of violent behavior when they play video games (Bartholow, Bushman & Sestir, 2006).
After playing videogames, especially ones that contain violence, children are able to develop ways of escaping violence. The form of violence can be affected by video games, but does not necessarily lead to the occurrence of violence. Through the challenges faced while playing some video games, children are able to learn how to avoid violence, or how to escape from violence. Those who hold the view that video games do not have negative effects on children indicate that video games do not lead a child to violence, but instead, violent children are the ones who are interested in video games (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007).
The argument about whether video games have negative or positive effects on children is broad, and depends on one’s philosophical views. “Most of the research projects that have been conducted on the authentic effects of media brutality on behavior of children have included small, often unrepresentative samples and unique examples of media violence” (Dietz, 1998). This paper has compiled some of the negative effects of video games among children. Some of the negative effects include children feeling isolated from their society, becoming more violent and aggressive, as well as lacking communicative skills. When playing video games, children spend extended periods of time by themselves and do not have much interaction with other children, except for the virtual ones. As a result, children who play video games excessively do not develop effective communication skills with others, since hours, if not all their spare time, is spent on video games. There has also been a rise in violence among children who play video games, the Columbine High School massacre being one such example. Injuries and fighting at home and outdoors have risen because of children playing brutal video games (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). Some researchers however argue that video games can and do have positive effects on children. They point out that children are not isolated, as they develop online gaming communities. Children are also able to learn real-life skills while playing video games, as well as learn how to escape violence. However, what both sides agree upon is that parents should guide their children on the outcomes of playing video games. Personally, I think that video games can be allowed when selected with caution and are not played frequently. As long as virtual reality does not replace a child’s real-life communication, video games can become a great option for a child’s leisure.
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