Is There a Reasonable Approach to Handling Violence in Videogames?
It's a bit unnerving to hear your seven-year old daughter shout "Kill him! Kill him!", even if she's only hollering at the PlayStation 2. That's what happened last week at the CSR offices when Erin and her 10-year-old brother, Austin, dropped by to test a new sword-fighting game called Pirates. Erin's parents, browsing in the software library in the next room, were upset by their daughter's bloodthirsty outbursts. Yet another debate over videogame violence begins.
Historically, parents, educators and society at large have long been interested in the effects of children's exposure to violence, and many studies have been conducted on the topic, especially regarding children's television viewing habits. With computer use and videogame playing on the rise over the last five to ten years, the focus of research has switched from TV to more interactive media. Study conclusions, as you might guess, are all over the map, as this is not an easy phenomenon to investigate. Defining variables and separating them out from other related factors are no simple task. Yet, people are concerned, and asking for answers. Should we let our kids play violent games? Will they make our children become more aggressive or immune to real violence?
Recent Key Findings
Second-grade boys displayed more aggressive behavior right after playing a violent videogame than boys who played a "nonaggressive" game. (Irwin & Gross, Journal of Family Violence, 1995, Volume 10)
Male college students who played a more violent version of Mortal Kombat scored higher on hostility measures and had higher blood pressure than those who played a less violent version (Ballard & Wiest, Society for Research in Child Development, Spring, 1995)
Children who played Mortal Kombat responded more negatively to six provocative story questions than those who played a non-violent videogame. (Kirsh, ERIC, 1998)
The level of aggression of 153 middle and high school students (as measured by teachers) was positively correlated with the amount of students' self-reported videogame play. (Fling, Smith, Rodriguez, Thornton, Atkins & Nixon, Southwest Texas State University, 1992)
Recent survey figures (for the Interactive Digital Software Association) suggest that videogames encourage socialization with family and friends. More specifically, out of 1500 individuals and families surveyed, 42% reported that they enjoy playing games because they can be shared with friends and family (2002). (Note: this study did not separate out violent from non-violent videogames, but looked at gameplay as a whole.)
A literature review of 59 studies conducted by the Washington State Dept of Health concludes that current research evidence is not supportive of a major concern that violent games lead to real life violence. (Bensley and Van Eenwyk, Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol 29, 2001)
Time spent playing with videogames was not correlated with aggression for middle school kids (144 females, 134 males), although boys with a preference for aggressive games were perceived as more aggressive by peers. (Wiegman & van Shie, Social Psychology, 1998)
No differences in measures of aggressive thought were found for 52 3rd and 4th graders who played Mortal Kombat versus a basketball sim. (Kirsh, Childhood- a Global Journal of Child Research, 5, Volume 2, 1998)
Interpreting the Research
2. Each study uses different types of videogames (e.g. sports, shooters, action/adventure) with different types and "levels" of violence. Some studies don't report the type or names of videogames used in the investigation. These factors make comparisons and conclusions difficult to ascertain.
3. Much of the research is correlational only. Relationships may be shown, but they may be coincidental or caused by other individual, family and social factors.
4. Games have become more realistic in graphics and sounds, in essence a different animal than those used in much of the research. Many studies were conducted using older platforms and games, making them less easily generalized or comparable to more recent games.
Discussing the Findings
It is important not to underestimate the degree to which children are able to separate fantasy from reality, which is a root issue in this debate. According to seven-year-old Erin's parents, she has no problem separating her gaming experience from her real life. In addition to loving action-packed videogames, she continues to carefully close her bedroom door each night when she goes to bed to make sure that her cat doesn't scare her new baby gerbils. She is also rule-governed in her approach to most activities, and is concerned when family members hurt themselves. In no way, shape or form, does Erin act out her videogame experiences in other aspects of her life.
Drawing the Line
Don't like digging through research papers? We do. Take a minute and read this brief article. It brings up some important points about the effects of violence in videogames.
NOTE: on September 26, 2002, the Free Expression Policy Project filed an appeal on a St. Louis County ruling restricting children's access to violent videogames. The appeal provides an excellent review of the literature, from a pro-videogame/free speech point of view. Here is the link to the complete brief.
"Human Nature" Plays a Role
Might there be actually be positive effects?
The Videogame Industry's Position-- an
Interview with IDSA's
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