186: Videogames: Are Your Children Safe?

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Videogames: Are Your Children Safe?

When it comes to videogames, psychologists and social theorists have been asking the wrong questions. Instead of obsessing over the correlation between violence and videogames, researchers should ask why people - young boys, in particular - enjoy violent media so much in the first place.

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Wow, I signed up just to reply to this article. Great one, was really spot on.

I mean, it really doesn't leave anything out, it has a solid counter-argument to every argument that the anti-video games people have come up with.

The answer to the question of why gamers like violent media is kinda hinted at in your first paragraph. The fact that boys tend to like it while girls don't suggests that it's learned behaviour - boys are taught by their parents to prefer violent media. Parents buy boys toy guns and swords, while they buy girls dolls and cuddly puppies. When faced with that reality, boys aren't going to dress up their Nerf gun in a tutu and read it stories - they're going to shoot stuff with it.

The real question is this: After years of forcing violent play on boys, why on Earth do parents suddenly decide that violent play is bad when it's electronic?

Beery:
The fact that boys tend to like it while girls don't suggests that it's learned behaviour

And indeed my seven year old daughter is quite happy with videogame violence, having learned it from... her mum! At her age it's destroying droids in Lego Star Wars rather than shooting girls in Grand Theft Auto, but that's really only because she can't handle the control scheme for the latter. Well OK, that's not quite true. If she could play GTA, obviously she'd shoot boys!

Interesting article, I think it brought up a point often overlooked. Still, I think that there are a few issues with it: first, the influence of gender roles has been completely disregarded. As Beery said, kids grow up playing with what they're given--boys tend to receive more toys that are weapons of some sort.

I also get the feeling that the writer may have glossed over differences between aggressive behavior in real life and in pretend. The issue was briefly mentioned in bullet 4, "Roleplaying," but it seems the writer has made the same mistake as many critics.

It also didn't mention corelation between violent stimulus and rapid finger movements....

By that I mean that I thought this article was very solid for the topics that it covered, well written and informative. Absolutely wonderful job and very well researched.

Good article, I've been saying these things for years.

Fascinating article, but as a gamer girl that loves many, many M rated games (Dead Space, Grand Theft Auto, Crysis, Fallout series, Quake IV, etc..) I don't really agree boys are "raised on violence" and girls avoid it based off gender.

When I was younger, (I'm 29 now and grew up during the Snes/playstation days where M titles where mostly unheard of)there were very few titles worthy of the gore one would consider M (besides doom & similar games) and I happily read horror novels by the likes of Stephen King, Robert R. Mcammon and Dean R. Koontz that would certainly rate a NC-17 title if they were made into games by today's standards.

I never once at the library when i was a teen got questioned about checking out a horror novel or heard anything about how reading one would make me violent prone or a deviant, and those books delivered far more powerful gory/horrific imagery then any game I ever played.

So to me, the whole "game rating" bit is pretty laughable when books don't really have any rating or age control limit beyond one's intellectual capacity to comprehend the reading level.

Granted more girls play games now a days then read books, but if the games & movies didn't exist I'm betting the ones that found horror/gore/violence fun would be reading horror and action novels with the same eager intensity.

Nice article, but I'm sure these conservative people who hate video games so much will never listen reason. The argument will move on when the next big thing in entertainment pops up. I bet people even thought theatre was evil when it first developed... "A man acting like another man, this is the work of DEAMONIC POSSESION, DESTROY THEM"

I've been pointing out the long, long list of other media accused of "corrupting the youth of Athens" er... well, I'll say that people over the millennia have blamed a lot of forms of recreation for a lot of sins, but prohibition of those diversions doesn't seem to stop youth from acting like youth.

Yet when you point out that the '50s TV show Davy Crockett killed a lot more people with a lot fewer consequences over its run than anyone ever did in Manhunt, people think you're crazy to compare the two because Crockett was a kid's show. At least in the game violent death isn't balletically elegant and neat.

Humans are weird.

-- Steve

PS: If Mortal Kombat weirds folks out, why are they okay with "Punch and Judy" shows?

I remember Columbine...

I was 14 at the time, and an avid gamer with both my PC and my original Playstation. Granted I always preferred, and still do, RPG's over shooters and action games but when the two killers and their obsession with Doom came up the first thing that came to mind was this...

Why are they obsessed with Doom? It's an antique, a product of a bygone age that has come and gone. Why not any of the newer titles, Quake 2, Half Life, Unreal... all of these were both better AND more violent than Doom, in all of its incarnations in that generation.

Clearly Doom held an appeal outside of its violence to those two. Recalling what was said about them, I'm guessing it was probably the Satanic Elements of the title that appealed to them, as the pair fashioned themselves as Satanists if I recall correctly. Even then technically Quake 1 was set in Hell, why not that?

It never really made much sense, but it still makes me wonder whether or not the violent behavior is about Videogames... or whether it's about obsession.

Take the recent Halo 3 kid or that poor kid who died over Call of Duty 4. Halo 3 was outdated when he killed his mother over it...so why Halo 3? Why not Gears of War, or Call of Duty... I think the kid had built himself a nice little pedestal to Halo in his mind, an obsession that could easily be replaced with anything, Music, Body Modification, A Girl... anything and when deprived of said obsession who is to say that he wouldn't have the same goddamn reaction?

It's a sad, scapegoating world we live in, everyone just wants someone to blame. But then again, Cognative Dissonance (the statement "Mistakes were made but not by me" sums it up) is a core aspect of the human experience. One that isn't ever likely to go away, so we just need to deal with the fallout I guess.

Beery:
The answer to the question of why gamers like violent media is kinda hinted at in your first paragraph. The fact that boys tend to like it while girls don't suggests that it's learned behaviour - boys are taught by their parents to prefer violent media.

Author here. I just wanted to add that in the research I've done and continue to read about gaming, some of the common ideas about girls and violence don't hold up to scrutiny. Some studies have found that girls are attracted to violent content, it's just there are some different preferences for gameplay between genders that haven't really been studied since most researchers are consumed with the aggression/violence question. Grand Theft Auto was still the second most popular game series among the girls in Kutner and Olson's study (behind the Sims), although the girls tended to play less games in general than the boys.

Also, the Killing Monsters book talks a lot about parents who have purposefully kept their children away from violent media only to have the kids beg to be allowed to play with toy guns, swords, etc. The author makes a pretty strong case that wanting to play violently is natural and not learned.

Thanks to everyone for the positive comments, by the way!

Good article. Though throughout it seemed your age-group definition of "child" changed several times. Sometimes it was child development at an 6-13year old level. At others you were talking about children playing rated18 games. Were you using "child" to refer to a specific agegroup or just as terminology for "not adult"?

*Claps* a truly brilliant article. It's nice to see something other than Jack Thompson wins case on Counter Strike murder... The person's personality defines the games he plays, not the other way around.

A bit of preaching to the choir on this one but I happily agree with the notion that video games are not the only and probably not even the most unhealthy form of media that is consumed today.

I mean take Bioshock versus Desperate Housewives. Bioshock has far more positive cultural references and "thinky" parts than most shows. I've never been down on violence per se, just stupidity. I'd rather my (theoretical) child play something violent than vapid.

Good article.

I found myself thinking about why i like to play violent videogames, especially shooters, and i think my own motive is something between the competition and sensationalism aspect mentioned in the article.

I think shooters are one of the, if not the most emotional INTERACTIVE experience you can have. Of course "emotional" does not mean tear jerking here, more like feelings of panic, fear, excitement and of course, joy (and a bit of schadenfreude, thanks to ragdoll effects mostly)

And violent games about fighting have something universally understandable about them, so everyone can experience these emotions: Everyone knows if someone attacks (example: shoots) at you(r character), you(r character) will die, and dying is bad. Fighting bad prevents dying, and that, mixed with the knowlege that there is some goal to reach, is pretty much all you need to know. It's more instinctive than in just about any other genre.

Also signed in only to post a comment on this article (have been a fan of Zero Punctuation for a while now).

I found this very interesting and thought provoking. In many of these reasons I recognized a bit of myself, not only while I was growing up, but in the way I play video games now (I am 28 y.o.).

I don't agree with some of the points and mainly the first one. However, I can understand and totally agree with the overall logic.

It's not the case of video games, but violent media as a whole. Video games simply enjoy the spotlight because it is a relatively new and fast expanding media. For some reason boys simply seem to like cheap Vin Deasel and Jean Claude Van Dame movies more that girls. I am not sure if it is a learned trait of a part of our Y chromosomes, but it is a reality.

I'm actually giving a "Policy Speech," in a Communication Arts and Sciences class on a topic related to this article. The Policy Speech is an assignment where we're supposed to come up with a policy to improve some aspect of our community. I chose to address a bill (H.R.231) which is currently going through Congress. If it passes, it would require warning labels to be placed on "violent video games and other violent media" in regards to the psychological effects of "violent video games and other violent media," particularly aggresion.

My policy speech will argue against such a measure. This article has actually helped me quite a bit.

Would it be all right if I cited this article and used it as supplimentary source?

Anton P. Nym:
Yet when you point out that the '50s TV show Davy Crockett killed a lot more people with a lot fewer consequences over its run than anyone ever did in Manhunt, people think you're crazy to compare the two because Crockett was a kid's show. At least in the game violent death isn't balletically elegant and neat.

Humans are weird.

-- Steve

Hey Steve, did you read Savage Pastimes by Harold Schechter too? Because he uses the exact same Davy Crockett example. I highly recommend that book to everyone, even Kutner and Olson reference it in Grand Theft Childhood. Schechter shows how entertainment has always been full of violence, from medieval bear-baiting, to public executions, to Grand-Guignol theatre, etc. One of my favourite passages (paraphrasing): "Some day in the future when we have full-VR games that actually let you feel the zombie's guts splatter all over you when you shoot them, parents will wish for the days of harmless pursuits like Grant Theft Auto and Resident Evil.

Ultimately, this is half a generational issue, and half a "new media are evil" issue. There's the famous adage that anything invented before you were born is dull, anything invented in your first 20 years of life is cool and interesting, anything invented in the second 20 years of your life is complicated and intimidating, and anything invented after your 60th birthday is a threat to society. So as gamers become older and more "establishment", that part of the issue will melt away.

The other half is video games, along with other newer media like the Web and text-messaging, are a market threat to older media like newspapers, television and movies. Thus we get a lot of newspaper and TV news articles about the dangers of gaming, and CSI episodes and movies about how dangerous being on the Internet is. Once the older media are either destroyed or absorbed by the newer media, that part of the issue goes away as well.

You speak ill of Postal, sire? Surely you jest!

Good read, but anyone who knows about gaming will (well, should) know those points. I second your call for more and better scientific studies on the matter, because otherwise it's just a bunch of guys shouting "VIDEOGAMES CAUSE VIOLENCE!" and others replying "DO NOT!"

What saddens me the most is that this article is resigned to a gaming blog, when it would be better served being publushed in the open media. Opposing viewpoints is important for meaningful debate.

When a child maims minotaurs as Kratos in God of War, he knows he's doing something that would be wrong to do in real life. That's what makes it fun. Violent gaming could be a way for children to explore violent behavior, safely express their aggressive urges and get it out of their systems.

Good read, and I almost totally agree. I have a slight issue with this line though. The key word here is "child." No one can say that a child knows right from wrong and chooses to play a game because he/she can experience what it's like to be bad solely because they know it's wrong otherwise. They play it because they think it's fun for whatever reason. They should be taught by their parents or whoever watches them that hurting people is a bad thing, and they shouldn't have their hands on God of War in the first place.
As for we who are significantly old enough not to be deemed children, this applies really well. We go through life, have our crappy days, and are sure as hell smart enough not to randomly shoot people because we think the world is cheating us. This is how some people can vent. (and we will still be smart enough not to shoot someone when we're done)

I'd like to point out that, although there is a correlation between violent videogames/movies, this does not tell us cause and effect.

It doesn't tell us if these children are inherantly more violent, and they enjoy violent videogames/movies because of this, or whether these movies/videogames make them more violent.

Just my two cents from Psychology courses in college.

I think it is to release the stress from school. Thats why I play shooters. But Im only 14 so that might not count.

When I was a kid growing up in a poor neighborhood I played games with other kids on the streets. Sure their were arguments, cursing and the occasional fight but it was still quite sociable and positive. Many, many years later I experienced online gaming and I found myself completely staggered by the amount of pure hatred and evil bile that is exchanged between players. Now maybe the truckloads and truckloads of violent video games that are dumped on gamers each year isn't the sole cause of today's youth becoming a bunch of roid-raging, pea soup spewing shut-ins but it aint helping either.

I miss pinball.

I usually don't group video games with violence. GTA is violent, but games like that are stress releasers. I would never go and beat up an old lady, or drive over her with a Hummer. Those things we do not do on instinct, and games won't alter that either. The general rules of life apply to these situations. You don't kill for no reason, or kill at all. If anyone blames video games for why their "golden child" is in jail, then BLAME YOURSELF FOR SPOILING THE LITTLE CHILD! Don't buy your children these types of games until they can know not to do the actions in the game in real life. The article is somewhat right, but I usually avoid articles like this because it just has mothers whining about their "perfect little angels".

Summary: Don't buy your kids games that you don't approve of.

This is quite dead-on about your criticism of psychological research on video games and it applies to applied psychology too, especially when you made the comparison with doctors.

I was at a pscyh lab meeting when we drifted off talking about social policy and research funding. What you proposed is a hard seller for research funding agencies because they want to see clear results and what you proposed is a study on prevention and it's quite hard to see improvement in comparison to treating the symptoms. So yes, psychology pretty much follows the medical philosophy when treating mental disorders or psychological problems. Solve the visible symptoms. And it just doesn't stop, there's ideological (i.e. political lefts or rights) issues from people in those granting agencies and then there's the lobbying for money from government officials for funding such research more and more complicated that I had trouble following.

So that's why you hear more about the research on the symptoms than the causes. Despite some VG researchers to take into account of other moderating factor or finding some causes (like parental monitoring), it's still a minority in the research literature.

Excellent analysis - it should be visible to more non-gamers. I especially think that your point about a correlation between poverty and violence vs. gaming and violence being found in studies was quite insightful. Often, the data collected does not necessarily agree with the conclusions drawn from it.

Like a pro sniper on the 2 mile target range. Thanks for the great read!

This is a great topic, Grand Theft Childhood sounds like something I ought to read.

I think there's merit to the idea that overprotection leads to more harm than help for children. From my own experience, my parents didn't think that worrying about money and jobs was appropriate for a child, and as a consequence I never worked in high school or college, my parents simply provided what I needed and a little bit extra, and I concentrated on what was important: education. I got excellent grades, but when I hit the working world I had no money management skills whatsoever. I had no concept of what working a 40 hour week was like, or how to get along with coworkers and supervisors. I quickly dug myself a hole that, years later, I'm still struggling back out of.

American culture in particular, has an idealistic view of childhood in which children are almost not even considered people. They're a separate group who must be protected and nurtured and sheltered, and that's good; but it can be taken way too far. Youth is a time when your mind can absorb and adjust to new experiences in a way that you'll never be able to once you reach adulthood.

None of this is to say that children should intentionally be exposed to as much violence as possible, only that it's incredibly artificial and unrealistic to presume that children shouldn't have any exposure to it at all.

I think it's a pity that researchers don't do ENOUGH research to make such accusations that violent video games lead people to be violent people. Or that people that are already violent become worse off. The purpose of a video games is to escape reality for a period of time. Whether it be a few minutes or a few hours, video games are suppose to be entertainment. If that was the case, shouldn't they question the film industry? Pumping out violent movies, action movies, horror movies that involve someone being killed or training TO kill; it makes no sense how they harp so much on video games. I suppose it's because with movies, you're just a spectator, while in video games, you're a participator. Still, it's silly to just ASSUME that everyone that picks up GTA, Resident Evil or something is going to turn out into some gun toting psychopath with a Wii nun chuck in his hand. Most people play violent video games because there's no consequence to it. You kill your co-worker, you go to jail for murder. You kill someone in GTA, you get an achievement. See? No jail time for the game. Jail time for the murder.

Since scientist don't do long-term research on how the game affects a child until their adult years, making such statements as "violent video games can increase violent behavior in children" is pretty far off. But everyone's response to games are different, so a blanket statement as such is pretty much null. /end

Chris LaVigne:
Videogames: Are Your Children Safe?

When it comes to videogames, psychologists and social theorists have been asking the wrong questions. Instead of obsessing over the correlation between violence and videogames, researchers should ask why people - young boys, in particular - enjoy violent media so much in the first place.

Read Full Article

Well to be fair. Before video games there was no such thing as violence. Gangs didn't exist, slavery didn't exist, world wars weren't being waged, entire cultures weren't being exterminated.

I mean historically it's obvious that basically nothing bad ever happened until video games came to be.

On a more serious note, the arguments had against video games are almost identical to the ones given to literacy back when it was an uncommon thing. They'd describe people reading in much the same way people describe kids playing GTA :P. "He was detached from the world, the devil had got him." stuff like that.

MorkFromOrk:
When I was a kid growing up in a poor neighborhood I played games with other kids on the streets. Sure their were arguments, cursing and the occasional fight but it was still quite sociable and positive. Many, many years later I experienced online gaming and I found myself completely staggered by the amount of pure hatred and evil bile that is exchanged between players. Now maybe the truckloads and truckloads of violent video games that are dumped on gamers each year isn't the sole cause of today's youth becoming a bunch of roid-raging, pea soup spewing shut-ins but it aint helping either.

I miss pinball.

Actually, I'd attribute that more to the nature of online gaming than the games themselves. Take any normal person, add the anonymity that the Internet provides, and the instant audience forced to listen to your every comment, and the inevitable result is that sort of behaviour. (Or, as it is colloquially known, John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/ ) If I may contribute to this theory, I would also put in the subtraction of any real or lasting consequence for what one might say.

I'd be willing to bet that these kids you've come across online don't go around in their day to day lives calling everyone "fags" or "niggers" and expressing their desire to be "like Hitler" or anything like that. There would be considerable consequences from teachers and parents, and also ostracism from their peers. But the worst that can happen to them online is that they get booted from the game or maybe banned from the servers. And what do they care about the opinions of people that they will never meet? It's basically that early adolescent need to push boundaries, saying things that make them feel like "bad boys," things that mom and dad won't let them say around the house.

So I would suggest that it's more a function of the fact that it's an online game than the nature of the game itself. That's my two cents' worth, anyway.

chrislavigne:

Beery:
The answer to the question of why gamers like violent media is kinda hinted at in your first paragraph. The fact that boys tend to like it while girls don't suggests that it's learned behaviour - boys are taught by their parents to prefer violent media.

Author here. I just wanted to add that in the research I've done and continue to read about gaming, some of the common ideas about girls and violence don't hold up to scrutiny. Some studies have found that girls are attracted to violent content, it's just there are some different preferences for gameplay between genders that haven't really been studied since most researchers are consumed with the aggression/violence question. Grand Theft Auto was still the second most popular game series among the girls in Kutner and Olson's study (behind the Sims), although the girls tended to play less games in general than the boys.

Also, the Killing Monsters book talks a lot about parents who have purposefully kept their children away from violent media only to have the kids beg to be allowed to play with toy guns, swords, etc. The author makes a pretty strong case that wanting to play violently is natural and not learned.

Thanks to everyone for the positive comments, by the way!

I'm sure it's different for everyone but I'm one of two brothers of similar age who grew up with parents who bought us lots of cuddly toys and no computer games till we were well into our teens. We learned violence all on our own and loved it from then till now. :)
First we fought each other, then we had our friends who we fought constantly with within the nearby streets ad school. And then there was computer games, an unbroken line of rough and tumble/high violence throughout our existence and neither one of us ever getting in any serious trouble.
Our parents influence us a great deal but we all have our natural leanings, and my personal belief is that males lean towards violence more than females,no matter what toys they're given. It does seem to teach us greater equilibrium when dealing with contention.
Do our gamer girls here find that our shared hobby, if they've been doing it from a young age gives them an advantage in handling stressful or crisis situations over the women who weren't exposed to this media form?

....Chris Lavigne, did you forget your first log-in details? :D
great article, thanks muchly for posting it for us.

I like the exploration of all the possible factors, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that children need imaginary violence to experience feeling that aren't acceptable in society.
Humans have a natural enjoyment of violence: Thousands would come to see battles to the death in Roman coliseums, and watch public torture in medieval times. Do you honestly think that humankind has lessened this love of violence? Think about modern sports. Why are Football (the american kind) and Hockey so popular over other sports? Videogames are the pinnacle of violent curiosities: Not only can one experience violence without any actual suffering, but they can act it out as well, usually in an exaggerated form with little similarity to real life. It's a way to naturally act out human nature.

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