Playing videogames 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 for videogames have increased from 4 hours every week in the 1980’s, to about 13 hours per week in recent years. Videogames 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 videogames 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 videogames 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 videogames 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 videogames and concluded that the desire and enjoyment for future play were linked to competence and the experience of autonomy in the videogame, and not the level of violence. Different scholars have argued about the negative and positive effects of playing videogames among children. This research paper will discuss the various effects that playing videogames have on children. They impact children’s lives socially and they increase violence among children (Sherry, 2001).
The debate on whether videogames have social effects and cause violence among the players, especially children, can be traced back to 1976 when a videogame 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 videogame and eventually its production ceased. There were other violent videogames that were produced later in 1993, such as Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, that were followed by public outcry. In the same year, a board was established in the United States to look into videogames and rate them according to their content (Siwek, 2007). The board is known as the entertainment software rating board (ESRB). The other videogame that attracted media attention was Rapelay, produced in 2006 (Siwek, 2007). The videogame required players to rape and stalk a woman and her two girls. Such videogames are said to cause behavioral change among children.
There are several incidents that are linked to videogames, such as the massacre at Columbine High School that claimed 13 lives. Laws have been enacted to ban or control the sale of videogames. 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 videogames 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 videogames is that boys spend more time playing than girls. Not many girls are interested in playing videogames, hence they are not affected as much as boys of a similar age (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).
The Drawbacks of Children Playing Videogames
Most of the negative effects as a result of playing videogames among children can be blamed on the violent scenes contained in these games. When a child spends an extended amount of time playing such videogames, 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 videogames 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 videogames teach children wrong values (Gunter, 1998). Most of the children who spend much of their time playing videogames are likely to perform poorly in school. A solid number of videogames are addictive. Rather than studying or completing homework, a child spends time playing videogames. As a result, poor performance will be seen at schools. Videogames reduce a child’s imaginative thinking as well. This means that a child who ends up spending most of their time playing videogames does not get a chance to think creatively or independently. Imaginative thinking is crucial in developing a child’s creativity. By fostering isolation, videogames may also affect a child’s health. Since they do not get enough bodily exercise, children who spend the majority of their time playing videogames are likely to suffer from video-induced seizures, obesity and skeletal, muscular and postural disorders like tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, among others.
Videogames 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 videogames tend to develop selfish behavior (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Videogames teach the player to be dependent and since the child is often left alone while playing a videogame, 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 videogames and exhibit social phobias. The interactive quality of videogames 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 videogames, 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 videogame play and aggressive behavior” (Lillian Bensely & Juliet Van Eenwyk, 2001). There are many incidents of violent behavior among children who play violent videogames 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 videogames.
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 videogame 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 videogame (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 videogame 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 videogames. A report that was compiled by the FBI in the year 2006 showed that the playing of videogames among children was one of the behavioral traits linked to school shootings. The report outlined several factors behind school shootings of which playing violent videogames was the most obvious (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).
According to Gentile and Anderson, playing videogames 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 videogames 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 videogame. The research also showed that about 39% of boys who never played violent videogames were not involved in any form of violence. When playing videogames, players are rewarded for simulating violence. This enhances the learning of violent behavior among the children who find pleasure in violent videogames. When violence is rewarded while playing videogames, players tend to develop aggressive behavior. As noted earlier, videogames desensitize players to real-life violence. The exposure to videogames 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 videogames, 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 videogames also leads to reduced empathy among the players. From a survey conducted by Jeanne Funk in 2004, videogames 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 videogames, these children are likely to be violent. Repetition of actions when one is playing a videogame affects the subconscious mind, hence a behavioral script is developed. A sound 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, videogames induce a child to develop a behavioral script that urges them to respond violently to a certain situation (Gunter, 1998).
Playing videogames teaches children that violence is an acceptable way of solving their conflicts. Those who play videogames, 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 videogames (Sherry, 2001). Children tend to confuse real-world violence with videogame violence. After fantasizing about the violence in videogames, children are likely to fight in schools and in the streets. New videogames allow a lot of physical interaction with the players. Some videogames 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 videogame. The game was previously used to train marine soldiers. Such games can train children to be high-profile killers. Also, most videogames have portrayed a negative attitude towards women. Violence against women is likely to increase in a child who plays brutal videogames (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 videogames can be beneficial for children. The first counter argument against the side effects of videogames 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 are left to play videogames. For example, a child who is not physically fit to play with others can turn to videogames 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 videogames has been increasing. For the period 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 videogames. There has been no scientifically proven link between violent behavior among children and videogames. Most of the surveys carried out on videogames 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 videogames is that children learn real life-skills when playing videogames. Players of brutal videogames are able to learn how to regulate their emotions when playing (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). The level of control developed while playing videogames 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 videogames. When a child plays videogames, it is one of the best ways of relieving aggression and depression. Many children play videogames to relieve anger while others play videogames to relax their bodies. Children are given healthy and safe opportunities to virtually explore the rules and consequences of violent behavior when they play videogames (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 videogames, but does not necessarily lead to the occurrence of violence. Through the challenges faced while playing some videogames, children are able to learn how to avoid violence, or how to escape from violence. Those who hold the view that videogames do not have negative effects on children indicate that videogames do not lead a child to violence, but instead, violent children are the ones who are interested in videogames (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007).
The argument about whether videogames 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 videogames 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 videogames, 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 videogames excessively do not develop effective communication skills with others, since hours, if not all their spare time, is spent on videogames. There has also been a rise in violence among children who play videogames, the Columbine High School massacre being one such example. Injuries and fighting at home and outdoors have risen because of children playing brutal videogames (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). Some researchers however argue that videogames 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 videogames, 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 videogames. Personally, I think that videogames 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, videogames can become a great option for a child’s leisure.