Video Games And Children


Video Games And Children Essay, Research Paper

Video games were first introduced in the 1970s. By the end of that decade they

had become a preferred childhood leisure activity, and adults responded with

concern about the possible ill effects of the games on children. Early research

on these effects was inconclusive. However, a resurgence in video game sales

that began in the late 1980s after the introduction of the Nintendo system has

renewed interest in examining the effects of video games. Some research suggests

that playing video games may affect some children’s physical functioning.

Effects range from triggering epileptic seizures to causing heart rate and blood

pressure changes. Serious adverse physical effects, however, are transient or

limited to a small number of players. Research has also identified benefits

associated with creative and pro-social uses of video games, as in physical

rehabilitation and oncology (Funk, 1993). Proponents of video games suggest that

they may be a friendly way of introducing children to computers, and may

increase children’s hand-eye co-ordination and attention to detail. VIDEO GAME

USE BY CHILDREN Recent studies of television watching by children have included

measures of the time children spend playing video games. In 1967, the average

sixth-grader watched 2.8 hours of television per day. Data from 1983 indicated

that sixth-graders watched 4.7 hours of television per day, and spent some

additional time playing video games. A recent study (Funk, 1993) examined video

game playing among 357 seventh and eighth grade students. The adolescents were

asked to identify their preference among five categories of video games. The two

most preferred categories were games that involved fantasy violence, preferred

by almost 32% of subjects; and sports games, some of which contained violent

sub-themes, which were preferred by more than 29%. Nearly 20% of the students

expressed a preference for games with a general entertainment theme, while

another 17% favored games that involved human violence. Fewer than 2% of the

adolescents preferred games with educational content. The study found that

approximately 36% of male students played video games at home for 1 to 2 hours

per week; 29% played 3 to 6 hours; and 12 percent did not play at all. Among

female students who played video games at home, approximately 42% played 1 to 2

hours and 15% played 3 to 6 hours per week. Nearly 37% of females did not play

any video games. The balance of subjects played more than 6 hours per week.

Results also indicated that 38% of males and 16% of females played 1 to 2 hours

of video games per week in arcades; and that 53% of males and 81% of females did

not play video games in arcades. RATING OF VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE Ratings of video

game violence have developed as an extension of ratings of television violence.

Among those organizations that have attempted to rate television violence, the

National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) has also developed a system to

rate the violent content of video games. The NCTV system contains ratings that

range from XUnfit and XV (highly violent) to PG and G ratings. Between summer

and Christmas of 1989, NCTV surveyed 176 Nintendo video games. Among the games

surveyed, 11.4% received the XUnfit rating. Another 44.3% and 15.3% received the

other violent ratings of XV and RV, respectively. A total of 20% of games

received a PG or G rating (NCTV, 1990). The Sega company, which manufactures

video games, has developed a system for rating its own games as appropriate for

general, mature, or adult audiences, which it would like to see adopted by the

video game industry as a whole. The Nintendo Company, in rating its games,

follows standards modeled on the system used by the Motion Picture Association

of America. A problem shared by those who rate violence in television and video

games is that the definition of violence is necessarily subjective. Given this

subjectivity, raters have attempted to assess antisocial violence more

accurately by ranking violent acts according to severity, noting the context in

which violent acts occur, and considering the overall message as pro- or anti-

violence. However, the factor of context is typically missing in video games.

There are no gray areas in the behavior of game characters, and players are

rarely required to reflect or make contextual judgements (Provenzo, 1992).

EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE IN VIDEO GAMES The NCTV claims that there has been a steady

increase in the number of video games with violent themes. Games rated as

extremely violent increased from 53% in 1985 to 82% in 1988. A 1988 survey

indicated that manufacturers were titling their games with increasingly violent

titles (NCTV, 1990). Another survey found that 40 of the 47 top-rated Nintendo

video games had violence as a theme. An early study on the effects of video

games on children found that playing video games had more positive effects on

children than watching television. A conference sponsored by Atari at Harvard

University in 1983 presented preliminary data that failed to identify ill

effects. More recent research, however, has begun to find a connection between

children?s playing of violent video games and later aggressive behavior. A

research review done by NCTV (1990) found that 9 of 12 research studies on the

impact of violent video games on normal children and adolescents reported

harmful effects. In general, while video game playing has not been implicated as

a direct cause of severe psycho-pathology, research suggests that there is a

short-term relationship between playing violent games and increased aggressive

behavior in younger children (Funk, 1993). Because it is likely that there is

some similarity in the effect of viewing violent television programs and playing

violent video games on individuals’ aggressive behavior, those concerned with

the effects of video games on children should take note of television research.

The consensus among researchers on television violence is that there is a

measurable increase of from 3% to 15% in individuals’ aggressive behavior after

watching violent television. A recent report of the American Psychological

Association claimed that research demonstrates a correlation between viewing and

aggressive behavior (Clark, 1993). EFFECTS OF OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF VIDEO

GAMES Some adults believe that video games offer benefits over the passive

medium of television. Among mental health professionals, there are those who

maintain that in playing video games, certain children can develop a sense of

proficiency which they might not otherwise achieve. However, other authorities

speculate that performing violent actions in video games may be more conducive

to children’s aggression than passively watching violent acts on television.

According to this view, the more children practice violence acts, the more

likely they are to perform violent acts (Clark, 1993). Some educational

professionals, while allowing that video games permit children to engage in a

somewhat creative dialogue, maintain that this engagement is highly constrained

compared to other activities, such as creative writing (Provenzo, 1992). Another

problem seen by critics of video games is that the games stress autonomous

action rather than co-operation. A common game scenario is that of an anonymous

character performing an aggressive act against an anonymous enemy. One study (Provenzo,

1992) found that each of the top 10 Nintendo video games was based on a theme of

an autonomous individual working alone against an evil force. The world of video

games has little sense of community and few team players. Also, most video games

do not allow play by more than one player at a time. The social content of video

games may influence children’s attitudes toward gender roles. In the Nintendo

games, women are usually cast as persons who are acted upon rather than as

initiators of action; in extreme cases, they are depicted as victims. One study

(Provenzo, 1992) found that the covers of the 47 most popular Nintendo games

depicted a total of 115 male and 9 female characters; among these characters, 20

of the males struck a dominant pose while none of the females did. Thirteen of

the 47 games were based on a scenario in which a woman is kidnapped or has to be

rescued. Studies have indicated that males play video games more frequently than

females. Television program producers and video game manufacturers may produce

violent shows and games for this audience. This demand for violence may not

arise because of an innate male desire to witness violence, but because males

are looking for strong role models, which they find in these shows and games

(Clark, 1993). CONCLUSION Given inconclusive research, recommendations

concerning video games must be conservative. According to researcher Jeanne Funk

(1993), a ban on video games is: probably not … in the child’s best interests.

Limiting playing time and monitoring game selection according to developmental

level and game content may be as important as similar parental management of

television privileges. Parents and professionals should also seek creative ways

to increase the acceptance, popularity, and availability of games that are

relatively pro-social, educational, and fun. (p.89)

Clark, C.S. (1993). TV Violence. CQ Researcher 3(12, Mar26): 167-187 De

Franco, E.B. (1989). Are Your Kids Too Tuned In? PTA Today, May): 18-19. EJ 414

201. Funk, J.B. (1993). Re-evaluating the Impact of Video Games. Clinical

Pediatrics 32 (2, Feb): 86-90. PS 521 243. Kubey, R. and Larson, R. (1990). The

Use and Experience of the New Video Media Among Children and Young Adolescents.

Communication Research 17(1): 107-130. EJ 406 646. National Coalition on

Television Violence. (1990). Nintendo Tainted by Extreme Violence. NCTV News

11(1-2, Feb-Mar): 1, 3-4. Provenzo, E.F., Jr. (1992). The Video Generation.

American School Board Journal 179(3, Mar): 29-32. EJ 441 136.

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