Video Games And Children

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)

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