Youth in the United States spend an average of 40 hours a week using some type of media, whether it be video games, computer games or phone applications. This number rapidly increases every year and differs in each age group, especially now with the diverse technology we have in this day and age. However, the effects of all video games and media are not the concern. The concern is for violent and gore stricken video games or media that start to circulate at a young age and continue to circulate through adulthood. The amount of violence that young children are subject to in video games and media is startling, to say the least. These violent video games come with certain side effects that parents, teachers and adolescents themselves are not aware of until it has already begun to happen. Some of these effects include aggressive behaviour or increased aggressive behaviour if some aggression or hostility is already present, prosocial behaviour or loss of altruism, the desensitization to violence and gore from being around it so often, the loss of attentiveness and view of reality as well as lower academic performance paired with consistent fights with peers and/or superiors. Ever since video games adapted past cartoon worlds like Super Mario Brothers and Pac-Man, there has been a lot of research done surrounding the effects violent video games and media have on adolescents. The majority of studies have proved that their suspected effects are in fact actual effects that children have after being exposed briefly to said violent video games. Even with the many people out there that believe that the negative effects video games could possibly have are myths and lies made up to reduce the consumption of new and growing technology that takes over the lives of children, but the facts are that the more technologically advanced video games get and the closer to reality they appear, the harder it will be for children to distinguish between what is reality and what is virtual reality.
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To start off, the suspected effects of violent video games such as increased aggression, the loss of altruism, increased physiological arousal and prosocial behaviour have not come out of nowhere but through “5 decades of research in the effects of exposure to violent T.V and movies…” (Anderson and Bushman). Due to the fact that video games and technology are constantly evolving, the effects of these violent video games could get inherently worse. The psychological effects that would most likely surface from these games are as listed: the decrease of prosocial behaviour, which in turn is the loss of wanting to help others for nothing in return and an increased level of physiological arousal, which will end up causing the child to be less attentive and unfocused at a young age. Those listed effects could greatly impact the way any child learns while being exposed to games with such high violent content. They can also lead to blurred thoughts on the morality of the violent actions produced in the video games. From exposure to such violence at a young age, children perceive violence as fun. They “are getting a message that when you have conflicts, you fight with violence and that you have to fight in order to resolve your differences” (Barbaro and Earp). Industry leaders deny that their products cause any harm to children whatsoever, but there are studies showing that “even with brief exposure to violent T.V or movie scenes causes significant increases in aggression” (Anderson and Bushman). Obviously, the market of the products would be at stake if the companies selling the video games were to publicly come to the conclusion that their products do in fact effect adolescents negatively, therefore, their only option is to announce that there is nothing harmful about their games and move on. However, a 2001 study found that “across 54 independent tests of the relation between video game violence and aggression, involving 4262 participants, there appear to be five consistent results of playing games with violent content. Playing violent games increases aggressive behaviours, increases aggressive cognitions, increases aggressive emotions, increases physiological arousal, and decreases prosocial behaviours. These effects are robust; they have been found in children and adults, in males and females, and in experimental and non-experimental studies. This is not to say that no studies have failed to find evidence of an effect. However, the majority of studies have found such evidence.” (Gentile, Lynch and Linder). To this day, “the multibillion-dollar youth marketing industry has used the latest advances in psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience to transform American children into one of the most powerful and profitable consumer demographics in the world.” (Barbaro and Earp). While big-time companies are making money off of child consumers and their parent’s strong will to appease their children, they are suffering mentally by the effects of playing these violent video games.
Second of all, a lot of these games would not fall into the laps of children without the help of consent from an adult. A study has shown that “fewer than 1 in 5 parents have ever kept their children from getting a game because of its rating.” (Gentile, Lynch and Linder). The violent video games have ratings and restrictions for a reason, and when a parent comes in as a proxy to buy the game for their child that isn’t of age, that is when parental mediation fails. According to studies, “parental mediation is correlated with better academic performance, and has been shown to increase beliefs in social norms and to decrease fear.” (Gentile, Lynch and Linder) This argument does not account for the fact that yes, any child could go over to a friend’s house and play a game they are not being allowed to play because of the rating/age restriction or by their parents, but when a thirteen-year-old is playing a violent game that is age restricted to a nineteen-year-old where killing people for no reason is the sole objective, the results can be overall not in our control and damaging to the children. It has been shown that “adolescents who were more hostile tended to consume more violent video games, prefer more violent content, and have fewer parental limits on the content of their video games” (Gentile, Lynch and Linder). Therefore, the act of having a parent be there to buy the game for the child should not be allowed. If the child is anywhere with the parent it should be a rule that they are not allowed to purchase the game. We may not be able to stop the parent from purchasing the game for their child in the end, however, with more parental mediation on these types of games and if the games are harder to get at, it makes the fight for the game a lot more difficult and less appealing to the parent when looking to purchase the games.
Next, one of the biggest reasons to have this debate is to sort out the amount of violence being portrayed in video games and show present it affects children in their daily lives and for the future. The most important effect from that is the term “desensitization”. The term desensitization has been “used by scholars, public policy analysts, politicians, and the lay public to mean effects as varied as: (a) an increase in aggressive behavior; (b) a reduction in physiological arousal to real-life violence; (c) a flattening of affective reactions to violence; (d) a reduction in likelihood of helping a violence victim;” (Carnagey and Bushman). When children are exposed to as much virtual violence as they are in these video games, they begin to get desensitized to real-life violence. According to research done in the cognitive behavioural treatment of phobias, “A narrower, clearer definition of desensitization to violence is a reduction in emotion-related physiological reactivity to real violence.” (Carnagey and Bushman). Although it can also be argued that using video games to desensitize people to real life violence could work to benefit some of the population. For example, “can we use video games to systematically desensitize individuals who need to be desensitized to specific stimuli that cause them problems (e.g. a car accident victim afraid of driving again.” (Carnagey and Bushman). For an opposite example of how the virtual violence can be used and translated into the real world, there was a game released in 2003 called Manhunt, where the only objective is to stalk and then murder people in the game. In the United Kingdom, “The original Manhunt game was given an 18 classification in 2003 and was later blamed for the murder of a 14-year-old boy. Stefan Pakeerah was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004 and his parents claimed the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the game.” (Orr) The more a game like this is played, the more adolescents become accustomed to the feeling of violence playing a crucial part in their lives. Studies show that “even just 20 minutes, can cause people to become less physiologically aroused by real-life violence.” (Carnagey and Bushman). Therefore, if the desensitization of violence continues to affect children and translate to real life violence, there needs to be serious reconsideration when releasing content like this for the future.
Now, there are a lot of ways for children to acquire these violent natured video games, but how do they hear about them? A lot of this knowledge and understanding comes from their peers. There have been “claims that production and consumption are old fashion ‘industrial age’ concepts, and that the internet age, where access to the means of producing and distributing information is ‘widely available’, consumers become cultural producers and distributors” (Hesmondhalgh). Due to the fact that your social standpoint online is very important in today’s society, there are certain
Lastly, with evolving technology and more versions of virtual reality that are truly immersive, it can be difficult to separate one’s self from the virtual second life and their own reality. They have games now such as Second Life, Sims or World of Warcraft where an alternate version of your life that you create exists. The attraction and attachment to these types of other worlds are known as telepresence. Telepresence is defined as “the technologically mediated sense of detachment from local space and reattachment to hyperspace” (Mejias) or “the experience of being somewhere where our bodies are not. (Mejias). It is becoming more and more common to have one of these online virtual second lives, but some of them are not used in the way they might have been intended. In April of 1999, 13 students and teachers were killed and 21 were injured in The Columbine High School Massacre. Doom was the first ever first-person shooter game in the to be released and that came with a lot of controversy over the content of the game. After the shooting, “Doom became the center of debate once again when it was discovered that Klebold and Harris had been avid players and even compared the school shooting to Doom, saying murder would just be as easy as playing the game.” (Bennett).
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They used a computer modification “that allowed PC versions to be modified into personalized levels created by the user.” (Bennett) and created 2 shooters with weak victims that could not protect themselves as an added level. Telepresence can almost feel like an out of body experience, “our minds seem to expand to all corners of the universe, but when our interaction with the world is reduced to mediated signals, how do we know if things on the other side are real?” (Mejias) and with so many different ways to experience a world that is virtual, the opportunities for good and bad can arise easily.
In conclusion, research and studies have shown that the effects on adolescents playing violent video games or watching violent media are damaging and severe. Those effects include aggressive behaviour or more hostile behaviour if aggression in the child is already present, the loss of altruism, desensitization to violence or gore, lower grades or continuous fighting with peers and teachers, loss of attentiveness and the loss of reality into a virtual reality. A majority of studies and research proving that the effects listed above are in fact real and happening to the children that take part in playing the many violent video games is reason enough for the regulations and rules to be changed. Purchasing a video game with a high age rating or restriction should only be allowed if you meet that age restriction, and not only if your parent is there with you to buy it because you are not old enough. Paying close attention to your child in school as well as with peers and teachers will also help spot any changes the games may cause in behaviour. Therefore, believing gaming industry leaders when they say their products cause no harmful effects to children, that monitoring your child is enough while they play these violent video games or just thinking that their aggression is a phase they will move on from, could end up affecting everyone involved in the long run for the worse. Furthermore, as the world evolves and the games become a lot more realistic, it will be hard to differentiate between was is reality and what is virtual reality.
- Anderson, Craig A. and Brad J. Bushman. “Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behaviour, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behaviour: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature.” Sage Journals (2001).
- Andrejevic, Mark. The YouTube Reader. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.
- Bennett, April. Doom and Columbine: The Effect Of The Columbine High School Massacre On The Video Game Industry. 28 March 2016. 25 November 2018. <http://wickedhorror.com/features/editorials/doom-and-columbine-the-effect-of-the-columbine-high-school-massacre-on-the-video-game-industry/>.
- Carnagey, Nicholas L. and Brad J. Bushman. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 43.3 (2007): 489-496.
- Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Dirs. Adriana Barbaro and Jeremy Earp. Perf. Dan Acuff, et al. 2008.
- Gentile, Douglas A., et al. “The Effects of Violent Video Game Habits on Adolescent Hostility, Aggressive Behaviours, and School Performance.” Journal of Adolescence 27.1 (2004): 5-22.
- Hesmondhalgh, David. “User-generated content, free labour and the cultural industries .” ephemera theory & politics in organization (2010): 267-284.
- Mejias, Ulises Ali. Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World. Vol. 1. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
- Orr, James. Sadistic, brutal and bleak: censors ban manhunt 2 game. 2007. 25 November 2018. <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2007/jun/19/news.games>.
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