Video games were first introduced in the 1970s. By the end of that decade theyhad become a preferred childhood leisure activity, and adults responded withconcern about the possible ill effects of the games on children.
Early researchon these effects was inconclusive. However, a resurgence in video game salesthat began in the late 1980s after the introduction of the Nintendo system hasrenewed interest in examining the effects of video games. Some research suggeststhat playing video games may affect some children's physical functioning.Effects range from triggering epileptic seizures to causing heart rate and bloodpressure changes.
Serious adverse physical effects, however, are transient orlimited to a small number of players. Research has also identified benefitsassociated with creative and pro-social uses of video games, as in physicalrehabilitation and oncology (Funk, 1993). Proponents of video games suggest thatthey may be a friendly way of introducing children to computers, and mayincrease children's hand-eye co-ordination and attention to detail. VIDEO GAMEUSE BY CHILDREN Recent studies of television watching by children have includedmeasures of the time children spend playing video games. In 1967, the averagesixth-grader watched 2.
8 hours of television per day. Data from 1983 indicatedthat sixth-graders watched 4.7 hours of television per day, and spent someadditional time playing video games. A recent study (Funk, 1993) examined videogame playing among 357 seventh and eighth grade students. The adolescents wereasked to identify their preference among five categories of video games.
The twomost preferred categories were games that involved fantasy violence, preferredby almost 32% of subjects; and sports games, some of which contained violentsub-themes, which were preferred by more than 29%. Nearly 20% of the studentsexpressed a preference for games with a general entertainment theme, whileanother 17% favored games that involved human violence. Fewer than 2% of theadolescents preferred games with educational content. The study found thatapproximately 36% of male students played video games at home for 1 to 2 hoursper week; 29% played 3 to 6 hours; and 12 percent did not play at all. Amongfemale students who played video games at home, approximately 42% played 1 to 2hours and 15% played 3 to 6 hours per week.
Nearly 37% of females did not playany 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 hoursof video games per week in arcades; and that 53% of males and 81% of females didnot play video games in arcades. RATING OF VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE Ratings of videogame violence have developed as an extension of ratings of television violence.Among those organizations that have attempted to rate television violence, theNational Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) has also developed a system torate the violent content of video games.
The NCTV system contains ratings thatrange from XUnfit and XV (highly violent) to PG and G ratings. Between summerand Christmas of 1989, NCTV surveyed 176 Nintendo video games. Among the gamessurveyed, 11.4% received the XUnfit rating.
Another 44.3% and 15.3% received theother violent ratings of XV and RV, respectively. A total of 20% of gamesreceived a PG or G rating (NCTV, 1990). The Sega company, which manufacturesvideo games, has developed a system for rating its own games as appropriate forgeneral, mature, or adult audiences, which it would like to see adopted by thevideo game industry as a whole. The Nintendo Company, in rating its games,follows standards modeled on the system used by the Motion Picture Associationof America.
A problem shared by those who rate violence in television and videogames is that the definition of violence is necessarily subjective. Given thissubjectivity, raters have attempted to assess antisocial violence moreaccurately by ranking violent acts according to severity, noting the context inwhich 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 arerarely required to reflect or make contextual judgements (Provenzo, 1992).EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE IN VIDEO GAMES The NCTV claims that there has been a steadyincrease in the number of video games with violent themes.
Games rated asextremely violent increased from 53% in 1985 to 82% in 1988. A 1988 surveyindicated that manufacturers were titling their games with increasingly violenttitles (NCTV, 1990). Another survey found that 40 of the 47 top-rated Nintendovideo games had violence as a theme. An early study on the effects of videogames on children found that playing video games had more positive effects onchildren than watching television. A conference sponsored by Atari at HarvardUniversity in 1983 presented preliminary data that failed to identify illeffects.
More recent research, however, has begun to find a connection betweenchildren’s playing of violent video games and later aggressive behavior. Aresearch review done by NCTV (1990) found that 9 of 12 research studies on theimpact of violent video games on normal children and adolescents reportedharmful effects. In general, while video game playing has not been implicated asa direct cause of severe psycho-pathology, research suggests that there is ashort-term relationship between playing violent games and increased aggressivebehavior in younger children (Funk, 1993). Because it is likely that there issome similarity in the effect of viewing violent television programs and playingviolent video games on individuals' aggressive behavior, those concerned withthe effects of video games on children should take note of television research.The consensus among researchers on television violence is that there is ameasurable increase of from 3% to 15% in individuals' aggressive behavior afterwatching violent television. A recent report of the American PsychologicalAssociation claimed that research demonstrates a correlation between viewing andaggressive behavior (Clark, 1993).
EFFECTS OF OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF VIDEOGAMES Some adults believe that video games offer benefits over the passivemedium of television. Among mental health professionals, there are those whomaintain that in playing video games, certain children can develop a sense ofproficiency which they might not otherwise achieve. However, other authoritiesspeculate that performing violent actions in video games may be more conduciveto children's aggression than passively watching violent acts on television.According to this view, the more children practice violence acts, the morelikely they are to perform violent acts (Clark, 1993).
Some educationalprofessionals, while allowing that video games permit children to engage in asomewhat creative dialogue, maintain that this engagement is highly constrainedcompared to other activities, such as creative writing (Provenzo, 1992). Anotherproblem seen by critics of video games is that the games stress autonomousaction rather than co-operation. A common game scenario is that of an anonymouscharacter 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 ofan autonomous individual working alone against an evil force. The world of videogames has little sense of community and few team players. Also, most video gamesdo not allow play by more than one player at a time.
The social content of videogames may influence children's attitudes toward gender roles. In the Nintendogames, women are usually cast as persons who are acted upon rather than asinitiators of action; in extreme cases, they are depicted as victims. One study(Provenzo, 1992) found that the covers of the 47 most popular Nintendo gamesdepicted a total of 115 male and 9 female characters; among these characters, 20of the males struck a dominant pose while none of the females did. Thirteen ofthe 47 games were based on a scenario in which a woman is kidnapped or has to berescued.
Studies have indicated that males play video games more frequently thanfemales. Television program producers and video game manufacturers may produceviolent shows and games for this audience. This demand for violence may notarise because of an innate male desire to witness violence, but because malesare looking for strong role models, which they find in these shows and games(Clark, 1993). CONCLUSION Given inconclusive research, recommendationsconcerning 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 developmentallevel and game content may be as important as similar parental management oftelevision privileges. Parents and professionals should also seek creative waysto increase the acceptance, popularity, and availability of games that arerelatively pro-social, educational, and fun.
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