Video Games: Part 4
Is a Generation at Risk?
"Average" Kids Are Affected
While school shooters are extreme cases, Anderson says there is still reason to worry about the average child who plays violent video games. Anderson's work reveals that playing violent video games increases feelings of anger or hostility and significantly decreases positive helping behavior, even in typically non-aggressive kids.
"In over 40 years of research, there's never been a group identified to be immune to violent media impacts," he says. "It is a myth that if you can tell it's not real, it can't affect you."
In fact, a groundbreaking National Institute on Media and the Family study found that teens who were not "naturally aggressive" but spend a lot of time playing violent video games were almost 10 times more likely to be involved in fights than "non-aggressive" teens who do not play violent video games.
"The overall picture is that young people behave more aggressively after exposure to violent video games," Anderson says.
Far less headline-grabbing than school shootings, but perhaps more prevalent in daily school life, is the possibility that exposure to violent video games is related to what Walsh calls "relational aggression" among children: name-calling, put-downs and a general attitude of disrespect. In a 2002 National Institute on Media and the Family study, he surveyed both teachers and students about classmates. "Children who played more violent video games were more likely to be described by their peers and teachers as mean and rude," he says.
Games Getting Worse
Banking on the commercial success of Grand Theft Auto and other extremely violent games, the video-game industry is releasing new games that may make Grand Theft Auto seem like Bambi in comparison, critics charge.
"The video-game industry is a copycat industry," Walsh says. "When someone strikes gold, there are others who run for the same patch to get more gold. This season we will see some games that will outdo Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in terms of gross violence."
Take Postal 2, for example. Charged with being both violent and racist, this game has players "go postal," commit graphic homophobic, racist and sexist murders, along with that of a police officer, and then win points for the murders. In response to Postal 2, the state of Washington passed a law forbidding vendors from selling video games that depicted killing police to minors. The video game industry appealed the law and won an injunction. The industry also successfully stopped an Indianapolis law aimed at keeping violent video games away from minors in arcades.
While games like Go Postal and Grand Theft Auto are rated for ages 17 and older, no law prevents retail stores from selling them to children (see Video Game Ratings: Is the Fox Guarding the Henhouse?) In efforts to self-regulate, the video game industry's IDSA asked major retailers to stop selling games geared to mature users (M-rated games) to children under 17. But, Anderson says, "retailers don't enforce standards. Kids can pretty much get what they want."
Nearly all the parents we interviewed for this article said their children have friends or neighbors who have unlimited access to violent games. But that shouldn't stop parents from controlling what happens in their own homes, Anderson says.
Lt. Col. Grossman doesn't mince words when it comes to keeping violent video games away from children: "It's kind of like saying how many porn movies are too much for your 7-year-old? How many guns are too many for your kid? How many cigarettes a day are too many for your kid? Violent video games need to be treated with great care."
Children and Hyper-Reality: The Loss of the Real and Contemporary Childhood and Adolescence, by Eugene Provenzo Jr., 2004. The author writes about children living in a "culture of simulation" in his book.
Media Violence and Children: A Complete Guide for Parents and Professionals, edited by Douglas A. Gentile, Ph.D., Praeger Publishers. This is a new compilation of essays by media-violence researchers.
Selling Out America's Children: How America Puts Profits Before Values and What Parents Can Do, by David Walsh, Ph.D., Fairview Press, 1996.
Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video-Game Violence, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Random House, 1999.
On the Web
National Institute on Media and the Family - mediafamily.org, 888-672-5437 - This non-profit, non-partisan and non-sectarian organization works to educate and inform the public, and to encourage practices and policies that promote positive change in the production and use of mass media. The organization's Web site offers game reviews.
- Are Video Games Addictive?
- Video Game Addiction: One Familiy's Story
- Video Game Ratings: Is the Fox Guarding the Henhouse?
Anne Chappell Belden is a freelance writer, journalism instructor and mother of two children. She has a master's degree in media studies.