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the Negative Effects of Violent Video Games on Children and Teenagers

Violence on Tv, Violent Video Games

The negative effects of violent video games on children and teenagers

Since the advent of coin operated arcade games, video games have come a long way and spread to the homes of many children and teenagers, in both developed and developing countries (Bryant & Vorderer, 2006). On one hand, the fierce competitions among the gaming giants such as Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft can be blamed for this phenomenon; while on the other hand, the internet alone is responsible for placing a universe full of games at arms reach of anyone with a computer and a decent internet connection. However, many games are not suitable for certain age groups. These include games which contain material that is explicit in either the lyrics of its songs, its bloody and gory action scenes, or even scenes that are considered borderline pornographic (in the game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the main character can enter strip clubs and receive lap dances) (Allofgta, 2008). Usually, many of the games containing significant amounts of violence are designed for mature audiences; nevertheless, their popularity among teenagers and children, who ironically constitute the largest contributors to the profits reaped from these games, is always on the rise. In Lebanon and many other countries in the middle east, no video game rating system or law exists, which allows children and teenagers to buy any game they want. Consequently, as Vorderer and Bryant explain (2006), “young video game players may be exposed to substantially more violent content than ever before” (p. 73).

Video games containing excessive violence have always been the blame of many university shootings and massacres. On the 11th of March 2009, Tim Kretshmer in camouflage, hijacked a car, and then took out his 9mm baretta unleashing a shooting rampage, killing 15 of his classmates in his school in Wennenden, Germany. This scenario is eerily similar to the video game “Far Cry 2”, where the main character also uses camouflage as attire and goes around in his car shooting and killing people. Investigations of the incident revealed that 6 hours before the “massacre”, Kretshmer had just finished playing a marathon of “Far Cry 2” under the username “Jawspredator1”. At the learning of this knowledge, the mayor of the town subsequently advocated the ban of violent video games, as an attempt to prevent such crimes from ever happening again (Pancevskiin, 2009).

Excessive violence in video games has many significant negative effects on children and teenagers. The nature of today’s gaming market doesn’t seem to help the situation at all. Every year, hundreds of new games are released into stores, adding to an already abundant library of blood and gore, which leads to a decrease in the price of previous years’ games. In addition, since the price of CDs and game related hardware is on the decline, it is becoming easier and more economical for children and teenagers to play these games in the comfort of their own home, instead of paying hourly fees at Local area network gaming centers. The latter allows gamers to spend much more time in front of their consoles, since they are shielded from the common distractions of PC rooms. By combining the latter reality with the fact that violent video games are the most popular type of games among children and teenagers, we can see that this is an ever growing problem (Bushman, 2005).

Many think that violence in video games has no direct significant effects on those who play them, and that many of the reported side-effects (whether consciously or unconsciously experienced) are mere exaggerations. This is based on the fact that advocates of these games claim that faulty research and hasty generalizations are giving this type of games bad reputations.

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To begin with, many violent video game advocates claim that the results of experiments designed to measure aggressiveness, after children and teenagers are subjected to violent video game play, depend solely on how impressionable each gamer is, regardless of whether or not the game is violent. The latter group argues that the more significant variable is the person himself, instead of the game being blamed for the manifestation of aggression and other negative effects (Gee, 2007) . In other words, violent video games only affect people, not because of the blood, gore and other game play related elements, but merely due to the fact that some people are more “weak” and impressionable than others. However, Anderson and Bushman (2001) state that an overwhelming number studies do not back up Gee’s claims and prove just the opposite of the latter. The results of studies in this field show that the general trend pertains to a reality in which the majority of people are vulnerable to violent video games, because of the elements contained in these games. Therefore, it is undeniable that these games are powerful enough to have negative effects on the majority of gamers, varying from elevated hostile conduct to weakening of pro-social behavior (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

Other pro-violent video game activists take on a whole different approach in their defense strategy. For example, Kutner and Olson (2008) go to the extent of blaming the research itself, since they view that many of the experiments carried out, lack a clear cut cause and effect relationship. The two authors supported their findings by citing a flawed experiment, and others like it, where the subjects were exposed to violent video game play for a certain period of time, and then had to hold down a horn and repeat the task 50 times in 10 minutes. The aim of the experiment was to measure how long the subjects would hold down the button thereby measuring their patience after game play, compared to a control group who was not exposed to any game play at all. The results showed that the gamers held the horn for a lower period of time compared to the control group. The study then concluded that lack of patience, an indication of aggressiveness and anti social behavior, emerged after playing violent video games. It is clear that this is not one of the best experiments ever conducted. To begin with, the researchers should have attempted to measure the patience of the subjects before and after game play. Secondly, patience is not ideally measured as an indicator of aggressiveness and pro social behavior when it encompasses holding down a horn. Finally, almost no other variables were manipulated in order to uncover other possible reasons for decrease in “patience”. Nevertheless. this did not stop Kutner and Olsen (2008) from hastily generalizing that the majority of experiments carried out in this field are faulty like this one. Yet, the latter is usually false since many experiments are intelligently designed by professionals, in ways that show the variable responsible for the negative observed effects is the violence in video games. Furthermore, scientists and the average person, in general, are able to discern whether or not an experiment does or does not make sense (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

Three major negative effects are manifested in the majority of gamers who play violent video games. To begin with, gamers show a weakening in their pro social behavior, which include poorer relationships and drug related problems. Secondly, users start to exhibit violent behavior which can manifest itself in their thoughts or physically. Finally, desensitization, the loss of proper response to violent images, also lurks behind these games.

Anderson and Bushman (2001), state that “playing violent video games decreases prosocial behavior” (p. 353). A study was conducted by Schie and Wiegman (1998), where 9-15 year olds were asked to write on diaries the time they spent playing violent video games. Unsurprisingly, their findings showed that the more time one spent playing these games, the less pro-social actions one carries out in general. Furthermore, teenagers who played these games were less likely to donate money to charities or engage in other actions that benefited the community such as volunteer work (Chambers & Ascione, 1987). In another study, children were asked several personal questions along with rating their fellow classmates. The results of the surveys showed that the group of students who played violent video games were less liked, in general, by their peers (Silvern, & Williamson, 1987).

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Another anti social manifestation of playing violent video games is one related to drug and alcohol use, a deterioration in self esteem and personal relationships. Studies and polls have shown that the majority of teenagers who suffered from the latter problems had violent video games as one of the top 5 most common factors between all the surveyed population. One such study, concluded that individuals who played violent video games had a 6% higher chance of developing substance abuse than their counterparts who played regular video games. Furthermore, the study revealed that familial relations, compared to other relationships, were the most impacted by violent video game play. This is because the survey encompassed gamers who owned their own gaming consoles, and their family members would be the first to be exposed to their “excitation” right after game play (Harding, 2009).

According to Berkowitz and Zanna (2004) violent video games are most infamous for triggering both aggressive feelings and behavior. The proverb “violence breeds violence” best describes the results of numerous studies. Research has shown that children are more likely to kick, fight and hit their peers due to playing violent video games for as low as 13 hours of gaming per week. Increase in quarrels between students and their teachers have also been observed (Harding, 2009). In one study, children in a middle school were divided into 2 groups. One group was allowed to play violent video games for 25 minutes, before being released to the play ground for recess. The second group of children played for 25 minutes adventure and puzzle games that lacked any violent scenes or elements whatsoever . After being let out, their actions were recorded. Over the course of the study, the researchers discovered that the children actually yelled more often, were more physical with one another (pushing, kicking etc…) and even got into more fights than those who played the non violent games (Ihori et.al. , 2007).

However, this newly found aggression has to be fueled by aggressive thoughts. According to Bryant and Vorderer (2006), playing violent video games affects a gamers’ aggression by stimulating their aggressive thoughts, which may eventually result in bursts of violent exploits. In addition to the latter, Anderson and Dill (2000) carried out one of the most influential and efficient experiment in this field. Students were asked to play the game “Myst” (which is filled with violence, blood and gore), for a certain period of time, and then participated in a “competitive reaction time” task against opponents in another room. Each student was fitted with headphones and given a small button that they would use when they won, in order to release an annoying loud noise onto their opponent, whom they could not see. At first, the gamers were subjected to a few “fixed” rounds, where which they were blasted with noise to make them think they were loosing. The results showed that the gamers pressed the button more forcefully and for a longer period of time, compared to their counterparts in a control group who had been exposed to a non violent strategy game. Therefore, the gamers’ aggression is exacerbated after game play.

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When a person becomes accustomed to a stimulus due to repetitive exposure to it, there is a very high probability that desensitization will occur. This phenomenon involves the loss of expected “normal” reactions from a person, when subjected to images that usually incite disgust or fear or reprimand from the general population. Desensitization is a good thing when training soldiers for what they might expect in combat, or when medical students are having a hard time coping with their everyday life in hospitals (Passer & Smith, 2008). However, a society which is completely desensitized is one that cannot function anymore, since our moral evaluation, which includes our senses of sympathy and empathy, would be significantly affected. Gamers would also start to believe that violence cannot be avoided, which can also have dire effects on societies (Vitagliano, 2004). Our sense of urgency towards tackling crime, famine and wars would decline because it will become harder for us to be moved by news reports. Studies have shown that gamers’ reactions towards violent images decreases with increasing exposure to violent video games (Signorielli, 2005). This is a startling fact because it is not the adults who are the victims of this kind of desensitization, but the pillars of our future who are slowly letting blood and gore creep into their norms. The latter is physiologically manifested by the alteration of the normal expected pattern of brain waves in certain scenarios (Bushman, 2005).

Violent video games are almost available to everyone everywhere in developing countries such as Lebanon (Bryant & Vorderer, 2006). As research shows, children and teenagers are susceptible to the deleterious effects of video games. These age groups form a vital part of society and something must be done to prevent them from unknowingly harming themselves and others. Since these days most children and teenagers play games in the comfort of their own home, parents seem to be the best line of defense until now. However not all parents are aware of the severity of the situation. One way of tackling this problem could be increasing parents’ knowledge about these games and explaining the negative possible outcomes their children may face. This type of information can either be posted on the introductory start-up screen of violent video games, online, or on TV. The latter option is much more expensive than the former; however associations can be set up to either raise money through donations to pay for these ads, or to press the Lebanese government to subsidize these commercials, since they only benefit the public. Many game console manufacturers have installed game specific parental locks that can be turned off or on by the parent, in order prevent their kids from accessing these games. Problem is, many parents are not aware of the existence of the latter protection system, and even if they were to find out about it, it is doubtful they would be able to operate it. However, through TV ads and online websites, caregivers can discover the severity of the situation at hand. The latter will fuel their efforts in shielding their kids from playing these games, by either learning how to lock their children’s consoles or by employing other equally useful measures.