Like most children of the 1980s, I grew up playing video games. We had the Nintendo NES and we played the now classic games: Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Duck Hunt just to name of few. With the rise in school shootings, video games have come under fire for their source of violence. Video games have been studied since the 1980s and no concrete evidence has come to light that points directly to video games as the source of the rise in violence. Many lawmakers including Senator Diane Feinstein are pushing for the video game industry to voluntarily avoid glorifying guns and gun violence and if they are unwilling to so do, Congress is ready to take action (Huffington Post 4/4/2013). I don’t advocated banning video games because when you do so, you just create a black market for it and when someone wants the banned item, they will get it. We saw that with the Cold War when East Germany banned Western music, East German still were listening to it. Prohibition is another example of banning an item does not get rid of the desire for the item.
Unfortunately, the evidence that points to video games as the increase in violence is correlational at best. One study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research stated that when accounting for pre-existing emotional, family and social issues, any aggression-increasing effects of playing violent video games had disappeared. Another study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence stated that current findings did not support the popular belief that violent video games increase aggression in youths. Federal crime statistics actually show that serious violent crimes among youths have decreased since 1996 while video game sales have increased. It would be hard to find a young man who did not play games at all. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) in 2011, the average gamer is 30 years old with 12 years playing experience. 82% of gamers are 18 and older, 42% are women 18 and older and 29% are over 50. The majority of gamers aren’t youths at all, they are adults!
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has a rating system similar to the film ratings which notify the consumer of the maturity level based on the content:
· Early Childhood (EC): young children
· Everyone (E): minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and or infrequent use of mild language
· Everyone 10+ (E 10+): same as Everyone rating but more suitable for players 10 and older
· Teen (T): violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and or infrequent use of strong language, suitable for 13 and older
· Mature (M): intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and or strong language, suitable for 17 and older)
· Adults Only (AO): prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and or gambling with real currency, restricted to those 18 and older.
However, the ratings only work when parents pay attention to or even care about the content. I’ve seen many children who have games that their parents gave them that they probably shouldn’t have. But if the parents allow them to play the game, who am I to tell them that they can’t have it?
In the book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, Steven Johnson challenges the popular belief that video games are a mind-numbing addiction. According to Johnson, video games demand more from players than most traditional board games. Players have to determine objectives and how to achieve them, learn the controls and navigating and eventually mastering a highly complex system with countless variables. I know personally that many games especially role playing games (RPGs) are very complex. I’ve started many and only finished a few. My brother, who is an avid player, will take months to finish one game because of all the extra side journeys a character can take outside of the main quest. He will often play the game again, changing even one decision will alter the game play and change the course the character will experience. RPGs requires strong analytical ability, strong flexibility and adaptability and strong patience and focus. Johnson also challenges the popular perception that video games give instant gratification when in fact because many RPGs take so long to complete, it may actually delay gratification. Some RPGs I’ve seen are actually designed to never truly be over because of the different quests one can take.
Bottom line is parents need to be aware of what their children are being exposed to whether it’s video games, television, music, etc. And if they don’t approve or they see the type of effect the exposure has, restrict their access. I know it’s easier said than done but better to attempt to do something than face the questions later. I can think of a few examples where my mom didn’t approve of what was on T.V. and restricted it but we still watched it when she was gone. It is easier today than it was 30 years ago to set parental controls to ensure that children follow their parents’ viewing restrictions. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen where evil will always exists and we need to be diligent. No solution is going to completely solve the problems, Individuals who have predisposition for violence will find other outlets and enact violence on others. Video games have been in American home since 1975 with the popularity of Atari and I think they are here to stay.