Understanding Children’s Gaming- Violence and Game AddictionExpert CommentaryAdvice for parents by Robert and Carole Hart-...
and the play activity ranges from killing to dating or bowling, going to a strip club ordrunk driving.Grand Theft Auto is ...
conclusions of the report. Thomas Wold, Norwegian University Lecturer in MediaPsychology, says, “Maybe these people would ...
It’s best if parents get involved - get down and play with your child. Enjoy the game play,the design and graphics and tal...
•    Addicts will cut out other activities and won’t prioritize being with friends  •    Playing games will often take pre...
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Understanding Children’s Gaming - Violence and Game Addiction

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There are lots of great video console games and online multiplayer games that are suitable for children and teens.

But some of the most attractive and compelling games are extremely violent, bloody and gory and feature very strong language and sexual exploitation. Some research claims that these games encourage violent behaviour in the real world. Some research shows the exact opposite. But certainly many people believe these games can have a bad influence. Indeed lawsuits have been filed (unsuccessfully) in the United States against the developers of Grand Theft Auto after some young people had committed murders in ways that were very similar to incidents in the game.

Some games are so fascinating and compelling that they can soak up huge amounts of children’s, teenagers’ (and plenty of adults’!) time and attention - to the extent that players can become socially isolated and show symptoms of addiction.

We look at two vastly popular games and consider their effect on children and teens.

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Understanding Children’s Gaming - Violence and Game Addiction

  1. 1. Understanding Children’s Gaming- Violence and Game AddictionExpert CommentaryAdvice for parents by Robert and Carole Hart-Fletcher with contributions from SigrunLandro Thomas, Rune H. Rasmussen and Odd Arild Olsen of KidsandMedia.Robert and Carole Hart-Fletcher create online learning communities for children, youngpeople and adults. Over the past twenty years, they have provided rich learningexperiences for over two million school children and their teachers in 44 countries. Theynow run KidsOKOnline which provides specialist consultancy, design and developmentservices to those who wish to create safe social learning spaces for children and adultsand the Kids and Media international advisory site for parents who wish to guide their kidsand teens safely through the world of digital media.Violence and Game AddictionThere are lots of great video console games and online multiplayer games that aresuitable for children and teens. But some of the most attractive and compelling gamesare extremely violent, bloody and gory and feature very strong language and sexualexploitation. Some research claims that these games encourage violent behavior in thereal world. Some research shows the exact opposite. But certainly many people believethese games can have a bad influence. Indeed lawsuits have been filed (unsuccessfully) inthe United States against the developers of Grand Theft Auto after some young peoplehad committed murders in ways that were very similar to incidents in the game.Some games are so fascinating and compelling that they can soak up huge amounts ofchildren’s, teenagers’ (and plenty of adults’!) time and attention - to the extent thatplayers can become socially isolated and show symptoms of addiction.Let’s look at two vastly popular games and consider their effect on children and teens.Grand Theft AutoThe infamous and immensely popular Grand Theft Auto is a hybrid between a racing gameand a first person shooter. The players have to complete missions to work their way upthe criminal hierarchy in a big city. The game has a vast and well-developed single playercampaign, as well as several multiplayer modes. Humor is an important part of the game,© Copyright Robert Hart-Fletcher Reprinted from Family Online Safety Institute Quarterly Review 1
  2. 2. and the play activity ranges from killing to dating or bowling, going to a strip club ordrunk driving.Grand Theft Auto is critically acclaimed and distinguishes itself with an impressivetechnical platform, exceptional attention to detail, a very good plot and a huge anddynamic gaming world.The players attack people with baseball bats, firearms and run them over with cars –making blood spray everywhere. Players can buy sexual services, and subsequentlymurder and rob the prostitute. There is abundant strong language, sex and nudity, andwidespread use of narcotics.Although it has a PEGI rating of 18 (see below), we know it is played by much youngerchildren.So, does playing such a game encourage more violent thoughts and greater tolerance ofviolence in media. Does it lead to perpetration of violence in the real world? Or does itlead to a decrease in real world violence? There is research evidence on both sides.Do violent video games cause aggression?A new meta-study, overseen by Craig Anderson, professor of psychology at Iowa StateUniversity and the director of Iowa States Center for the Study of Violence, combiningresults from 130 research reports on more than 130,000 subjects worldwide, concludesthat exposure to violent video games directly causes increased aggressive thoughts andbehavior, and decreased empathy and prosocial behavior in the youths exposed to them.Anderson said, "We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of researchmethod – that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal – and regardless of thecultures tested in this study (both East and West), you get the same effects: thatexposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in bothshort-term and long-term contexts". Anderson adds: “Such exposure also increasesaggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behavior...These arenot huge effects – not on the order of joining a gang vs. not joining a gang. But it is onerisk factor for predicting future aggression and other negative outcomes. And its a riskfactor thats easy for an individual parent to deal with – at least, easier than changingother risk factors for aggression and violence, such as poverty or ones geneticstructure.”For Craig Anderson, the question is no longer ‘are there real and serious effects?’ but‘how do we make it easier for parents – within the limits of culture, society and law – toprovide a healthier childhood for their kids?’ However, some scientists question the© Copyright Robert Hart-Fletcher Reprinted from Family Online Safety Institute Quarterly Review 2
  3. 3. conclusions of the report. Thomas Wold, Norwegian University Lecturer in MediaPsychology, says, “Maybe these people would be aggressive regardless of video games?We know that people with aggressive attitudes, to a large extent, choose aggressivemedia products. Therefore, we can imagine that they would have been aggressiveanyway."Do violent video games decrease violent crime?Let’s look at another study which found that violent video games may have an‘incapacitation effect’ which helps prevent violent crime.In April 2012, researches from Baylor University, the University of Texas at Arlington, andthe Center for European Economic Researchs Information and CommunicationTechnologies Research Group, published a study titled Understanding the Effects ofViolent Video Games on Violent Crime. The study supported the findings of prior studieslinking violent games and aggression, stating that “Psychological studies invariably find apositive relationship between violent video game play and aggression.”However these researchers investigated the relationship between the prevalence ofviolent video games and the perpetration of violent crimes. As a result, the study foundthat video games actually reduced violent crime by keeping potential offenders off thestreet and out of trouble. The study called this an ‘incapacitation effect’ and found that,"Overall, violent video games lead to decreases in violent crime”.To put this in context. recent FBI figures show that US murder and robbery rates nearlyhalved from 1991 - 1998, a phenomenon that has saved thousands of lives and sparedmany more potential victims of crime. BBC News cited the study, and they listed the‘incapacitation effect’ of playing violent video games as one of ten theories behind thedecrease in violent crime in the US over the past two decades.What can parents do?If your child is prone to being aggressive, then playing violent games may bring out moreaggression or it may reduce the expression of aggression in the real world. You know yourchild best - just keep an eye on his or her behavior and notice if there’s any changeresulting from playing games.You need to limit what media comes into your house - from the games store or from theInternet and discuss with your child or teen what’s suitable and what you’ll tolerate. Bebrave enough to make some rules and strong enough to enforce them.© Copyright Robert Hart-Fletcher Reprinted from Family Online Safety Institute Quarterly Review 3
  4. 4. It’s best if parents get involved - get down and play with your child. Enjoy the game play,the design and graphics and talk about any violence and help your child see it as fantasy.The Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age rating system was established to helpEuropean parents make informed decisions on buying computer games. Age ratingsensure that entertainment content, such as films, videos, DVDs, and computer games, areclearly labeled by age according to the content they contain. Age ratings provideguidance to parents to help them decide whether or not to buy a particular product. Youcan read more about PEGI at http://www.pegi.infoGames AddictionAre games addictive and, if so, how can we identify children’s addiction and help them toa more healthy relationship with games? Let’s start by looking at the vastly popular onlinemulti-player game World of Warcraft.World of WarcraftThis is the largest online role playing game in the world, with more than 12 millionsubscribers. It is a relatively harmless game, although it has created controversy due tothe many cases of video game addiction it has apparently caused. The game is set in afictional world of adventure that resembles the film series The Lord of the Rings. Thepoint of the game is to develop a character, take part in missions and advance throughlevels as you gain experience. You may play alone, but it is very popular to team up withfriends or other players. Critics have praised the exciting plot, the enormous gaming worldand the excellent playability of the game. The missions involve violence and murder, andare often quite macabre. However, the game has a 12-year PEGI age rating due to a lowlevel of realism. World of Warcraft is the game most young people develop an addictionto. Sweden’s Youth Care Foundation described World of Warcraft as “more addictive thancrack cocaine”. There is a huge amount to learn and the more time you spend on it, thebetter you become at it. The game creates satisfying feelings of achievement and anobligation to be there for your online team. This can be amazingly motivating and hugelytime consuming.What can parents do?Many young people who experience addiction symptoms don’t even realize that theirlifestyle might be unhealthy and destructive, but there are clear signs that parents canlook for:© Copyright Robert Hart-Fletcher Reprinted from Family Online Safety Institute Quarterly Review 4
  5. 5. • Addicts will cut out other activities and won’t prioritize being with friends • Playing games will often take precedence over sleeping, eating, personal hygiene • They may be tired and irritable or withdrawn • They may be late for, or completely skip school • Their school results may be dwindlingIt is vital that these young people have parents who are involved and set boundaries.Parents need to set clear playing time limits when children are young.Parents can introduce a ‘screen break’. When your children play games, or have friendsover playing with them, and you think they have spent enough time on a computer game,you can say, "When this round is over...", or "In five minutes...", "...it’s time for a screenbreak”. This means that the TV/PC is switched off and the children must do somethingelse. If introduced early, and the pill is sugared with lively and enjoyable alternativeactivity, your children and their friends will respect it.If the children are older, or the addiction has been going on for a long time, parents mayneed professional help and can contact a range of resources:www.pegi.info/ Clear advice on which games are suitable for which age group, givesparents good ammunition for the conversations with the children.www.kidsandmedia.co.uk Reviews of current popular video and online games and soundpractical advice on how to talk with your child about healthy use.http://familylives.org.uk/ Family Lives has several interesting articles on gamingaddiction. Their Parentline Helpline on 0808 800 2222 is available 24/7, 365 days a yearif you want to discuss video game addiction in more detail.Psychotherapy - many psychologists specialize in addictive behavior and can be reallyhelpful. See who is available in your area.ConclusionPlaying video and online games can be a hugely rewarding experience for children andteens. They can learn a great deal about strategy, logic, effective communication withothers and it can help their literacy and numeracy and provide an outlet for theircreativity. For 90% of children there is no adverse effect, but some may become moreaggressive and some may slip into addictive behavior. The solution for parents is to getinvolved. Get down and play with your children. Ask your teens to show you how well theyare at playing. If you can, set some time limits and enforce them with rewardingdistraction activity. If you need help, find help online or talk to a psychologist in your area.© Copyright Robert Hart-Fletcher Reprinted from Family Online Safety Institute Quarterly Review 5

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