Kids, Violence, and Video Games: My Obligatory Opinion

So a few days ago I get an email from a family member who happens to be an elementary school teacher. He confesses having problems with the fighting going on among his students, and asks me in the email what I thought of how violence in the media effects kids…

…I don’t think he was expecting this elaborate of an answer.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to write a piece on the topic that every involved video game creator/player/critic has to address at some time, I decided to expand on the issue and post it here. Below is his (slightly abbreviated) email, followed by my response.

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Hi Daniel,

I was wondering if you could give me your opinion concerning the effects of violence in the media, including video games, on people. I’ve seen my kindergarteners play fighting against zombies using spinning round high kicks to the head. I’ve noticed that being a ninja is being the best fighter. Sometimes all it takes is a transformer character to start a play fight. However, play fights often get out of hand and become real take down battles. I don’t know how many or which of my students play a lot of violent video games or watch violent acts on TV or on movies, but I do notice a lot of aggression on the playground. I’m always getting complaints of someone getting pushed or hit. Putting the aggressor on the wall for punishment doesn’t stop it. Neither does admonishment. It’s going to have to come from their parents.

Have you observed anything about your friends or acquaintances that suggest that playing violent video games has an effect on them to act more aggressively?

Here is a web page you may want to read. There are many other studies that corroborate these same findings.

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You’re right to assume that I have a rather passionate opinion on this. I read the article and am happy about the conclusion the author came to. In the end, it is ultimately up to the parents to educate themselves about what their children are playing. The ESRB requires video games to be labeled with a content rating, with M (mature) rated games requiring photo I.D. to purchase. This means that the children playing these games are having the games purchased for them by ignorant parents who don’t concern themselves with their children’s interests.

There is an incident in 2004 of a grandmother suing Rockstar, a triple-A video game company, because a game she purchased for her 14-year old son contained unadvertised “sexual content”. That game was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. What is often glossed over however is the legacy of the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series. It is infamous for being brutally violent and explicit. It is a game where the player can punch, shoot, run over, and steal from random strangers on the street. It is a game many people play specifically for the mindless carnage they can cause within the game. The “sexual content” the grandmother was suing over was actually intended to be removed, but due to a constrained production time frame it was simply made impossible to access without hacking into the game. Something I doubt her 14-year old grandson to be capable of at the time. Now, why would this grandmother approve of her son playing a game where he can hire a prostitute (represented by a rocking vehicle,) and then shoot her in order to reclaim the money as she leaves, but suddenly be up-in-arms over more explicit sexual content which involved the main character’s girlfriend? It’s because she never bothered to learn a damn thing about the game her grandson was playing before she purchased it.

If her grandson couldn’t handle the sexual content in a video game, I severely doubt his ability to handle the kind of violence that’s fundamental to the GTA series.

The article you sent mentions the Columbine shooting, and it seems this shooting comes up every time the subject of violent video games is discussed. What I take issue with is the later part of this quote from the article:

“The two young men that committed this act of violence were said to have played numerous hours of violent video games. Their exposure to violence is said to have been the cause since the children involved in Columbine came from secure home environments with active parental influence.”

I sincerely doubt the level of parental influence in the lives of Eric and Dylan, the two shooters in the Columbine attack. It has been noted in hindsight that had their rooms been even modestly browsed evidence such as, “Videotapes, journals, guns and bombs in their rooms would have been easily found if the parents had looked.” Videotapes and journals might have been overlooked, but actual weapons in the rooms of these two kids? These were not two innocent teenagers corrupted by the violent influence of games such as Doom. These were teens who became socially jaded and disturbed far before such a video game could have been an influence. In my opinion, it is more likely a person who already has violent tendencies will seek out violent games and movies than a less inclined individual in order to find a way to express those tendencies.

This should not suggest that all gamers who partake in violent games harbor violent desires, but those who do have violent desires are far more likely to seek out such games than those who don’t. It is a matter of balance.

Doom 1993, what they played.

Doom 2005, what I played.

Now, back on point to the role games play with younger kids. Here is another quote from the article:

“At the age children begin to play video games they have not quite developed the ability to distinguish between what is reality and what its not.”

I agree, young minds like to recreate scenes in games and movies that they enjoy. (Hell, I still do.) However, the writer here neglects to establish the age he is suggesting that kids begin to play video games, or to distinguish between violent and non-violent games. I began playing games before I was in kindergarten. True, they were rudimentary compared to the realism of many of today’s games, but I did enjoy myself and probably did play-act scenes within these games. It is not a matter of when a child can play a video game, but what kind of video game can a child be allowed to play based on their maturity. A 6 year old should not be allowed to play a military shooter like Call of Duty, but could probably engage in a game that’s just as involving and engrossing but doesn’t contain the same kind of violence, like Epic Mickey. The problem here is the parents ability to judge the maturity level of their kids, and doing the due diligence that a parent should do before purchasing a game. Kids are not created equal, and even the ESRB rating scale is intended to be used as a guide, not a rule.

http://futuresthroughfoundations.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/kids-fighting.jpg

Ya know, maybe he’s not ready for Mortal Kombat…

We see ads on television and highway signs encouraging parents to talk to their kids about subjects like sex and drugs. But a conversation that gets ignored and yet should be brought up MUCH sooner in the kids life is the difference between what happens on the T.V. screen, and what happens on the playground. This conversation needs to happen as soon as the kid starts watching shows they may want to emulate. Transformers may be fun to watch fight each other, but they are robots, we are not.

Citations:

Original Article From Family Member: http://allpsych.com/journal/violentmedia.html

News Article on Grandmother suing Rockstar: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8728577/ns/technology_and_science-games/t/grandmother-sues-maker-grand-theft-auto/#.T6V8M788gn0

Information on the “Sexually Explicit” content of GTA: San Andreas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_Coffee_mod

Columbine Massacre Information: http://history1900s.about.com/od/famouscrimesscandals/a/columbine.htm

ESRB rating guide: http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp

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So readers!! I’m curious, what are your thoughts on the matter?

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Posted on May 7, 2012, in Tangent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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