When video gaming goes wrong...
By Philip Jenkinson
|"Exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of agressive thoughts and behaviour."|
New research shows that regular game-time with violent scenarios is desensitising adolescent gamers and leading them to become more aggressive, less caring, and more at risk of developing emotional problems.
There are side effects from drugs and there is proven emotional collateral damage from addictive forms of violent entertainment too. This is the conclusion of Iowa State University Professor of Psychology, Craig Anderson.
His most recent study, ‘Violent Video Game Effects’ analyses 130 research reports on more than 130,000 young people from all around the world and the findings were published in March 2010 by the American Psychological Association.
"We can now say with the utmost confidence that regardless of the research method (experimental, correlational, or longitudinal) that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive thoughts and behaviour in both short-term and long-term contexts,” said Anderson. “Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases empathetic, pro-social behaviour."
Professor Anderson’s research also included new longitudinal data which provided further confirmation that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for long-term harmful outcomes. "These are not huge effects - not in the order of joining a gang versus not joining a gang," he said. "But these effects are also not trivial in size.”
Anderson says that his new study may be his last meta-analysis on violent video games because of its definitive findings.
"From a public policy standpoint, it's time to get off the question of 'are there real and serious effects?' That's been answered and answered repeatedly," he said. "It's now time to move on to a more constructive question like, 'How do we make it easier for parents to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'"
The Iowa University research is hot on the heels of a study on 364 ‘tweenagers’ undertaken in Minnesota last year, which showed that heavy users of violent video games (14 hours or more a week) had an increased likelihood of getting into a fight at school or being identified by a teacher or peer as being physically aggressive.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which published this tweenager report, now recognises violence in media as being a significant health risk to adolescents and older teenagers and recommends limiting total screen time (including television, computers and video games) to 1 to 2 hours a day.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland expressed concern in 2009 about players becoming desensitised by violence in computer games, something that was being reflected in their behaviour. "They see it (violence) happen in the movies and in video games, and the person always gets up. Well, sadly, we know that's not always the case," he said.
A recent Herald Sun report quoted the top five violent video games as being ‘Left 4 Dead 2’, ‘Aliens vs Predator’, ‘MadWorld’, ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ and ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’. It seems that the big problem with these titles and many others is that there are no negotiable ways or non-lethal responses available to the player to solve problems or win challenges. What’s more, young and impressionable gamers don’t have a fully formed adult mind yet to understand the irony and humour in many adult video games that grown-ups take for granted.
The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association is one of many voices arguing in favour of the Federal Government introducing an adults-only, R18+ rating for games here, similar to the rating that most Western countries already have. They say such a rating would create less confusion, although some anti-violent video game activists argue that this move will expose children to unsavoury material, as more ‘adult’ content is released over time.
'Grand Theft Childhood' - parents need to make a stand
The authors of ‘Grand Theft Childhood’, Cheryl K Olson, ScD and Lawrence Kutner, PhD, recommend parents look for the problem signs in young gamers to ward off further trouble. “Parents told us they were concerned about violent games, but frustrated by their limited control and a lack of information about what’s actually in the games,” said Kutner on his website.
A parent in a focus group interviewed by Kutner was quoted as saying “I know that my son does not play ‘Grand Theft Auto’ in my house. But he seems to know all the characters and what they say, so he must be playing it someplace.” Another noted, “He may bring a ‘Mario’ game to his buddy’s house and bring back a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ when I’m not aware of it.”
One former youth leader who’s dealt with the fallout from obsessive teenage gaming first-hand is Glyn Henman, CEO of the non-aligned Christian youth mentoring charity, Young Life Australia. He was recently featured in a Good Weekend magazine ‘Two of Us’ article with a lad he mentored away from risky and obsessive behaviour that was published in the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald on 18 September 2010.
“The usual Christian response towards obsessive gaming is to give the boy a serious dressing down, it’s usually boys, maybe take away some privileges, and that’s that,” observes Henman. “But to break this pattern of behaviour takes a mix of prayer and planned parental strategies, to stop what I increasingly believe is a very real addiction to gaming for some young people.”
Henman thinks that parents need to make a stand, with a combination of observance and action, yet he concedes a medium, not short term, response is needed. “Parents need to pay close attention to their kids and watch out for signs that video games are taking the place of other healthy activities such as sports, clubs, peer-to-peer relationships, and schoolwork.”
Young Life’s Glyn Henman also believes it is absolutely vital for young people to get a life outside of school. “In order for teenagers to grow emotionally they need to be involved in genuine communities where relationships are formed over time. Not couped up in their bedrooms by themselves, relentlessly blowing people away on a computer screen.”
As with other teenage activities, parents need to monitor where, when, with whom, and how long their kids play. “Young people may not like rules,” says Henman. “But they are used to them at school, and our role models in the field have found that in most cases, teenagers are crying out for rules formed around caring for their welfare and being genuinely interested in them and most respond positively to consistent boundary setting at home, and outside of school.”
So what are the major concerns around violent video games and the young people who play them, and what can parents, guardians, teachers and youth workers do to keep an eye out for problem behaviour?
The Top 10 gaming problems and what to do about them
A closed door = a closed mind. If gaming is always solo, behind closed doors, and ceases to be a recreational activity teens enjoy with friends, stop or limit this pattern of behaviour immediately.
Watch out for signs of addiction. A Harris Interactive poll released in January 2008, reported 23 per cent of gamers surveyed felt addicted to video games. If worried, divide up their free time between a number of activities or titles and set play time restrictions.
Playing before chores. We don’t have a fancy dessert before our main meal, and nor should gamers spend hours a day focussing their attention on a violent game, only to study, complete their homework or clean their room with only half their brain working.
Increased anger and violent thoughts. Speak with the teenager about what it is they are angry about, reassure them, and encourage other non-screen-based activities.
Anxiousness and restlessness are often signs of over-concentration and over-indulgence in computer gaming. Young people can de-stress well with exercise, so set specific time periods where they do other more healthy activities like bike riding, swimming, and/or playing football, to get the balance right.
Obsessive behaviour. This manifests particularly in online role-playing games where the young gamer is desperate to check on the status of their gaming world. Again, the answer is to limit screen time and how many times they can go online to check.
No friends. Often a dead give-away that peer development is suffering from over dependence on solo video gaming, is a lack of friends in the life of the teenager.
Weight gain or weight loss. Cut out meal times in their bedroom, no snacking while playing, and encourage them to be involved in food preparation in the kitchen too.
Showing one game, playing another. When a teenager is constantly agitated or on edge after playing a sporting or age-appropriate adventure quest video game, it’s time to investigate what they are really playing at home, and at their buddy’s place.
Gaming all of the time. This sometimes calls for a cold-turkey approach. For parents, that can mean locking the laptop or games console inside the garage when you leave for work in the morning, to stop before-school and after-school gaming abuse.
Source: Iowa State University, 2-3-10; Greg Thom, Herald Sun 3-3-10; Sun Herald 14-3-10; http://www.grandtheftchildhood.com/; Indiana University School of Medicine; Glyn Henman. Related:
R18+ video game decision not a done deal
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