The world of electronic gaming has undergone radical transformation since it was conceived more than two decades ago. At the beginning, games like Super Mario Brothers, and Pong were just childish, enjoyable, and essentially harmless. However, today, video gaming has become a thriving industry that has a wide range of customers, spanning various ages, genders, nationalities, and moral beliefs.
Just like books, television, and movies, some video games are aiming at the older audience through the use of violence, sex, and adult content. Despite the existence of a rating system and recognition for people wishing to purchase adult video games, some politicians and parents claim that video games have a hugely negative impact on the young generation. In efforts to locate the blame about the content of video games, politicians and developers alike seem to have forgotten that parents have a responsibility to make decisions on the type of material that is suitable for their children.
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Farrales observes that Video game content appears to have become an issue for the first time when Mortal Kombat was released in 1993 (12). Many parents complained the high degree of violence evident in the graphic depictions of blood, fighting, and death. The ESRB (Electronic Software Ratings Board) was formed by the Entertainment Software Association with the aim of coming up with a rating system for monitoring the content of video games.
Fernandez indicates that video games stand accused of bringing about violence, obesity, and lousy grades (3). However, some people beg to differ, pointing out that the games are ideal for children’s mental well being. Video games are not just hard, they are adaptively hard. The games tend to challenge the players at the edge of their mental abilities. As players become better and score higher points, they are challenged to move up the ladder of more demanding play levels. This adaptive challenge can be stunningly powerful in the case of entertaining video games.
Scientists point out to the importance of video games in ascertaining the extent to which the human brain is malleable. In this regard, fast-paced video games that are action-packed have been proven, in different studies, to boost spatial perception, visual acuity and the ability to pick out objects easily in a scene. Complex games that are strategy-based can significantly improve many cognitive skills, including reasoning and memory. These findings fit in well with the scientists’ increasing understanding of the malleability of the human brain. Researchers are now aware of the way in which practicing and learning an extremely challenging task can change the human brain.
The question of generalizing gaming situations to non-game situations remains one of the main issues that surround many emerging game software being marketed as a way of keeping the human neurons spry as we continue to age. It is still unclear whether these games are helpful in situations that are outside the context of the game.
However, in a promising study carried out in 2008, senior citizens who began playing Rise of Nations, a game devoted to nation building and acquisition of territory, started improving on many cognitive abilities, thereby performing impressively on various subsequent tests of memory, multitasking, and reasoning. The tests were administered after training was carried out for eight months. Unfortunately, no follow-up testing was carried out to determine whether the gains lasted or not.
There are attempts by researchers to concentrate on the most crucial aspects of off-the-shelf games, potentially allowing designers to come up with many new games that can boost the human brain power. In the same light, there has also been some focus on determining how video games can be used to promote socially acceptable behaviors, particularly actions that can be of help to other people.
Unlike, say books and movies, video games do not just have content, they are also defined by rules that are clearly stipulated. In every video game, certain actions are rewarded while others are punished. For this reason, they contain an immense potential to train children about values and ethics. However, the same games could also be used to reward antisocial behavior just as easily as the pro social behavior. A significant number of off-the-shelf games contain strong pro-social themes, for instance, the Oregon Trail or The Sims. These two video games make the players fully responsible for the well being of each other. A big challenge for developers of new games will be to figure out ways of wrapping virtuous features into a highly engaging package. Ultimately, quips Gallagher, every video game should be an entertaining experience (2).
On the other hand, it is true that some of the most popular video games are the violent ones. The reason why the market is flooded with violent games is that violence sells. People enjoy action-packed violent games most. It is rarely a matter of contention whether a game is violent or not. The contention arises regarding how violent the games actually are.
In an interview with Dr. Craig Anderson, a leader in the current research on the various effects of prolonged exposure to violent computer and video games on aggressive behavior, the General Aggression Model was discussed at length. Dr. Anderson pointed out that he was motivated to research about aggression in video games by the work he did on the model as well as on media violence literature.
Dr. Anderson pointed out that although there were hundreds of studies on aggression and violent video games, many questions remained unanswered. Students were looking for compelling and publishable research topics, and in this way, they were able to come up with many gaps in the literature. In the beginning, Dr. Anderson looked at priming issues in the context of media violence effects. However, after debating with cognitive psychologists, the researcher thought about modifying the Stroop test, although he chose to adopt reading reaction time tasks among participants.
Dr. Anderson pointed out that many researchers in the media violence generally think that everyone who is high on trait aggression is influenced more by exposure to media violence than by anything else. In other words, the conviction among many scholars is that highly aggressive people are the ones who are most susceptible to the video games’ harmful effects.
In the early years of video gaming, violence used to be cartoonish. In games such as Space Invaders and Wonder Boy, when a player killed an enemy, this would be shown by the unfortunate subject disappearing in a small explosion or a cloud of smoke and debris. At the time and with the technology that was current, these games were considered violent. Today, with improvements in technology, people no longer disappear in a cloud of smoke and debris. Today, enemies have to bleed before they die. The grotesque image of the corpse also has to appear, complete with a gunshot wound.
A game such as Metal Gear Solid 2 portrays enemies performing elaborate maneuvers when a player shoots them. It is always thoroughly entertaining to shoot them at the limbs and to see them go limp, or to shoot at their radio, rendering it useless.
Some people say that what has increased is the level of realism and not violence, since the aim has always been to shoot and kill anything that comes in one’s way. However, this very aspect of realism makes some forms of violence appear acceptable, for example, in Wonder Boy, and others unacceptable, for example, in Metal Gear Solid 2. Yet others do not notice any difference in various types of violence, insisting that violence of whatever nature brings about the same effect on society.
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Farrales highlights the views of General Everett Koop, a U.S. surgeon, who once claimed that home and arcade video games are among the top three reasons where there is family violence (4). There are many instances that would perfectly make Koop’s statement on the negative impact violent video games on behavior agreeable. However, there are also many instances that portray violence as having little or no any negative effects on the individuals playing them. Some kids play video games and end up becoming violent people. Others play them but do not become increasingly aggressive. These varying outcomes make it difficult for the effects of video violence on all players to be determined accurately.
Meanwhile, the most undesirable aspects of violence in video games include lack of punishment for killing, constant killing and hurting of other people, and perpetual justification for killing other people. This situation makes players to start accepting killing as an acceptable means of solving problems. They are also made to believe that there is nothing wrong with violence. In other words, violence is desensitized, and players start seeing human beings as mere objects rather than human beings, thus drastically lowering their empathy levels.
Of course older players can differentiate between fantasy and reality, but children cannot. Surprisingly, argues Anthes, these older people are affected by video games as well, though not in the same way as kids. Among kids, the violence contained in video games leads to increase in aggression. A common effect of video games is to make players developed abnormally high adrenaline rates, which may result to hyper-aggressiveness together with the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. Increase in adrenaline rates leads to stimulus addiction, a common response among children who are often immersed in violent video games. People who suffer from stimulus addiction require stimulation that is increasingly strong in order to attain the same emotional experience. Sometimes, this search for stimulation leads them so go looking for more violent video games.
Meanwhile, the question of whether video games result in violence in the real world remains unanswered. Many parents are worried that violent games will not only bring about restlessness in their children, they will make them more violent their behavior as well. Farrales points out to the research that was done in 1998 on a group of children aged between 5 and 7 years (9). In this study, the children were observed to imitate during free play whatever they had experienced in video games. Children who had played games with violent themes were aggressive, while those who played active, nonviolent games reflected their experiences in their play. The level of stimulation in both cases appeared to be more profound in girls than in boys. This could be because, generally, males are exposed to violence more, making a significant increase in aggression to be more profound in females.
Unlike TV or movies, which present a predominantly passive viewing experience, violent video games require an individual to shoot, stab, rob, and kill enemies actively. With a movie, even if one was to watch it several times, some additional details may be obtained but it is fundamentally about the same thing. With a video game, many things can be changed according to one’s way of thinking, level of play, and dexterity in pressing the control buttons.
Fernandez points out that Cho Seung-Hui, a student who killed 32 people at the Virginia Tech Campus back in 2007, is reported to have been played video games obsessively, and many commentators have been instinctively linking game violence with the killings in the campus. Claims of Cho Seung-Hui’s stint with obsessive video games were debunked by the campus panel that investigated the killings.
The obvious problem with the desensitization claim made on video games after the Virginia Tec incident is that millions of adults and kids play violent video games every day and they never engage in any violent behavior. In fact, during the past decade when video games have surged in popularity, violence by youth has declined. According to a study that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released, the number of school killings reduced considerably between 1992 and 2006. However, this is not where the debate ends. Although video games may not directly result in school shootings, it is undoubtedly strongly linked with aggressive feelings.
Those who are opposed to computer and video games would want to see them censored. These people cite many reasons for their stance. They insist that over-dependence on video games fosters social isolation, since in some cases the games are played alone. They also point out that women are portrayed as the weaker sex, sexually provocative and always helpless. Moreover, game environments are always based on gender bias, aggression and plots of violence.
Additionally, video games have inspired criticism because of the way in which they fail to provide actions that require creativity and independent thought. Instead, they confuse fantasy with reality. In most of these games, there is no alternative route to winning other than being a violent player. Furthermore, not surprisingly, academic achievement tends to be negatively related to the overall time that is spent playing computer and video games.
Anand indicates that there is a correlation between use of video games and academic performance, if the grade-point average (GPA) and scholastic aptitude tests (SAT) on students who use video game are anything to go by (555). According to Anand’s study, there is a negative correlation between the time spent by student playing video games and the student’s SAT and GPA scores. The research findings presented by Anand suggest that video and computer games could be having a detrimental effect on the GPA of the individual, and possibly, on SAT scores as well. Although the results portray statistical dependence, it still remains rather difficult to prove a cause-and-effect relationship. This difficulty arises from the complex nature of academic performance as well as student life.
In a New York Times article published on the November 15, 2010 edition, the question of whether stores should sell violent video games to minors was raised. Indeed, the question was not of the article writer’s own making, it was being debated by the Supreme Court in an attempt to determine what the writers of the Bill of Rights would have thought about a violent video game like Postal 2.
In the New York Times Article, Adam Liptak wrote that the justices struggled to define the manner in which the First Amendment ought to apply to video games. A suggestion was made on the imposition of a $1,000 fine on all stores that continue to sell violent video comes to minors. The violence in the computer games, according to the Supreme Court, is characterized by acts of killing, dismembering, maiming, and sexually assaulting a human being’s image, in a manner that is ‘patently offensive, lacks serious artistic, scientific, political or literary value’, and appeals to the deviant and morbid interests of minors.
In summary, the cons of video games by far outweigh the pros. There is a need for these games to be regulated, particularly with regard to access by minors. The regulation standards imposed by the ESRB should be revised to reflect the need to protect children and students from being lured into the world of aggressive video games.
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