Video Games: Cons and Pros

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

The impact of television, both positive and negative, on children has been a subject of both heated opinion and scientific research for the last several decades. Professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association have weighed in on this topic and have confirmed the link between television and violence and aggression. The typical American child watches 28 hours of television a week and by the age of 18 will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence.

In the last several years the television debate has been extended to video games, many of which involve aggression. Because the popularity of video games is relatively recent, only limited research has been conducted on its effects. However, several articles have recently reported that video games may have negative effects on children's aggression and desensitization to violence. For reactions to these studies and comments on the issue of video games and violence, AOK interviewed Richard Gallagher, Ph.D., Director of the Parenting Institute at the NYU Child Study Center.

Does your experience bear out the general conclusion of these studies that we should be concerned about the kind of video games available?

Yes. A large number of children and teens are playing increasingly violent games. Most youth are able to recognize the difference between reality and fantasy, so they see the games as pointless entertainment. But, some kids get immersed in the violence, which may contribute to a cold-hearted view of other people. It may make them prone to aggressive thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

Do you think that violence in video games may actually be more harmful than violence in television or movie scripts?

Some aspects of video game violence are worrisome. "First-person" games in which the player sees the action as if he or she was the shooter can desensitize the player to violence. These games are actually used in military training to help soldiers become used to the process of harming others.

Is time spent on video games likely to affect academics?

Yes. Clearly, too much time on any video entertainment takes away from time spent on school work.

What is the appeal of video games that leads some children to become addicted?

The games provide a high level of quick gratification. You are almost constantly being rewarded and, when you lose, you get to easily start over to work on your goal.

It has been suggested that playing video games has advantages. For example, it may enhance a child's motor coordination and ability to think quickly and analyze a situation. Do these possible advantages outweigh any negative impact?

Used in moderation, the advantages can be very helpful. The negative affects are found with excessive play, so the benefits may outweigh any possible negative impact if the time spent is kept within reasonable limits.

Do you see any other advantages to playing video games?

If the games are viewed as a form of light entertainment, they can have advantages. As part of a balanced entertainment diet, the games can provide stress relief for kids, they can help with aspects of coordination and concentration on visual details, and they help kids relate to one another in some forms of healthy competition. As long as this part of the entertainment diet is not overdone, video games can have useful purposes.

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