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Computer Play and the Internet (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Video Games

The phenomenal growth of the video game industry is leading to a major new international industry. Nearly 200 colleges worldwide now offer coursework in video game development, and about two dozen offer comprehensive programs (Mclure, 2003). Computer games do not stop at the “antiseptic, socially acceptable environment” of the classroom where trained adults are present, but extend to “darker, more aggressive simulations” (Silvern, 1998, p. 530). Consider the popularity of the video game industry, the content of video games, the time devoted to video games, and the context in which they are played. The most devout players start early as children and continue their fascination into adulthood, devoting countless hours in their bedrooms, on their couches, and at friends’ houses.

Adult computer game addicts say that the games give them the same feeling they get when on amphetamines—feeling euphoric, craving more and more games, feeling unable to stop, neglecting family and friends, lying about game playing, experiencing stress disorders and sleep disturbances, feeling empty and depressed, and having school and job problems (Marriott, 1998).

Video games are generally considered to be solitary activities, but a group culture is springing up involving movies, fan clubs, and video contests, and machines are being programmed to accommodate two or more players, supporting the appealing cooperation/competition aspect of games (Malone & Lepper, 1987). The video game culture involves mainly boys (Provenzo, 1991), explained in part by the violent themes and gender stereotypes (Kinder, 1991). However, gender differences in spatial skills (favoring boys) required for success in video game play may disappear after extensive practice (Subrahmanyan & Greenfield, 1994).

A growing number of studies conclude that watching sexual violence tends to desensitize viewers to it (Mullin & Linz, 1995; Strasburger & Wilson, 2002). Gentile, Lynch, Linder, and Walsh (2002) found that eighth- and ninth-grade students exposed to more violent video games were more likely to get into fights and received lower grades in school. Twenty percent of the players said they felt addicted to the games. Buchanan et al. (2002) concluded that third- to fifth-grade students who played more violent video games were more likely to be described by their peers as mean and rude. Both these studies indicate that both amount and content of video games are important considerations for parents.

Brain research at the University of Indiana Medical School, reported by Walsh et al. (2002), concluded that playing video games resulted in reduced activity in the section of the brain controlling emotional impulses. This is consistent with the research concluding that the emotional areas of the brain of teens are still developing, and it adds further credence to the view that exposure to violence increases violence among adolescents.

Violent video games narrow children’s scope of imagination and place habitual players at risk for developing aggressive personalities, and antisocial behavior. Some games, focusing on detecting escape routes, identifying and discriminating friendly or hostile magical figures, may make constructive intellectual and creative demands on the players (Singer & Singer, 2005).

In addition to research conclusions, there are theoretical perspectives on the effects of playing video games. Griffiths (2003) hypothesizes that playing video games would have two major effects based on either social learning theory or catharsis theory. He hypothesizes that social learning supports the view that playing aggressive video games stimulates aggressive behavior.  Catharsis theory, in contrast, supports the view that playing aggressive video games has a relaxing effect by channeling latent aggression and would have a positive effect on the child’s behavior. However, catharsis theory as applied to video games has much to learn from long-term experience and research in play therapy. Exposing the child repeatedly to the offending element (e.g., violent video games) is the cause, not the catharsis (therapeutic activity). In play therapy, the child is removed from the abuse or offending element and supported in her creative playing out of personal emotions related to that abuse or offending element. Catharsis is a purging phenomenon, not a process of repeating punishment over and over.

The challenge to parents, teachers, child development professionals, and the video game industry is to limit violence, monitor game selection to ensure availability of prosocial, educational games, monitor the viewing habits of children and youth, and provide healthy alternatives. They must also push for ratings enforcement and enforcement of bans on renting and selling violent video games to children. Millions of children are entertaining themselves every day with games that glamorize violence, denigrate women, and reduce time for creative, developmentally appropriate activities. In 2003, the State of Washington passed legislation prohibiting the sale of violent video games to children under the age of 17.

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