Monday, April 23, 2012

Teens and Violent Video Games - What's Really Happening

An issue has been preoccupying my mind - young people who watch violent video games.

In the entertainment world, the video game business is much bigger than the movie industry, with more than $10 billion spent on video game devices and programs every year. In 1996 the US Marine Corps licensed the video game "Doom II" in order to create their own combat simulation game to train soldiers for combat. According to news reports, Norwegian Anders Breivik, who went on a bombing and shooting rampage and killed 77 innocent people, claimed he watched the video game "Call of Duty" for hours on end to sharpen his killing skills.

Only 2 or 3 teenagers out of 100 didn't watch a video game last year, and half of the top-selling games contained violence. If you kill enough people, you get to go to the next level. The question is, are these violent video games harmful to children?

Dr. David Walsh thinks so. He's the author of the best-selling book about teens, Why Do They Act That Way (Free Press, 2004), and president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family. Here's his position.

There are actually two sides to this issue. One side points to disturbing studies. The other side says the studies are flawed and inconclusive. It reminds me of the public arguments over whether smoking is harmful or whether humans are contributing to global warming. Here's a summary of the pros and cons.

And here's my two cents, if you're interested.

Behavior patterns are created when a person repeats an action often enough that the brain cells involved physically wire together. A life habit results, and the neural pathway is permanent. And the brain doesn't care whether it's a beneficial behavior or a destructive one. Repeat it often enough and the brain will wire itself to do it automatically. It's one of the most important things the brain does; it's a survival mechanism.More on this...

If a kid plays "World of Warcraft" often enough, his developing brain is going to wire itself for the behaviors involved in playing the game. What if some of those behaviors are the attitude that the game is totally fiction, crazy fun having nothing to do with the real world? Then probably it won't lead to murder and terror. Maybe the kid will turn out to be a great humanitarian. Who knows what kids are feeling and thinking when they play these games? I don't. Do you?

These video games aren't the cause. Like guns don't cause murder. Murderers with guns do. Money isn't the root of all evil. It's the root of a lot of good, too. But money in the wrong hands....

So maybe you think "it's just a game" and it's a good way to keep them off the street. Maybe it even gets them interested in computers. Well, it is just a game and it does keep them off the streets, at least for a while.

For me, the bottom line is a question for parents who think it's cool for their kids to play these games hours on end: "Do you feel lucky today?"

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from}


Christine Mann said...

This was a SHOCKING video to watch! I'm so proud that our son and daughter-in-law are raising their son focusing on outdoor activities (the kind of thing many of us grew up with and oh, gee, we're pretty good people!) in addition to his video addiction. They're determined to keep a balance and not allow the video to overtake the outdoor. Hope they make it!

Sean said...

Let's see. When few people played video games and you heard of one person doing something bad AND they played video games, it seemed okay to jump to a correlation and assume causation.

Fast forward to the present. Now tens of millions of people play video games and tens of millions of people are completely normal. What happened to the correlation and causation?

What about violence on TV, which 95% of people watch, why doesn't that lead to 95% of people being violent and problematic? Because TV is just stories.

Playing video games is also just stories. It doesn't train you to operate guns or learn combat tactics. It trains you to move the joystick this way and that way to create a positive effect on the screen. Now perhaps to naive and ignorant observer, moving a joystick and seeing a cartoon shoot another cartoon on the screen is the same thing as reality, but most of us can tell the difference.