Unlike movies, video games are not regulated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which is ironic because there are a wealth of studies indicating children do not distinguish between fantasy and reality in a gaming environment (Ferguson, 2011). Simply put, the more time children, adolescents and teenagers spend playing a video game the more they see their reality as the gaming environment (Boyle, McLeod, Rojas, 2008) (Hartmann, Vorderer, 2010). To argue that games are not as powerful of an influence on children is ridiculous, yet ironically the FCC regulates who can see a movie by its content alone and has refused to take action on games (Soh, Tan, 2008). In June, 2011 the Supreme Court struck down a California law that fined retailers $1,000 for each occurrence or infraction of selling or renting violent games to anyone under the age of 18 (Lemmens, Valkenburg, Peter, 2011). Games marketers aggressively lobbied against this move, saying it would drastically reduce the size of their growing and highly profitable markets, and won. Amidst all the confusion and hype of video gaming being a strong catalyst of economic growth for the U.S. And globally everyone is forgetting about the children and how their minds are being influenced by these violent games and their messaging (Cheetham, 2008).
The Social Fabric of Gaming and the Path to Addiction
Video gaming companies would have their critics and U.S. regulators in the FCC think that the typical gamer is a casual user, not prone to addiction, and looking to lead a balanced life. The social fabric of gaming is in fact the exact opposite. When children are as young as ten or eleven their slumber parties are powered all night by Red Bull and Rock Star energy drinks while they play Grand Theft Auto, the Legend of Zelda or the greatest time-suck of all, World of Warcraft (Hartmann, Vorderer, 2010). It is common to hear of young teenage boys who play World of Warcraft up to six to ten hours a day in many instances. The allure of this game is its interactive nature over the Internet with friends, but at a more fundamental level this game gives a child a chance to be an adult online. World of Warcraft allows anyone to define their online alter-ego and not surprisingly the characters are very large, powerful, muscular, with exceptional physical powers -- ironically exactly what many young teenagers lack and are the most fearful of in real life (Cheetham, 2008). So the irony begins of being all-powerful and invincible online yet increasingly concerned about a fragile, tense economic time in reality during 2011. It is easy to see why adults are retreating into this alter-egos on World of Warcraft as well. It's a chance to have an ordered, well-defined existence that is free of the anxieties of being in a world where economic realities are tense, turbulent and where economic leaders often appear to be floundering for solutions. It's no wonder that World of Warcraft reports the majority of their new players are men above the age of 30 (Bulik, 2008). People use these games to escape reality. But for the children playing these games in networked mode, they are their new reality. Anxiousness in real life turns to serene aggressiveness online, fear to confidence, subservience to leadership; in short kids playing these games become legends in their own mind. What's frightening is that the more a child, adolescent, teenager or adult plays these games the more they believe and actually see it as their own reality. The recent violent attacks in the United Kingdom primarily by unemployed young men in this age group who spend the majority of their time on video games is a case in point. Adolescent boys are the most susceptible to the pathological effects of gaming as well, which is further strengthened by the role model influence of older men and women on networked games (Bulik, 2008). Figure 1, Global Computer Gaming Demographics, 2010 illustrates the distribution of age ranges and gender by gamer. Note the majority are 18- to 45-year-old males followed by females in the same age segment. But the most startling is the 20%, nearly one in five, who are males below the age of 18.
Figure 1: Global Computer Gaming Demographics, 2010
Source: Entertainment Software Association
Implications of Continued Relaxed Standards
The implications of not initiating and enforcing a game rating system are severe and the price for a lack of deliberate action will be paid by those that can least afford it (Hartmann, Vorderer, 2010). Children who could have side-stepped the addictive aspects of video games and their effects on behavior are not being thrown under the bus, they are being thrown in front of it for the sake of increased sales and profits. The cavalier attitude of many lawmakers about this is also influenced by the four major game publishers controlling 29% of a $28.8B market and having the financial resources to mount a fight to keep this market free from regulation (Soh, Tan, 2008). In the meantime, pre-teen, teenage and young adult males are increasingly finding it difficult to differentiate between reality and games. This has implications not just for socialization and behavior that seeks to contribute and not destroy, it also has ethical implications with regard to killing and morality. Studies indicate that the brain of a child or pre-teen and teenager rehearses what it sees as reality and over time embeds the viewed activities in the framework that becomes a persons' perception of reality (Boyle, McLeod, Rojas, 2008) (Soh, Tan, 2008). When this occurs over years of video viewing, the normally game-appropriate way of dealing with stress, which is to lash out and kill an adversary, suddenly becomes acceptable in the real world. As a result, alternatives and activities to resolve conflicts suddenly become acceptable in their minds as they have "rehearsed" these responses for years inside their minds (Hartmann, Vorderer, 2010). It's as if the core aspects of long-term learning, which are autonomy, mastery and purpose are taken together to "teach" a person how to act like a sociopath, with complete lack of concern for others.
In addition, nearly 30% of these games routinely portray women as sex objects with nearly 20% portraying violence to women as part of the story line, with up to 17% showing women as subservient and lacking in intelligence (Boyle, McLeod, Rojas, 2008). What this teaches young boys is that women are to be treated as less than equal at the best and as sex objects to be used and abused at the worse. The fact that there are so many games that trivialize violence to women set a dangerous precedent in how young men view the opposite sex and endangers women who will encounter them in their lives. It's no accident that the level of aggressive behavior to young women continues to increase and violence between girls is also increasing. These games are taken as an accurate representation of what adult reality is, complete with sexist attitudes and approaches to defining relationships that always imply subordinate roles for females. It's as if these games are creating a generation of bigoted people who see violence as the answer. Studies by the U.S. military show that once a child has seen nearly a thousand deaths in a game they become desensitized to the act of killing and see it part of a typical lifestyle (Hartmann, Vorderer, 2010). It has often been said that once a person crosses 10,000 hours in a chosen pursuit they attain a high level of mastery of the subject or skill set (Bernoff, Li, 2008). When children review killings, maiming,…