Violence in Web-Based and Computer Games on Adolescents
Playing video and computer games is a treasured leisure activity among many young people today, and these young players frequently prefer violent games. Studies suggest that exposure to media violence may adversely affect young people's attitudes and behavior. Further, self-concept is a key indicator of core attitudes and coping abilities, and, for adolescents, the evolution of the sense of self is a fundamental developmental activity (Buchman & Funk, 1996). The average adolescent in the United States spends over 6 hours a day in front of some sort of video screen such as a television, computer, video games, the Internet and movies, and the total actually exceeds the amount of time children spent in school today (Smoots, 2003). In fact, while watching or playing video games, children in the United States will have witnessed around 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on television alone by the age of 18 years (Smoots, 2003). It is little wonder, then, that critics point to such activities as being especially harmful for adolescents, and seek to either ban them outright or ensure appropriate controls are in place to prevent impressionable young people from having access to them in the first place. However, critics of such views point to First Amendment considerations and the need to maintain an open Internet environment that allows unrestricted access, with parents being responsible for monitoring what their children do in the home and online. Amid this debate, there remains the harsh reality that video games and television programming are becoming increasingly violent in nature, and children - especially boys - are being drawn to these games in increasing numbers. This paper examines the arguments in support of providing additional restrictions over such media, followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Background, Overview and Incidence. According to Lachlan, Smith and Tamborini (2003), video games are the latest of the most recent forms of mass media to come under criticism for violent and female-bashing content
Video game critics argue that games such as Mortal Kombat, Duke Nukem, and Doom are not only inherently violent, but that playing such games may be having a harmful effect on young players. In fact, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (1998) stated, "these games... are part of a toxic culture of violence that is enveloping our children, that is helping to desensitize them and blur the lines between right and wrong, and encouraging some of the most vulnerable of them to commit violence" (p. 1). Indeed, playing violent video games has also been implicated as being a potential contributing factor in the recent schoolyard massacres at Columbine High and Westside Middle School (Flatin, 2000).
However, there have also been several generations of Americans who have grown up with television now, and most of them have seen their share of violence on TV. As a result, in the past, parents and educators were primarily concerned with the effects of violence in television programming on children; today, though, young people are spending more time playing video games than they are watching television. "For parents and educators concerned with children's exposure to violence, this is not necessarily good news" (Wagner, 2004, p. 16). Some parents may be left wondering what all of the fuss is about, since violence on television has not necessarily impacted their lives in any discernible fashion; however, the evolving media and tactile stimulation techniques being introducing in video gaming products have only been recently studied.
A survey by researchers at Michigan State University of young people in grades five through university level showed that all of these children are spending at least as much or even more of their time today playing video and Web-based games as they are watching television, and that males spend about twice as much time playing video games as girls do (Wagner, 2004). According to a study conducted by the Media Analysis Laboratory at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, entitled "Video Game Culture: Leisure and Play Preferences of Teens," the video game industry has "already won 30% of the U.S. toy market, earning $8.8 billion in the U.S. alone - a share which is larger than the Hollywood box office gross ($5.2 billion) and 10 times the amount spent on the production of children's television" (Technology: Violence and Video Games, 1999, p. 173). The participants in the B.C. study ranged in age between 11 years old to 18 years old (but about 80% of them were between 13 and 15 years old).
According to the study, "Eighty percent of the teens said they played [games] at least occasionally, and the average amount of time spent gaming for the sample was five hours per week" (Technology: Violence and Video Games, 1999, p. 173). The survey also indicated that video games were overwhelmingly a male pastime. For example, boys reported spending fully twice as much time playing (six hours per week) as girls (less than three hours per week). In addition to gender differences, the study also identified significant differences between "heavy players" (who spent more than seven hours per week playing), and "light players" (who played for three hours or less). "One interesting variable defined by the researchers was 'displacement,' the giving up of various activities in order to play games" (Technology: Violence and Video Games, 1999, p. 173). According to this study, 21% of the respondents indicated that homework and chores were something they frequently gave up in order to play video games or watch television.
The report also pointed out that it was clear that for heavy players displacement was inordinately more common event than for light players. The respondents reported procrastinating on their homework and household chores (37%) and family activities (18%) far more often In addition, boys who spent the most time playing video games also reported the most TV viewing time; male heavy players watched on average 20 hours of television per week. Since heavy players were also those who spent at least seven hours a week playing video or computer games, the combined total from the television and video game playing was almost 30 hours per week, if not more (Technology: Violence and Video Games, 1999, p. 173). However, the violent content of those games, particularly those that are preferred by young male gamers, is of growing concern to many observers, including families, educators, and policymakers at all levels.
Another report recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (1999) showed that a majority of 2- to 18-year-old children in the United States have access to video game technology in their homes. Almost 75% of all of the children surveyed reported having at least one video game player such as a Sega system or Nintendo. In addition, 33% of the children in this age group reported having a video game system in their own room. The results of the Kaiser Family Foundation study also showed that 8- to 18-year-old boys spent 41 minutes per day playing video games compared to 12 minutes per day by girls in this age group. These results would suggest that many children not only have access to home gaming systems, but spend at least some time every day playing such interactive technology as well (Lachlan et al., 2003).
Despite recent studies that suggest video games may be one of the primary factors that are contributing to a high incidence of youth violence, there has been some inconsistencies in the evidence regarding the impact of violent video game play on feelings of hostility, and aggressive behavior. According to Ballard and Lineberger, some researchers have determined that participants tend to display more aggression, hostility, and anger after playing more violent video games. Others have found a martial arts game elicits increased levels of aggression among boys than a motorcycle racing game. The results of these studies suggest that there is an increased incidence of object, physical, and verbal aggression following violent video game play. In a previous study, Ballard examined the effect of the level of video game violence. This study showed that male college students displayed more hostility and greater cardiovascular reactivity after playing Mortal Kombat than after playing a nonviolent control game. In addition, these researchers determined that players tended to display significantly greater hostility and cardiovascular reactivity after playing a more violent version of Mortal Kombat (the special effect of gushing blood was added to the basic fighting game) than after playing the same game without the added special effect. "This indicates that level of game violence, and not simply game violence per se, is important to examine" (1999, p. 544). By contrast, other studies have not identified any increase in hostile or aggressive affect as a result of the level of video game violence; however, instead of employing one violent video game with increasing levels of violence, these studies used two conceptually different video games that were assumed to represent varying degrees of violence (Ballard & Lineberger, 1999).