Video Game Violence and Public PolicyDavid Walsh, Ph.D.National Institute on Media and the Family Video games will turn 30 years old in 2002. The industry that started with Pong has become a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry. The growth of the industry is both matched and driven by the technological advances.
In a little more than two years, video game consoles have gone from processing 350,000 polygons per second (pg/s) ¡Xa measure of graphic and action quality– to processing 125 million pg/s. The increasingly realistic and exciting nature of electronic games has helped to make them enormously popular with children and youth. 79% of American children now play computer or video games on a regular basis. Children between the ages of seven and 17 play for an average of eight hours a week. Most of the games on the market are appropriate for these young players, and the best of them can bring a lot of benefits.
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Besides being fun, some of the games provide practice in problem solving and logic as well as strategizing. The growth of electronic games has not been without controversy, however. The subset of games that feature violence, gore, and antisocial behavior has raised concern among parents, educators, child advocates, medical professionals, and policy makers. The implication of games in high profile school shootings has led to congressional hearings, government investigations, and legislative proposals. The intense concern about video and computer games is based on the belief that the ultra violent games are inappropriate for all children and harmful to some. This paper will address three issues related to the questions surrounding violent electronic games and children.o Is the concern about violent video games justified? o The Federal Trade Commission report on the marketing of "M" rated games to children. o Legislative responses and First Amendment issues.
Is the Concern Justified?Concern about violent video and computer games is based on the assumption that they contribute to aggression and violence among young players. That conclusion was originally based on the extensive body of research about the effects of television violence on children's behavior. Prominent organizations like the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association have all concluded that the scientific evidence shows a cause-effect relationship between television violence and aggression among the children and youth who watch it. Based on this research, many social scientists have hypothesized that we should expect video games to have an even greater impact for the following four reasons.1. Children are more likely to imitate the actions of a character with whom they identify. In violent video games the player is often required to take the point of view of the shooter or perpetrator.2.
Video games by their very nature require active participation rather than passive observation.3. Repetition increases learning. Video games involve a great deal of repetition.
If the games are violent, then the effect is a behavioral rehearsal for violent activity.4. Rewards increase learning, and video games are based on a reward system.
While the research base conducted on video games is small compared to that conducted on television, early results are showing that the concern is indeed warranted. Anderson & Bushman have conducted a meta-analysis of 35 different studies of violent video games (2001). A meta-analysis is a type of study in which researchers analyze the results of other studies to see if there are similar patterns of results; Anderson and Bushman showed that there is a consistent pattern of results in five areas.
1. Exposure to violent games increases physiological arousal. Studies measuring the physiological responses to playing violent video games (compared with physiological responses to non-violent games) have shown that violent games increase physiological arousal. Heart rate, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure all increase when playing violent games.
Ballard & Weist (1996) showed that playing a violent game (Mortal Kombat, with the depictions of blood "turned on") resulted in higher systolic blood pressure increases than playing a non-violent game or Mortal.