Violent video game debate rages on
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Imagine your eight-year-old shooting someone.
It probably wouldn’t happen in real life, but he may shoot up to 50 people a day in his new video game. He might steal a car at gunpoint. He might pick up a prostitute. But it’s just a game, right?
Studies prove that young children, especially those under the age of eight, have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy. Parents have long feared that this difficulty makes them more vulnerable to violence acted out in video games, resulting in aggressive or fearful children and moody, angry teens. Some sources have even gone so far as to blame high school shootings on the violence witnessed in the media as children and teens.
According to University of Regina sociology and social studies professor Alison Hayord, parents’ fears may be exaggerated and the blame for violent behaviour may be misplaced.
“I don’t think we really know. I think there’s a lot of debate in the literature about the effect that [violence in video games] has on children,” said Hayford. “This is a debate that’s been going on at least since the invention of the comic book, if not before. And most people have grown up not to be serial murderers. And so, I would expect that our concerns are somewhat overblown.”
Self-described avid gamer Mike Hague, 24, agrees.
“Personally, I tend to blame [behavioural issues in children] more on people that are finding that games are actually babysitting children.”
“I think the issue is what other kinds of social experiences children have,” Hayford said. “I don’t think the problem is intrinsic to the message, I think it’s intrinsic to the ways in which children are left socially isolated.”
Still, there are facts to refute both sides of the age-old debate.
Brain scans of children taken when playing violent games have shown an increased emotional arousal, and a corresponding decrease in areas involved in self-control, inhibition and attention. What’s not known is whether the effects are lingering, or, as some believe, permanent.
Other studies have shown that even brief exposure to violent games can cause a reduction in the normal physiological reactivity to images of real violence.
“There is some evidence that exposure to certain kinds of images does desensitize people to the meanings behind those images,” said Hayford.
The consensus seems to be that parents should be monitoring their children’s game selection, and limiting the time they spend playing.
According to Hayford, “our sense that parents really control what our children turn out to be is really a product of the 20th century and modern psychoanalytical and psychological theories and research.”
In the 21st century, more theories will be presented and more research will be done. New facts will crop up in the debate, and with them, more opinions. The age old debate will not be put to rest until video games are a thing of the past – and by then, a new fear will likely have replaced them.