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A hot topic among us GeekDads, both on the blog and off, is videogames. More specifically, it’s the types of games we enjoy and how we work in playtime with the more violent fare in houses full of impressionable little ones. The general consensus seems to be that there are titles that we feel perfectly comfortable playing around and, indeed, with our children, and those that are best reserved for late night gaming sessions after the kids have turned in. With new research suggesting a palpable correlation between violent videogames and childhood aggression, I can’t see this policy changing in the immediate future.
The study in question, currently touted in a CNN.com article entitled "Violent video games linked to child aggression," was conducted by Iowa State University’s Dr. Craig A. Anderson. It sought to determine how children’s gaming habits at the time of an initial survey related to the behavior of these same kids three to six months later, and it included some 1600 subjects between 9 and 18 years of age from the U.S. and Japan.
Though the way in which researchers collected their data and gauged the level of videogame violence to which each was subjected differed between various age groups and locales, findings seemed to indicate that kids who were exposed to more in-game violence became more aggressive. Such a conclusion was dubbed "pretty good evidence" that violent videogames cause an increase in hostile behavior by Dr. L. Rowell Huesmann of the Research Center for Group Dynamics. But while this summation will certainly elicit groans from already beleaguered gamers faced with yet another games-are-bad-for-you news soundbite, the study is not without its detractors.
Dr. Cheryl K. Olson, of the Center for Mental Health and the Media, chimed in with an interesting take on the findings.
"It’s not the violence per se that’s the problem, it’s the context and goals of the violence," said Olson, citing past research on TV
violence and behavior.
There are definitely games kids shouldn’t be playing, she said, for example those where hunting down and killing people is the goal.
But she argues that the label "violent video games" is too vague.
Researchers need to do a better job at defining what is considered a violent video game and what constitutes aggressive behavior, she added.
"I think there may well be problems with some kinds of violent games for some kinds of kids," Olson said. "We may find things we should be worried about, but right now we don’t know enough."
Interestingly, Dr. Olson’s advice to parents concerning curbing the childhood intake of violent gaming experiences seemed to be the solution at which we GeekDads have also arrived: move gaming into public places in the home. This not only affords parents the opportunity to keep an eye on what their kids are playing, but also promotes more family-centered gaming.
While we have the ESRB ratings system and various other helpful tools in place to help parents decide what titles are appropriate for their children, the issue of game violence and its effect on kids will likely remain at the forefront for as long as gaming continues to be a viable (and lucrative) form of entertainment. In an undeniably violent world, tales of videogame-inspired acts of aggression are easily sensationalized, and the innate parental tendency to protect our young provides ample opportunities for outrage and indignation whether it’s wholly warranted or not.
The important thing to remember about this controversy du jour is that each side of the issue is anchored on the shoulders of concerned, well-meaning groups. Surely there are the Jack Thompsons-esque pot-stirrers, but more important are those like Dr. Anderson, who seek to determine if, indeed, violent gameplay sparks real-world violence or if these games simply tend to attract those with preexisting violent tendencies, and Dr. Olson, who believe that we need to properly quantify such aggression before we can ever hope to make an informed decision. It is only though such well-structured and well-analyzed research that we’ll ever learn the things that will help us make the right decisions as parents and guardians.