Violent computer games, and their possible effect on players.
Feeding children’s passion for computers, billions of dollars in both public and private funds are being spent to give children access in school, at home, and in the community. Nearly every school is now equipped with computers, (Fisch, 2004, p. 2) and over two-thirds of our nation’s children have access at home. (Fisch, 2004, p. 4) But is computer technology actually improving their lives? Computer technology has transformed society in a number of profound ways. For better or worse, the increasing pervasiveness of computer technology is a reality no one can ignore or stop, not that one would. Computers are fast becoming integrated into nearly every aspect of daily living, from school to work, to banking and shopping, to paying taxes and even voting. They provide access to a wide range of information without a trip to the library. They convey personal messages in place of the post office or telephone. And they compete with newspapers, radio, and television in providing entertainment and news of the day.
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Computer technology also has a profound effect on our economy. Not only are computers changing the way goods and services are manufactured, distributed, and purchased, but they are also changing the skills workers need to be productive and earn a living. This climate sets the stage whereby we encourage our children to utilize a computer, as such represents not the world of tomorrow, but the world of today, and thus they need to be computer literate. The public generally agrees that for children to participate socially, economically, and politically in this new and different world, they must acquire a certain level of comfort and competence in using computers. National polls indicate widespread support for providing children with access to computers to enable them to learn adequate computer skills and improve their education (Trotter, 1998, pp. 6-9). In surveys, most parents and children report that they view computers and the Internet as a positive force in their lives, despite concerns about exposure to inappropriate commercial, sexual, and violent content (National School Boards Foundation, 2000). Most parents believe that the Internet can help children with their homework and allow them to discover fascinating, useful things, and that children without access are disadvantaged compared to those with access.
The scenario’s described above represent the current generation of parents, as opposed to their children. A generation that grew up on computer and video games that their parents had no idea of what they were playing, or even what the technology was. Thus, there was a real understanding and involvement gap (Brougere et al, 2004, p. 1-4). Those basically unsupervised children are now adults. Adults that grew up selecting their own video and computer games while developing their own culture without guidance to determination as to what was good for them or bad, as they were just interested in the experience of a new technology changing the world of play and relaxation. Thus it was the game, almost regardless of what it was, and not the content that ruled (Brougere et al, 2004, p. 1-4).
When discussing violence in computer games, as a result of this foundational background understanding, there are three standards from which to choose, the children of parents who grew up playing games and basically picking them out themselves, those whose parents supervised what they played and purchased, which is a small minority, and lastly, those adults who either didn’t have either video games or computers in their home. The assumption is, that almost all of today’s adults played video and or computer games when they were children, if not their own, then on a friends console or computer. Children of a generation whose parents were maybe exposed somewhat to computers at work, but more often than not, were not.
Thus, the problem of violence becomes one that rests on the shoulders of game developers, manufacturers and designers based upon industry research, educational and emotional findings, as well as studies concerning the effects of violence on children. The parents of today’s adults knew about the creeping violence on TV, that they grew up with and which was publicized when they were children and teenagers. But, the circumstances are different today, as there is no television standards board making noise about PC and video game content. Thus, the level of acceptable violence as well as the controls, industry oversight and general standards as to what is and is not acceptable comes into play. If you question the underlying foundation, think about the popularity of Madden football. Like it our not, that U.S. sport tops boxing for all out mayhem, violence, competitive spirit and aggression. Thus, the dilemma as represented by attempting to equate the level of violence and their effect is based upon a generation that really had no boundaries.
The jury is still out on the subject of the effects of computer games on children, teenagers, and young adults, and it is seemingly hopelessly divided. There are “an overwhelming number of parents”, pegged at 96 percent, based upon a survey conducted by the Interactive Digital Software Association who indicate that they pay attention to video and computer game content that their children play (Business Wire, 2003). That same survey indicated that 44 percent of the parents in homes that own either video game consoles and or computers stated that they themselves used to play interactive games and that they play with their children either on a daily or weekly basis (Business Wire, 2003). The returns from that survey found that all in all over 60% of the responding parents play interactive games with their children at least once in the month (Business Wire, 2003). The parents responding at a rate of 89 percent stated that they were there when the games were purchased for children under the age of 18.
The survey revealed some interesting trends, as well as revealed that the children who are playing computer and or video games are the offspring of former and present players themselves. This brings to mind if these parents acceptance level of violence in computer and video games is slightly jaded in terms of what constitutes violence. In fact, the majority of gamers, as they are termed, are in fact adults, according to the Interactive Digital Software Association survey (Business Wire, 2003). The survey revealed that the entire universe of game players is getting older. The percentage of players who were under the age of 18 made up just 30 percent of the gamer population, which is down from the 34 percent recorded in 2002 (Business Wire, 2003). However, the survey avoided the critical issue, the extent of violence in the games the parents indicated that they were supervising the buying for, as well as playing with their children. The survey did state that 36 percent of the games played on computer were action oriented, which tied with puzzle, board, and card games for the top spot (Business Wire, 2003). In fact, the preferences were almost evenly divided across the four categories, with driving and racing games scoring at 36 percent, and sports at 32 percent.
Excessive, unmonitored use of computers, especially when combined with use of other screen technologies, such as television, can place children at risk for harmful effects on their physical, social, and psychological development. Children need physical activity, social interaction, and the love and guidance of caring adults to be healthy, happy, and productive. (Hartmann and Brougere, 2004, p. 37- 41) Too much time in front of a screen can deprive children of time for organized sports and other social activities that are beneficial to child development. (Hartmann and Brougere, 2004, p. 37- 41) In addition, children may be exposed to violent, sexual, or commercial content beyond their years, with long-term negative effects (Brougere et al, 2004, pp. 8). At present, excessive use of computers among children, especially younger children, is not typical. National survey data gathered in spring of 2000 indicated that children ages 2 to 17 spent about 34 minutes per day, on average, using computers at home, with use increasing with age (Preschoolers ages 2 to 5 averaged 27 minutes per day, school-age children ages 6 to 11 averaged 49 minutes per day, and teens ages 12 to 17 averaged 63 minutes per day) (Brougere et al, 2004, pp. 9). Available data on computer use at school suggest that exposure in the early primary grades, at least, is relatively modest. A spring 1999 survey of 26 elementary schools in the heart of Silicon Valley, where computer use might be expected to be high, found that although 70% of teachers in kindergarten through third grade had their students do some work on computers, the students’ computer time averaged less than 10 minutes per day (Brougere et al, 2004, pp. 11). This data suggest that younger children in particular are not currently using computers for excessive amounts of time.
In the case of video games, even their critics acknowledge that they are instructing our children. The critics just don’t like the form and the sometimes violent and sexually explicit content of the instruction, which they believe teaches children aggressive behaviors (Suellentrop, 2006). Yet if such games are nothing more than “murder simulators,” as one critic has called them, why is it, as gaming enthusiasts never tire of pointing out, that the murder rate has declined in recent years, there are more video games, and more violent ones, than ever (Suellentrop, 2006). The important thing to find out about video games isn’t whether they are teachers; “The question is,” as game designer Ralph Koster writes in A Theory of Fun for Game Design (2004), “what do they teach?” (Suellentrop, 2006). The marketing strategies of game companies links closely to Hollywood action movies as a means to reach more gamers.
The Cinema has emerged as the most prominent influence on games. Both cinema and games are superficially alike, in that they are relatively modern media that deliver audio-visual content to paying audiences. The similarities that the media share have meant that some artistic strategies can be transferred between the two. However, there is a limit to the extent that artistic techniques can be taken from one and used in the other. Game designers are increasingly using unsuitable cinematic conventions in the creation of their games. Activision, a Santa Monica based game manufacturer generated the Fantastic 4 game in agreement with its studio, whereby you can “assume the persona of Mir. Fantastic/Reed Richards, Invisible Woman/Sue Storm, Human Torch/Johnny Storm, or Thing/Ben Grimm and master their individual attributes and unique powers to solve puzzles, overcome obstacles, and defeat enemies. Another option is to control the Fantastic 4 together as a team and dynamically switch between characters during their adventures, and combine super powers in order to level more devastating attacks and accomplish missions” (Society for the Advancement of Education, 2005). And the trend includes almost any Hollywood movie that can be converted to action, with the Fantastic 4 representing a mild version of what the industry has to offer. The basic theme is the ‘good guys, against the ‘bad guys’ in such re-creations as “X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, the rival X-Men and Brotherhood” where you are “… bonded by a common enemy, fight side by side for the first time, allowing players to switch instantly between super-power wielding teammates as they overcome obstacles, solve puzzles, and defeat more than 100 types of enemies” (Society for the Advancement of Education, 2005).
Violence is a popular form of entertainment “a crowd of onlookers enjoys a street fight just as the Romans enjoyed the gladiators, and wrestling is a popular spectator sport not only in the United States, but in many countries in the Middle East (Centerwall, 1989, p. 23). Local news shows provide extensive coverage of violent crimes in order to increase their ratings. Technological advances have dramatically increased the availability of violent entertainment. The introduction of television was critical, particularly in making violent entertainment more available to children. More recently, cable systems, videocassette recorders, and video games have increased exposure. Hand-held cameras and video monitors now permit filming of actual crimes in progress. Economic competition for viewers, particularly young viewers, has placed a premium on media depictions of violence, as their attention translates into store sales.
The level of acceptable violence of computer games, as well as violence in itself thus represents the question, as the top selling computer and video games all were violence based. And while the non-violent ‘Sims’ simulation game proved to be the top seller at 16 million copies, the next four games totaled 32 million (Wikipedia, 2007). Of those games Starcraft, 9.5 million copies sold, is a strategy war game played in space, whereby one can get a good idea of its content by the name on its expansion pack, ‘StarCraft: Brood War’ (Blizzard Entertainment, 2007). Half-Life (Planet Half-Life, 2007), 8 million copies, is a first person shooter game featuring blood spatters and other effects. Of the top ten computer games four are violence based, and of the next ten, 11 through 20, 5 are violence-based games (Wikipedia, 2007). Thus the ethics are sales, as well as creative foundation and premise from which the games are fashioned. The differing themes represent directions in terms of game development, what the manufacturer has build their reputation on, and the gamer profile they appeal to. Based upon the preceding the industry is split down the middle, with half gong for violence, and the other utilizing non-violent content.
There is considerable evidence that violence on television, in video as well as computer games is harmful to children (Hope, 2005). And just as the current parents became adjusted to certain levels of violence in their exposures decades ago, such has magnified for their offspring according to lecturer Lesley Murphy of Robert Gordon University (Grant, 2006). The preceding calls for a scientific psychology concerning the effects violence games had on the parents to understand the level their children are being exposed to. Such should not only help us to understand our own the parent’s violence level, it should help to determine where this all stands in the realm of what is normal, speaking in relative terms. Playing computer games can be an important building block to computer literacy because it enhances children’s ability to read and visualize images in three-dimensional space and track multiple images simultaneously and there is also limited evidence available also indicates that home computer use is linked to slightly better academic performance. (Alington et al (1992, pp. 539-553).
Dominick (1984, pp. 136-147) expresses concern there are the findings that playing violent computer games may increase aggressiveness and desensitize a child to suffering, and that the use of computers may blur a child’s ability to distinguish real life from simulation. Compared to girls, boys spend more than twice as much time per week playing computer games (Funk, 1993, pp. 86-89) and are five times more likely to own a computer game system (Griffiths and Hunt, 1995, pp. 189-193). In a study of self-reported leisure time activities of 2,200 third and fourth graders, computer games topped the list of activities among boys: 33% of boys reported playing computer games, compared with fewer than 10% of girls (Harrel et al, 1997, 246-253). Initially it was thought that this disparity was the result of the games’ violent themes and lack of female protagonists (Malone, 1981, pp. 333-370). A more likely reason, however, is the difference between the genders in their play preferences: boys tend to prefer pretend play based on fantasy, whereas girls tend to prefer pretend play based on reality, a rare theme for computer games, even those designed specifically for girls.
As mentioned earlier, game playing has long been the predominant use of home computers among children–especially among younger boys. Although the available research indicates that moderate game playing has little social impact on children, concerns nonetheless have been raised about excessive game playing, especially when the games contain violence. Research suggests that playing violent computer games can increase children’s aggressive behavior in other situations.
Existing research indicates that moderate game playing does not significantly impact children’s social skills and relationships with friends and family either positively or negatively. Studies often found no differences in the “sociability” and social interactions of computer game players versus non-players, (Phillips et al, 1995, pp. 687-691) but a few studies found some mildly positive effects. For example, one study found that frequent game players met friends outside school more often than less frequent players. (Colwell et al, 1995, pp. 195-206) Another study of 20 families with new home computer game sets explored the benefits and dangers of playing games and found that computer games tended to bring family members together for shared play and interaction. (Mitchell, 1998, pp. 121-135)
Less is known, however, about the long-term effects of excessive computer use among the 7% to 9% of children who play computer games for 30 hours per week or more. (Griffiths and Hunt, 1995, pp. 189-193). It has been suggested that spending a disproportionate amount of time on any one leisure activity at the expense of others will hamper social and educational development. (Griffiths and Hunt, 1995, pp. 189-193) Indeed, one study of fourth- to twelfth-grade students found that those who reported playing arcade video games or programming their home computer for more than an hour per day, on average, tended to believe they had less control over their lives compared with their peers. (Wiggins, 1997) In addition, some evidence suggests that repeated playing of violent computer games may lead to increased aggressiveness and hostility and desensitize children to violence. (Provenzo, 2001, pp. 231-234)
Although educational software for home computer use includes many games that encourage positive, pro-social behaviors by rewarding players who cooperate or share, the most popular entertainment software often involves games with competition and aggression, and the amount of aggression and violence has increased with each new generation of games. A content analysis of recent popular Nintendo and Sega Genesis computer games found that nearly 80% of the games had aggression or violence as an objective. (Dietz, 1998, pp. 425-442) One survey of seventh- and eighth-grade students found that half of their favorite games had violent themes. (Funk, 1993, pp. 86-89) Yet parents often are unaware of even the most popular violent titles, despite the rating system from the Entertainment
In a 1998 survey, 80% of junior high students said they were familiar with Duke Nukem–a violent computer game rated “mature” (containing animated blood, gore, and violence and strong sexual Content), but fewer than 5% of parents had heard of it. (Oldberg, 1998) Numerous studies have shown that watching violent television programs and films increases children and adults’ aggression and hostility (Friedrich-Cofer and Huston, 2000, pp. 364-371) thus, it is plausible that playing violent computer games would have similar effects. The research on violent computer games suggests that there is, indeed, an association between playing such games and increased aggression, and that the critical variable is a preference for playing aggressive games, rather than the amount of time spent playing. (Friedrich-Cofer and Huston, 2000, pp. 364-371).
Several experimental studies suggest that playing a violent game, even for brief periods, has short-term transfer effects, such as increased aggression in children’s free play, (Friedrich-Cofer and Huston, 2000, pp. 364-371) hostility to ambiguous questions, and aggressive thoughts. For example, one study of third and fourth graders found that those children who played a violent game (Mortal Kombat II) responded more violently to three of six open-ended questions than did children who played a nonviolent computer game (basketball) (Friedrich-Cofer and Huston, 2000, pp. 364-371). Furthermore, it has been found that children who have a preference for and play aggressive computer games demonstrate less pro-social behavior, such as donating money or helping someone. (Friedrich-Cofer and Huston, 2000, pp. 364-371).
Studies of television have found that continued exposure to violence and aggression desensitizes children to others’ suffering, (Rule and Ferguson, 2001, pp. 29-50) but studies of computer games have not yet explored such a link. At least since the 1980s, however, both the U.S. and British military have used violent video games for training, reportedly to desensitize soldiers to the suffering of their targets and to make them more willing to kill. (Kiddoo, 2000, pp. 80-82).
The foundation of violence in computer games stems from the fascination with violence as spawned by the movies as well as television. These mediums have become an overbearing influence in game development and its expressive methods are being applied in game context. A look at the graphics of any video game reveals the similarities as well as attempt to capture as much realism as possible. Such is a natural evolution of the product and technology, but such also is continually blurring the fantasy atmosphere that used to be clearly delineated. The violence that exists in over 50 percent of computer as well as video games is not so much a product of the designers and manufacturers; it is a product of society in that the function of their businesses is to fulfill a need. And since the foundation for that need is there, they continue to create the games to fill it.
The problem starts and exists with the consumer market, one that is a product of television and cinema culture that has been at work long before computer and video games arrived. There is now a sincere understanding that the effects have become deeply rooted facets of industrialized cultures, and games can not be blamed, yet they, along with other entertainment medium are contributing to the problem. Youth violence affects us all, and thus a reversal of the process is going to be a difficult undertaking as a result of the historical context from which it came.
A look at the top selling video game categories reveals the extent of the problem:
Table – Top Games Genres
|1||Strategy / RPG|
|5||All Shooter Games|
With the following games rated as all time favorites, based on violent content:
- Donkey Kong, 1981, Nintendo Co. Ltd, Nintendo of America, Inc., Arcade.
- Doom, 1993, id Software, id Software, P.C. DOS.
- Dragon’s Lair, 1983. Magicom Multimedia, Cinematronics, Arcade.
- Duke Nukem, 1991, Apogee Software Ltd., Apogee Software Ltd., PC DOS.
- E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, 1983, Atari, Inc., Atari Inc., Atari 2600.
- Final Fantasy series I – IX, 1990 – 2003, Square Enix Co., Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc., Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation, PlayStation 2.
- Final Fantasy VII, 1996, Square Co., Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc., PlayStation.
- Grand Theft Auto III, DMA Design Ltd., Rockstar Games, PlayStation2
- Half-Life, 1998, Valve Software, Sierra On-Line, Inc., P.C. Win. ’95.
- Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, 2003, Nintendo Co. Ltd, Nintendo of Europe, Inc., GameCube.
- Mario Bros I-VII, 1983 –2003, Nintendo Co. Ltd, Nintendo of America, Inc., Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, GameCube.
- Max Payne, 2001, Remedy Entertainment Ltd., GodGames, Win. ’95.
- Metal Gear Solid, 1998, Konami Computer Entertainment Japan Co., Ltd., Konami of America, Inc., PlayStation.
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, 1998, Konami Computer Entertainment Japan Co., Ltd., Konami of America, Inc., PlayStation 2.
- Myst, 1994, Broderbund Software, Keyboard Mouse, Macintosh.
- Pac-Man, 1980, Namco Ltd., Midway Mfg. Co., Arcade.
- Perfect Dark, 2000, Rare Ltd., Rare Ltd., Nintendo 64.
- Pokemon, 1998, Game Freak, Inc., Nintendo of America, Inc., Game Boy.
- Pong, 1973, Atari, Inc., Atari Inc., Arcade.
- Resident Evil, 2002, Capcom Co., Ltd., Capcom U.S.A., Inc., GameCube.
- Rogue Leader, 2001, Factor 5, Lucas Arts, GameCube.
- Silent Hill, 1999, Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe (KCEK), Konami of America, Inc., PlayStation.
- Space Invaders, 1978, Taito Corporation, Taito America Corp., Arcade.
- Spacewar, 1962, Russell, S.
- Street Fighter II, 1991, Capcom Co., Ltd., Capcom U.S.A., Inc., Arcade.
- Super Mario Bros., 1985, Nintendo Co. Ltd, Nintendo of America, Inc., Nintendo Entertainment System.
- Tekken 3, 1998, Namco Ltd., Namco Hometek, Inc., PlayStation.
- Tennis for Two, 1958. Higinbotham, W.
- Tetris, 1989, Pajitnov, A., Nintendo of America, Inc., Game Boy.
- Tomb Raider, Core Design Ltd., Eidos Interactive, PlayStation.
- Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, 2003, Core Design Ltd., Eidos Interactive, PlayStation 2.
- Winning Eleven 6: Final Evolution, 2003, Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe (KCEK), Konami Computer Entertainment Japan Co., Ltd., GameCube.
- Wolfenstein 3D, 1991, Apogee Software Ltd., Apogee Software Ltd., PC DOS
- Zelda I –VI, 1987-2003, Nintendo Co. Ltd, Nintendo of America, Inc., Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, GameCube.
As a business, the economics of a return on investment figures importantly into the reasons as to why so many violent games are produced. Simply speaking there is a market for them! The high cost of producing games engenders a desire within the companies financing games production to ensure a return on their investment. In most popular mass culture, this has seen a cautious approach to creating content. There has been a streamlining of the creation of content, be it music, films or games, that has seen the removal of as many variables as possible in order to produce content that can be easily quantified and accounted for. Companies are reluctant to take risks and the simplest way of avoiding them is to repeat previously profitable formulae, or in the case of a developing medium, such as games, to adopt the techniques of the more developed and superficially similar medium of cinema. Designers are reliant upon the finance provided by publishing companies to create games. This has seen the production of numerous games based on Hollywood films and characters, or the construction of games that can be marketed and sold on the strength of their cinematic aesthetics and sensibilities.
Computer and video game companies base their strategies of what to produce based upon careful market research and raw numbers, and the fact is, since 50% of the market has been and continues to be buying violent game content, they will continue to design and market these types of games!
And while the problem is deep seated, there is a logical and easy solution, if only the adults will play along. The survey conducted by the Interactive Digital Software Association (2001), indicated the following statistics:
- adults purchase 90% of all games sold
And that is the only statistic that will be utilized to make the point. As the controlling variable in the purchase, it is the adults that need to be reached. The problem is how? Educating Adults to the problem is the logical answer. But as the primary buyers of games overall, they are also heavy buyers of violent game content themselves. The preceding is more than an ethical dilemma, it is a cultural one. One whereby the cycle needs to be broken with the same vigor and force that instilled it in the first place. But, that took decades and billions in advertising and marketing dollars to put into place. Thus it seems that the only force large enough to impact upon this situation are governments. Therein lies the ethical problem, for this speaks of another regulation is a world that is fast becoming over regulated in order to save ourselves from ourselves!
The solution that the preceding is leading up to is the same as has been done in the instance of cigarette smoking, warning labels on each box as a mandated action. Could the foundation for this approach be similar to the health risk utilized in the instance of cigarettes, only in this instance as a societal risk? That represents an extremely touchy subject as it seemingly broaches upon freedom of choice. The warning labels and legislation to curtail smoking has achieved success as a result of the non-smokers who did not wish to inhale second hand smoke in restaurants, offices and other public indoor locales. These restrictions did not and do not restrict smokers for smoking. Thus, why would it curtail violent game players from playing.
Thus, could a violent game tax be the solution. This would or might represent a choice in that the extra money so charged would be put into a victims and marketing fund to fuel additional education on the dangers of violence. Seemingly, that might create an outcry as well, however, as is the case with any type of social change, the majority wins out, thus the non-violent lobby would have to organize itself for a long