As of 2015, over 59 per cent of American children play video games. Video games are a great way to build hand-eye coordination, and while it can never replace physical activity outside, it can be a helpful way to keep children occupied while inside and away from trouble. However, as a parent, you may want to know about the different types of video games available, and if they can have any detrimental effect on your child. Since video games aim to make a challenge for the player, there is often a competitive, even violent, aspect to them. This simulated violence can range from light-hearted and silly to ultra-realistic and brutal. Due to this, you might ask yourself: “Do violent video games cause behavioural problems in children?” Read on to find out more.
Like most entertainment media, video games have ratings systems to help parents decide what is appropriate for their children. These are not as universal, or as strictly enforced, as movie ratings are, but usually stores and video game shops will not sell to those under the stated age.
In the USA, and other nations in the region, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is the preeminent video games ratings body. Its classifications include:
- EC (Early Childhood) – intended for a pre-school audience.
- E (Everyone) – Suitable for everyone from the age of 3 up.
- E10+ (Everyone 10+) – For children over 10. Mild violence possible.
- T (Teen) – More violence, suggestive themes possible.
- M (Mature) – Realistic violence, sexual themes.
- AO (Adult Only) – Extreme violence, pornographic content.
Parental awareness of the rating system provided by the ESRB has drastically increased over the last decade or so. In 1999, 49 per cent of parents knew about the rating system while only 43 per cent actually took it into consideration when it came to their children. As of 2007, 89 per cent of parents knew about the rating system and 85 per cent of parents used it in determining if their child is able to play the game or not.
In Europe, game ratings are governed by a system called Pan European Game Information (PEGI), which is also sometimes used in French-speaking Canada and some areas in South and Central America. The more intuitive, age based, PEGI system includes the following:
- 3 – Suitable for all ages over 3 years.
- 7 – May contain unrealistic violence.
- 12 – Innuendo, light violence, gambling.
- 16 – Realistic violence, sexual references, drug use.
- 18 – Graphic violence, discrimination, stereotyping, strong sexual content.
In some countries, such as the UK, PEGI is legally enforceable. However in most is simply observed de facto without any legislative basis.
Both of these ratings systems are usually accompanied by a quick run-down of the contentious elements of the game. This way a parent can tell if the game has its ranking because of bad language, sexual imagery or simply because it’s scary.
Video Game Statistics
Video games make up a huge part of the global entertainment industry. They have become part of daily life for many people all over the world. Here’s some statistics:
- Roughly 68 per cent of all American households have computer or video games.
- Of this, 25 per cent are under the age of 18.
- The average age of a video game player is 35.
- Over 56 per cent of American children play video games.
- The video game industry is the forth-largest entertainment industry in the world (after gambling, television and book publishing).
- It is worth 91.5 billion USD globally.
- 7 billion USD annually in revenue.
- In 2008 video game sales peaked – almost 300 million units were sold.
- Of this amount, 28 per cent of games were rated Teen by ESRB.
- 5 per cent of these games were rated Mature by ESRB.
So, although the vast majority of video games are non-violent, the 15.5 per cent of Mature-rated games makes up a substantial portion of the industry. With over two billion USD coming in every year from mature video games, it has reached the point where it would be almost impossible to stop the development of violent video games. It looks like violent video games are here to stay, so the best approach as a parent is to take an active role in setting rules for your children.
Violent Video Games and Violent Crimes
While the sale of Mature-rated video games currently sits at 15.5 per cent, the actual number of Mature-rated video games produced has been in decline. This is true for Teen-rated games as well. In 2004, Teen rated video games made up 33 per cent of all games manufactured and produced. Mature-rated video games made up 12 per cent of all titles produced. By 2007 however, Teen-rated video games made up only 20 per cent of all games made and Mature-rated games made up only six per cent. This is a substantial drop off.
Despite the dramatic reduction in violent video games being produced and sold in the USA, the number of high school shootings has continued to increase. From the twelfth of December 1012, the date of the Sandy Hook shooting, to today, there have been over 185 shootings on school campuses in the USA. As of June the first 2016, that’s about once every week.
Some parents might argue the most popular video games out there are violent video games. While there are popular video games that are violent, the majority of games are actually either Everyone-rated or E10+ rated games. In 2008, Guitar Hero stood as the most popular game. In fact, out of the top 10, only three games are rated Mature.
Following the shootings in Columbine High School, Entertainment Software Association performed a 10-year study on violent video games effects, and if these video games can make kids violent. In 1996, just under two million violent crimes took place in the United States with video game sales sitting at around $2.5 billion. By 2007, video game sales increased to over $9.5 billion, yet violent crimes decreased to just over 1.5 million.
Grand Theft Childhood
Lawrence Kunther and Cheryl Olson wrote a book based on their studies into the psychology of violent video games. Their book, entitled Grand Theft Childhood, aims to bring the findings of academic research on this topic to a wider, layman audience.
Kunther and Olson first set out to establish what behaviours are normal for young adolescents, including the role of video games in their life. They found a correlation between boys playing Mature-rated games and certain aggressive acts and other behavioural issues. However they also found that those who played no video games at all were more likely to exhibit these behaviours. Ultimately they concluded that violent video games are an easy scapegoat to blame, rather than other major factors that have an effect on children’s behaviour.
Violent Video Games and Moral Panic
Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M International University has written extensively on the topic of violent video games and moral panic. According to Ferguson:
“A moral panic occurs when a segment of society believes that the behavior or moral choices of others within that society poses a significant risk to the society as a whole.”
Ferguson argues that moral panic surrounding video games has occurred because of a cycle of news media excitement and funding-precedent being given to studies that are more likely to show a link between violent crime and violent video games. He claims that most studies fail to take into account other variables such as family violence or genetics.
It is incredibly hard to scientifically find the reasons for why people do violent crimes. None the less, all the statistics show that as the prevalence of violent video games have increased there has been substantial drops in violent crime, both in the USA and other markets. Of course correlation is not causation, there are all sorts of other factors that could be responsible for this.
There is more to violence in school than just shootings. Bullying is another important issue. As with school shootings, there is insufficient research to show any solid link between bullying and video games. The best way to handle this is to talk to your child about their day and help them work their way through bullying. A large proportion of children are bullied at some point in their life. So being there for your child, and instilling confidence into them, is extremely important.
Virginia Youth Violence Project created a study of bullying reports from 1999 to 2005 to see how bullying changed over the course over the six years. This study did show a significant jump in the number of bullying reports:
- In 1999, 1.1 per cent students in sixth grade reported regular bullying.
- By 2005, this number increased to 1.8 per cent.
- In 1999 0.1 per cent of seniors in high school reported heavy bullying at school.
- This number increased to 0,6 per cent by 2005.
It is possible school systems just started to look into bullying more frequently due to the heavy media exposure of school shootings. Also more children may have chosen to report bullying due to cultural attitudes towards it changing. None the less these rises in bullying statistics do correlate with an increase in violent video games.
There are all sorts of contrary opinions and arguments when it comes to video games and violence. As a parent, you want to know what is best for your child. While video game sales are up and violence inside of schools is down, those who partake in violent and aggressive acts are more likely to play mature video games than those who don’t. This can make it difficult to know exactly what is right and what is wrong. After all, you want to raise a child who is healthy, sociable and well adjusted. However, you also probably do not want to deprive them of the parts of childhood that are fun and their classmates may be enjoying.
There is no right or wrong way so long as you are taking an active role in the development of your child.