Are Video Games Influencing Our Children?

Video games were first introduced in the 1970s. By the end of that decade they had become a preferred childhood leisure activity, and adults responded with concern about the possible ill effects of the games on children. Early research on these effects was inconclusive. However, a resurgence in video game sales that began in the late 1980s after the introduction of the Nintendo system has renewed interest in examining the effects of video games.
Some research suggests that playing video games may affect some children's physical functioning. Effects range from triggering epileptic seizures to causing heart rate and blood pressure changes. Serious adverse physical effects, however, are transient or limited to a small number of players. Research has also identified benefits associated with creative and pro-social uses of video games, as in physical rehabilitation and oncology (Funk, 1993). Proponents of video games suggest that they may be a friendly way of introducing children to computers, and may increase children's hand-eye co-ordination and attention to detail.
VIDEO GAME USE BY CHILDREN
Recent studies of television watching by children have included measures of the time children spend playing video games. In 1967, the average sixth-grader watched 2.8 hours of television per day. Data from 1983 indicated that sixth-graders watched 4.7 hours of television per day, and spent some additional time playing video games.
A recent study (Funk, 1993) examined video game playing among 357 seventh and eighth grade students. The adolescents were asked to identify their preference among five categories of video games. The two most preferred categories were games that involved fantasy violence, preferred by almost 32% of subjects; and sports games, some of which contained violent sub-themes, which were preferred by more than 29%. Nearly 20% of the students expressed a preference for games with a general entertainment theme, while another 17% favored games that involved human violence. Fewer than 2% of the adolescents preferred games with educational content.
The study found that approximately 36% of male students played video games at home for 1 to 2 hours per week; 29% played 3 to 6 hours; and 12 percent did not play at all. Among female students who played video games at home, approximately 42% played 1 to 2 hours and 15% played 3 to 6 hours per week. Nearly 37% of females did not play any video games. The balance of subjects played more than 6 hours per week. Results also indicated that 38% of males and 16% of females played 1 to 2 hours of video games per week in arcades; and that 53% of males and 81% of females did not play video games in arcades.
RATING OF VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE
Ratings of video game violence have developed as an extension of ratings of television violence. Among those organizations that have attempted to rate television violence, the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) has also developed a system to rate the violent content of video games. The NCTV system contains ratings that range from XUnfit and XV (highly violent) to PG and G ratings. Between summer and Christmas of 1989, NCTV surveyed 176 Nintendo video games. Among the games surveyed, 11.4% received the XUnfit rating. Another 44.3% and 15.3% received the other violent ratings of XV and RV, respectively. A total of 20% of games received a PG or G rating (NCTV, 1990).
The Sega company, which manufactures video games, has developed a system for rating its own games as appropriate for general, mature, or adult audiences, which it would like to see adopted by the video game industry as a whole. The Nintendo Company, in rating its games, follows standards modeled on the system used by the Motion Picture Association of America.
A problem shared by those who rate violence in television and video games is that the definition of violence is necessarily subjective. Given this subjectivity, raters have attempted to assess antisocial violence more accurately by ranking violent acts according to severity, noting the context in which violent acts occur, and considering the overall message as pro- or anti- violence. However, the factor of context is typically missing in video games. There are no gray areas in the behavior of game characters, and players are rarely required to reflect or make contextual judgements (Provenzo, 1992).