Video Games And 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).

EFFECTS OF VIOLENCE IN VIDEO GAMES The NCTV claims that there has been a steady
increase in the number of video games with violent themes. Games rated as
extremely violent increased from 53% in 1985 to 82% in 1988. A 1988 survey
indicated that manufacturers were titling their games with increasingly violent
titles (NCTV, 1990). Another survey found that