Video Games













Introduction
Video Game Attraction
Negative Aspects
Better Than Television?
Positive Aspects
Parental Intervention


Since the introduction of Pong, electronic gaming has grown into a phenomenon involving millions of players around the world. With this introduction of video games, the social aspect which was thought to be a necessary component of game playing was eliminated. The tremendous success of video games can be seen by that they have become the favorite pastime of American children. For these children, the preferred form of play is often solitaire in nature. Along with the often violent content of video games, this anti-social aspect has brought forth many concerns.

Video Game Attraction

Part of the attraction of video games is that they create a culture of rules and simulations. In doing so, they “represent microworlds complete unto themselves (Provenzo 38).” The images of these microworlds are easy to fall in love with, allowing the player to function within a self-selected and artificial microworld. Turkle has a similar view on the attractiveness of video games:

When you play a video game you enter into the world of the programmers who made it. You have to do more than identify with a character on the screen. You must act for it. Identification through action has a special kind of hold. Like playing a sport, it puts people into a focused, and highly charged state of mind. For many people, what is being pursued in the video game is not just a score, but an altered state (83).

Turkle describes this altered state as literally being a “second self.” It is this altered state entering a microworld which makes video games enjoyable and attractive to the game player.

Negative Aspects

Perhaps the biggest concern associated with video games has been the amount of time which children dedicate to playing them. Nine out of ten children play video games, and many of them play for hours a day. On average, children play video games two hours a day with 64 percent of all American children playing at least one hour a day (Sheff 3). Part of this obsession is because most games always contain a new threat or challenge, and this creates a compulsion to continue playing. Other reasons include pressure to continue playing so one can compete with other children’s high scores and deep knowledge of the game. When more than two hours a day is spent playing video games it is often at the expense of other activities. This is what many fear is happening to the majority of children, they are eliminating social activities in favor of the anti-social video games. Parents often see their children as becoming obsessed with playing, and the parents are able to see firsthand just how pervasive and powerful this gaming force is. One potential direction of this force is that it immerses children in useless, repetitive play that has the power to affect the ways in which they develop both emotionally and physically.

Violence in video games is another major concern. It is feared that playing video games promotes violent behavior in real life situations. However, most research has found no connection between the two. These researchers say that children know the difference between real violence and that in games and claim that video games have no significant impact on these children. Contradicting these studies, other research does link playing video games to aggressive behavior. “Children who watch a steady diet of violent programming increase their chances of becoming more aggressive towards other children, less cooperative and altruistic, more tolerant of real-life violence and more afraid of the world outside their homes (Sheff 45).” In summary, these confounding research findings show that video games probably do not contribute significantly to deviant behavior but do increase the aggressive behavior by individuals who play them.

Gender biases and stereotypes are also evident throughout most video games. Almost all characters in video games are male, and these games have also been marketed to an all male audience. The roles that females take in video games are usually of either captured girlfriends or princesses that need to be rescued. Females are also often portrayed as being sexy and seductive, irrelevant characters, and very few games have a female as the main character. It is feared that this creates a picture to children that these biases and stereotypes are an accepted part of culture. Thus the biases and stereotypes will be carried over into the real world.

Another research project suggests that the only negative aspect of playing video games is that most games are solitaire in nature and that more two-player games would provide a much more positive playing environment for children. It has been found that two-player games, either competitive or cooperative, provide a releasing effect and reduce the level of aggression in children’s play. Provenzo differs on this opinion, however, saying that the main problem is “not simply that they contain significant gender stereotypes and are often violent and aggressive, but that they allow children playing them little or no freedom to make decisions for themselves (93).” These children are in a programmed environment, simply following the rules that the programmers have implemented into the game.

Better Than Television?

Many claim that video games are better than television because they are interactive. However, it has been proved through research that little to no constructive thinking is going on during the rapid arcade-like games which require no more than rapid button-pushing. These games are highly repetitive and the interaction is limited. The kind of neural activity resulting from these games “causes the brain to become stuck in a repetitive loop and that extensive activity—or non-activity, in fact—such as this can have a detrimental impact on cognitive development (Sheff 25).” It has also been seen that these repetitive, fast-paced games seem to induce a much more excited state in the player than does watching television, with no complex or creative thinking occurring. Furthermore, it has been shown that video games are much more addictive than television because they demand total engagement.

Positive Aspects

Video games are not completely evil, however. Many skills can be learned by playing them. Some such skills include problem-solving abilities, perseverance, pattern recognition, hypothesis testing, estimating skills, inductive skills, resource management, logistics, mapping, memory, quick thinking, and reasoned judgements (Sheff 33). These video games permit the practice of skills that are often not incorporated into the school curriculum. They have also been seen to help build confidence in the ordinary child. Another potential positive is that video games allow for the development of hand-eye coordination. However, baseball and other such social activities also develop this ability. Video games may require a higher degree of hand-eye coordination than many other activities, but the question is how much hand-eye coordination does the average child need?

Video games also mimic social structure. Video games allow a means by which to establish hierarchies of skill and ability, and ultimately leadership just like in other areas of life. Furthermore, video games are one of the few settings in which children can be teachers if grown-ups take the time to participate, and if they allow the children to lead the way. “Engaging the child in an interactive experience, developing hand-eye motor skills, giving the child a sense of accomplishment, keeping the child off the streets, and just encouraging having fun are all judged by many parents to be valuable or, at worst, benign (Tapscott 162).”

Video games can also be helpful in other areas. Children who have problems with attention, self-esteem, and boundaries are often helped by the gaming experience, and video games are now being implemented into therapy for these type of children. Children that see themselves as failures also receive benefit from playing video games, because they provide the player with a sense of participation and excitement in basic life-like situations. Video games furthermore “empower” certain children who have a difficult time in social situations. For example, a child who is an outcast may gain social standing because he is a video game aficionado.

Parental Intervention

Since video games are now an integral part of our culture, parental guidance and supervision is required to make sure that the negative effects are minimized. Becoming involved means taking the difficult step of no longer allowing the games to be baby-sitters. The key to video game control is moderation. The negative effects of video games are minimized, or even eliminated, by time limits. Parents should also encourage their children to play together. Group gaming sessions can make the gaming experience a social one rather than an anti-social one. Also, children who play in groups seem to become less engrossed in the games and are forced to work on social skills such as playing fairly and sharing.


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This document was created April 19, 1998 and last modified on  Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 17:34:54.
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