Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Brains and Video Games
Video gaming is an amazing industry. It generates about $13 billion a year, which rivals Hollywood. Many video games can be a lot of fun and even provide some benefit for children, such as improvements in focus and concentration. Still, there have been lingering questions about the association between particularly violent video games and subsequent violent real-life behavior. To try to find the answer, the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at more than 1,000 studies, including reports from the Surgeon General's office. Its conclusion: there is a link between violent media images such as video games and aggressive behavior in some children.

Now, for the first time, a study has probed deep in the brain to figure out what is really happening when teenagers play these violent video games. Researchers found that teenagers who played particularly violent video games showed more activation in an area of the brain called the amygdala. This is an area responsible for conflict response and emotional arousal. Additionally, these same teens showed dampening in areas of the brain responsible for inhibitions. So it seemed the violent video games caused both an increase in conflict and emotional behavior while making these kids less inhibited.

To many parents, that sounds like a prescription for disaster. It's important to remember that realistic video games can provide an almost parallel reality for young children who haven't yet had a lot of real life experiences. So, you should choose wisely when purchasing these games, much in the same way you would prohibit children from watching certain movies. And spend some time watching or even playing these games with your children - you will get a better idea of how much impact these games might have. And as we head into the holiday season, I'm curious about any other strategies parents have when buying these games for their kids.
As somebody interested in the study of masculinity I would have preferred Dr. Gupta'a comments to be more precise. In the video and posted comments Gupta notes that there are "links" between violent video games and "some children's" real world violence. This kind of blurb while intriguing, because of the potential importance of the topic, are essentially meaningless because Gupta does not tell us what the studies reveal about those "links" and/or what he means by some children. Are we talking a causal relationship or a really high correlation? Was the MRI study done on a random sample? At the very least Gupta needs to be more precise in defining his terms for the general public and citing his sources. Otherwise he is just contributing to the general hysteria about violent video games without any real experimental resarch to support that hysteria.
You say that these video games have some what negative effects on children who play these games and can increase their aggression. While this is true in younger children I do not think that it should apply as much to older children such as teenagers or older. While still young teenagers have adequate knowledge of what is right and wrong and if they are mature and responsible they should know that these games are fake and these events are unethical in real life.
I agree with what Dr. Gupta has to say even on the older teenagers. Although I have to exclaim! ESRB Ratings are not being used. Parents are not reading the packages and they could care less about what content is in the video game. I have experienced this first hand working in retail, and I have only come across a handful parents who truly cared what the ratings meant and "would this game be good for their child?" Even while reading a disclaimer provided by ESRB, and required by the state to read to each customer I was shouted at "Just sell the game to my child!" Which simply proves its not the games' fault its the parents' guidance to blame in such cases where "Games are teaching violence." Where I again, agree with Dr. Gupta.
I agree with the doctor. In fact our 15 year old grandson has developed epilepsy and we have noticed seizures present after playing games. I say limit them and know what they are playing.
You say that these video games have some what negative effects on children who play these games and can increase their aggression. While this is true in younger children I do not think that it should apply as much to older children such as teenagers or older. While still young teenagers have adequate knowledge of what is right and wrong and if they are mature and responsible they should know that these games are fake and these events are unethical in real life.
Video games are violent, so what. Games have lables showing what age the particular game is aimed for. The violence of the games should not be attacked instead it should be the parents who buy these and then complain that their child is too aggressive.
ERSB rating systems are fine and dandy if your intention is to monitor the usage of a product that requires such a rating. If a responsible parent can buy a videogame or a movie with violent or mature themes and this behavior is explained to the child or the teenager as immoral or unacceptable in terms that are relative to their age and to their level of understanding, then I do not believe that a videogame will cause immoral and illegal behavior from anyone who is otherwise mentally healthy. I played Mario Bros. when I was a young child and please let me caution you that throwing fireballs, destroying brick blocks with my fists, and kicking turtle shells doesn't really enter into my mind, nor has it ever.
I play Grand Theft Auto with my child and I thoroughly explain to my child how wrong the principles of the game are, and he is intelligent enough to grasp that concept and make responsible choices in life because of my explanations and serious manner in which I present the information to him, and the consistent nature of my coaching with him to have enough belief that he understands that the concepts that we are watching and interacting with are completely inappropriate for life. I can clearly explain how realistic the graphics appear, and I can praise how well the game plays, however, I can also point out the fake stuff and how the game is all made of fake things. Really I would wager that only the voice actors and some sounds are real, and the rest is a made up story. If another child plays Grand Theft Auto and should happen to repeat similar game experience behaviors in real-life situations, with respect - this child's mental ability to process reality would be in serious question as far as safety to himself and others around him... or would it? Would the parents of this child who is playing these games be responsible if they were not coaching their children that normal idividuals in society do not approve of this game experience behavior and it will not be tolerated in any form? Basically, I am saying that if you are buying your children games that they are not ready to understand for their particular level of emotional maturity, and if you are not willing to sit with these children and foster the good behaviors that you expect from them as responsible parents then you can reasonably expect that some of the time there are other areas of life that these children are not being emotionally coached through well enough to adequately adjust and there will be consequences for this lack of parental action. Is it really that the games are not for children... or are we just freaked out by mass killing attmepts to the point where we need to remove the anxiety and the fear that is promoted by a society that is seemingly more-or-less to some degree becoming evermore numb to feeling remorse for other people's suffering? I mean, really... if your kids are throwing grenades down the cartoon street, and pulling drive-bys or punching fellow pedestrians and joy riding through Liberty City, is it the game instilling poor values in them or os it a partial or total lack of psychological therapy that children should reasonably expect from their parents? Children don't come with manuals, it's true. But if you don't have the time to teach your child the values of society at large, and you don't spend enough time with your child because of whatever life has you doing that you are doing for whatever reason and you are unable to commit to knowing how your child views the games versus the real-world... then you need to make the responsible choice to not buy or allow the games to be bought for the children that foster these inappropriate behaviors. On the other hand, what kind of parent doesn't make time for their child and then complains that a game contains too much violence? It's pretty easy to point a finger at a game that contains violence, when many homes are disgustingly plagued with drug addictions and alcohol-related abuse... but that darn Grand Theft Auto, huh? What a shame, try a mirror.
Something to think about. By explaining to my child how I feel and instilling my good values in him, then I believe that we can play any violence-filled video game without harm to his psyche. Let's do a home study of these kids who go pop-in-the-head when they are exposed to violent forms of media. CNN attempts to explain war as it is, and is that not interactive now to the point of teaching war tactics on websites and television with specific tactical strategies in some cases being recalled in nearly complete detail? How about Pearl Harbour, the incident... or even the movie? That actually happened on American soil, uh-oh, now American history has to be censored too. I think it is safe to say that if you wouldn't trust your kid home alone...especially if you keep the liquor accessible and other interesting adult things that should never be left within access of a child... forget the Grand Theft Auto series this holiday season... because Spyro has A New Beginning. But he technically does 'breathe fire' so let's be sure little Danny isn't a pyro in diguise before we give him this game that could turn him into an arson by trade in a few years. Granted I do enjoy the occasional Tic Tac mint, but Pac-Man isn't going to be blamed when I eat the whole box in one sitting (especially after the garlic bread is passed around.)
Whenever violent videogames are mentioned, someone inevitable claims that children will "know better" or recognize that the violent games are "not real." This sort of criticism is making a fundamental mistake- it is assuming the impact the games have on children is conscious. It may not be.

Instead, the games very probably have a much more subtle effect. By repeat exposing to images of violence -even "fake" images- children could be becoming just slightly more hardwired to accept them.

Think of it like gradually building up a tolerance. Just like you can gradually overcome a fear of snakes by first starting with pictures of snakes (then building up to toy snakes, then real snakes), so too could kids be being gradually affected by video games. It isn't a question of whether video games by themselves make kids violent. It's a question of whether they are a contributing factor to the problem. Studies seem to indicate they are.

Open-minded parents would do well to accept this finding.
Sanjay your completely correct. My parents don't pay attention to what my younger siblings play, but I watch them. All the violent games they play has started to play a role in their personalities. They start thinking of themselves as tough kids. It's amazing to see how much impact the violent games can have on their personality as well as their behavior. Play basketball outside or play with the kids on the block is no longer the cool thing to do, but having a PS3 or a Nintendo Wii is what makes them "popular" in school.

I see this as a cultural shift in America. The games are making them less physically active, which also plays a major role in the obesity. We've seen an enormous increase in the weight of an average child as well as the increase in the violent games they play, perhaps these could be related to one another.
Reading all of these comments, and considering myself an Avid Gamer, a Non Violent Person, and a VERY Active Human Being.. (Personal Trainer and Regular Gym Goer/Recreational Sports Player) Its all in moderation. Teach your kids to enjoy life.
One pontential problem. Reading about this study I noticed the two games used for comparison were very different. One was a shooting game, and another a racing game. I would be curious to see if the results were a result of the violence, or the type of gameplay involved. If you had a violent racing game that encouraged you to repeatedly run people over, for example, would that spark the same results as a violent shooter? Or would a shooter where you played Cupid, lobbing arrows to make people fall in love, make the same parts of the brain light up as one where you killed people? Different tasks make the brain react different ways. Let's be sure it's really the violence, and not the game style itself, that is giving us this result.
I wish that the effort invested in researching for a means of scapegoating video games for teen violence were redirected towards more substantial preventative measures such as stricter gun control and reinforcing restrictions on the proliferation of illegal narcotics and drug abuse. I would make the case that the effects of parents spending long hours at work and seldom supervising their children and teens is a more substantial factor in teen corruption and violence than violent video games (assuming that the parents are positive role models).
Video games do not give people Epilepsy. However, if someone was already genetically inclined towards Epilepsy or another condition that negatively responds to visual stimulus then video games can be a trigger. The flashing lights and quick scene changes in video games trigger my Sensory Integration Dysfunction, which then triggers my Periodic Paralysis. I can no longer play consule games, but I can play Computer games if I am careful to look away or close my eyes when the screen is going to flash.
I limit my son's time in front of some video games like military action games and the like. He's allowed to play 30 minutes three days a week. He literally sets a timer.
I am stunned to see how many of the responses defend exceedingly violent video games! I do not intend to EVER buy them for my son and should I find out that he plays them, I'll have a serious talk with him, and tell him clearly why I strongly object to them. And since violence was never tolerated at home, either physically or verbally, I believe he'll know exactly what values I'm talking about.
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