ERIC Identifier: ED365477
Publication Date: 1994-01-00
Author: Cesarone, Bernard
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Video Games and Children. ERIC Digest.
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 prosocial 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 coordination and attention to
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 subthemes, 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
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 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 grey areas in the behavior of game characters, and players
are rarely required to reflect or make contextual judgments (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 40 of the 47
top-rated Nintendo video games had violence as a theme.
An early study on the effects of video games on children found that playing
video games had more positive effects on children than watching television. A
conference sponsored by Atari at Harvard University in 1983 presented
preliminary data which failed to identify ill effects. More recent research,
however, has begun to find connections between children's playing of violent
video games and later aggressive behavior. A research review done by NCTV (1990)
found that 9 of 12 research studies on the impact of violent video games on
normal children and adolescents reported harmful effects. In general, while
video game playing has not been implicated as a direct cause of severe
psychopathology, research suggests that there is a short-term relationship
between playing violent games and increased aggressive behavior in younger
children (Funk, 1993).
Because it is likely that there is some similarity in the effect of viewing
violent television programs and playing violent video games on individuals'
aggressive behavior, those concerned with the effects of video games on children
should take note of television research. The consensus among researchers on
television violence is that there is a measurable increase of from 3% to 15% in
individuals' aggressive behavior after watching violent television. A recent
report of the American Psychological Association claimed that research
demonstrates a correlation between viewing and aggressive behavior (Clark,
EFFECTS OF OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OF VIDEO GAMES
believe that video games offer benefits over the passive medium of television.
Among mental health professionals, there are those who maintain that in playing
video games, certain children can develop a sense of proficiency which they
might not otherwise achieve. However, other authorities speculate that
performing violent actions in video games may be more conducive to children's
aggression than passively watching violent acts on television. According to this
view, the more children practice violence acts, the more likely they are to
perform violent acts (Clark, 1993). Some educational professionals, while
allowing that video games permit children to engage in a somewhat creative
dialogue, maintain that this engagement is highly constrained compared to other
activities, such as creative writing (Provenzo, 1992).
Another problem seen by critics of video games is that the games stress
autonomous action rather than cooperation. A common game scenario is that of an
anonymous character performing an aggressive act against an anonymous enemy. One
study (Provenzo, 1992) found that each of the top 10 Nintendo video games was
based on a theme of an autonomous individual working alone against an evil
force. The world of video games has little sense of community and few team
players. Also, most video games do not allow play by more than one player at a
The social content of video games may influence children's attitudes toward
gender roles. In the Nintendo games, women are usually cast as persons who are
acted upon rather than as initiators of action; in extreme cases, they are
depicted as victims. One study (Provenzo, 1992) found that the covers of the 47
most popular Nintendo games depicted a total of 115 male and 9 female
characters; among these characters, 20 of the males struck a dominant pose while
none of the females did. Thirteen of the 47 games were based on a scenario in
which a woman is kidnapped or has to be rescued.
Studies have indicated that males play video games more frequently than
females. Television program producers and video game manufacturers may produce
violent shows and games for this audience. This demand for violence may not
arise because of an innate male desire to witness violence, but because males
are looking for strong role models, which they find in these shows and games
Given inconclusive research, recommendations
concerning video games must be conservative. According to researcher Jeanne Funk
(1993), a ban on video games is
probably not ... in the child's best interests.
Limiting playing time and monitoring game selection
according to developmental level and game content may
be as important as similar parental management of
television privileges. Parents and professionals should
also seek creative ways to increase the acceptance,
popularity, and availability of games that are
relatively prosocial, educational, and fun. (p.89)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Clark, C.S. (1993). TV Violence. "CQ
Researcher" 3(12, Mar 26): 167-187.
De Franco, E.B. (1989). Are Your Kids Too Tuned In? "PTA Today" 14(7, May):
18-19. EJ 414 201.
Funk, J.B. (1993). Reevaluating the Impact of Video Games. "Clinical
Pediatrics" 32 (2, Feb): 86-90. PS 521 243.
Kubey, R. and Larson, R. (1990). The Use and Experience of the New Video
Media among Children and Young Adolescents. "Communication Research" 17(1):
107-130. EJ 406 646.
National Coalition on Television Violence. (1990). Nintendo Tainted by
Extreme Violence. "NCTV News" 11(1-2, Feb-Mar):1, 3-4.
Provenzo, E.F., Jr. (1992). The Video Generation. "American School Board
Journal" 179(3, Mar): 29-32. EJ 441 136.