With video games becoming a hot topic once again, it’s time that we talk about children, violence in games, and why it’s important to talk about violence, video games, and the real-world consequences that can occur if such acts were to happen in the real world.
Since I was a child, my parents did several things when violence in games began to grow, and the games I played began to mature. Before I could play the more adult-focused games ranging from titles such as Mortal Kombat and Wolfenstein 3D, I was given the talk. No, not the birds and the bees talk, but the talk about how violent games aren’t real, that if I tried such acts in games, my actions would hold consequences, and that real lives would be at stake if I were to simulate such actions in the real world itself.
After explaining, my dad, in all his duties in being a parent, would sit with me, playing such titles, but limiting my exposure with every session until he felt comfortable with what I played. Yet time and time again, he would remind me, just as my mom would, that all my actions if replicated from the video games, would come with real-world consequences that could see my life become a mess, that others would suffer at my hands, and that what I would do, would be irreversible.
But what I went through, isn’t quite what kids today go through, and according to many studies: Game’s can be a trigger, but not the root cause, so what exactly should we take the time to know about violence in games and children? Well, a lot actually, and a lot that my generation didn’t have to worry about hyper-realistic games or the desensitization that they bring. So let’s talk about kids, violent games, and what should be done if it’s decided they can play them.
Let’s break the myth: Games don’t make people violent
When it comes to researching the root cause of violence in gamers, the American Psychiatric Association has been one of the biggest advocates for the review of gaming, its affects on human development, and if it could be the leading cause behind violence in American people’s. Truth is, the APA research review has actually concluded that video games do not cause violent behavior or even the root cause of it.
Rather, the APA research review has actually found something else to be the cause: Other factors. Factors such as in-home violence, having an anger-prone personality, poverty, harsh parental discipline, rejection by one’s peers, bullying, and other established risk factors that could cause aggression to arise. Those could be the underlying catalysts that could be triggered through video games.
It also doesn’t mean that games might not instigate aggressive thoughts, feelings, behavior, or instantly trigger an underlying issue in a handful of people. There have been case studies that have proven that video games can trigger some form of aggression, but have failed to prove or even correlate video games to those that will become bullies or even mass murderers, unlike the false claims currently hitting the mainstream media.
But the bigger question: Do violent games actually desensitize us regarding violent actions?
This is one area that, unfortunately, there have been only a few studies starting back as earlier as 2003, as noted in the research released by the APA. Some of the research does lean towards the idea that children could be desensitized due to games or even reduce their empathy towards victims or even increase their belief in the acceptance of violence or even encourage them to morally disengage when committing a violent act.
However, there has been no definitive proof that this is directly caused by video games. According to Patrick and Charolette Markey (2010), they argued that people with a personality abnormality i.e. high neuroticism, a tendency to break the rules, or even having personality dysfunctions such as a history of showing little concern for other peoples feelings.
In these kinds of cases, the person themselves may show a bit more susceptibility to the negativity caused by violent videogames. Those who do fall under those categories, according to Konijn, Bijvank & Busha, circa 2007, could be a bit more susceptible to the negative impact of violent video games, which can also be exacerbated by a secondary dose of violence from family conflicts.
It’s also been noted by Greitemeyer et al. in 2012, which emphasized that kids who play violent video games as a team, i.e. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, are actually less likely to show violent tendencies, while also displaying a higher chance to behave in more cooperative manners afterward, compared to those who play alone. A good reason behind it could be that there is less emphasis on the violence compared to that of cooperative mannerisms and tactical callouts needed in order to enhance their odds of winning.
But why are kids drawn into violent games? Why are they so appealing?
When it comes to video games, they are exciting, engrossing, leaving us immersed in our games, leaving little time to worry about our real-world affairs. These games aren’t just immersive, but they’re fun. These games offer quite a bit of challenge, a sense of mastery, and to some extent, they can serve as a power fantasy, making the player feel like an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
With that said, it also should be noted that the vast majority of gamers who play games, especially those that are violent, have no intention of hurting anyone outside of the game. Their intention is purely to have fun, to have a competitive edge against those they are playing with or even attempting to push their skill levels to all-new heights.
Want proof? According to a study done by Cheryl Olson in 2010. In the study, Olson notes that children who play games are doing it because “It’s just fun,” which accompanies the idea that 75% of middle school boys and over 60^ of middle school girls in the study by Olson, actually agreed with that reasoning. The examples are based on competition, excitement, and ultimately, it gave them something to do when they were bored.
But more importantly, you have to know that even with those statements, Olson’s study attributed that those who played games, over 25% of boys, and around 5% of girls, actually found that they “like the guns & other weapons.” It also should be noted that for some children, mostly the male children, found a special fascination with weapons and the violence, which didn’t translate to aggressive behavior.
This does not mean that the children were troubled nor does it mean that they will ever commit to a violent act or crime. These are just young boys wanting to explore the power fantasy itself. Truth-be-told, as one of those kids all-grown-up, they’re working through their position in life, coming with their terms to explore the positions of both “good” and “bad” in their life.
A common thing that kids will face as they mature.
What should you do if your kids decide that they want to play a violent game?
You know, as my dad always said to me in recent days, is that the talks he had about positive reinforcement, consequences for my actions, and the understanding that games are not real, was important to my growth and development as a person who grew up with violent games.
The way it should be considered is that there is a risk factor with violent games. Just as there is a risk factor in allowing kids to eat junk food, which can lead to obesity, violent games could potentially lead to violent behavior without proper parenting. It should also be taken into consideration that violent video games, just like anything negative for your health such as soda or pizza, could be counteracted through positive mental health reinforcement from adults or loved ones.
Again, those risk factors that come with it, also are exacerbated by exterior stimuli such as bullying, in-home issues such as parental fighting, bullying, etc. The more risk factors there are, the increase in a child’s likelihood they’ll become prone to violent behavior, which is an underlying problem rather than the influence of games itself.
Just talk to them. Seriously: Talk to them about why they want to play violent games, come to a rational understanding, and then decide what’s best for them.
So what should you ultimately do about answering their plea for violent video games to be allowed?
Truth is – it’s worth talking about the consequences for their actions, the fact that violent video games are just that: Violent. While some aren’t necessarily all that bad, i.e. Fortnite, Call of Duty Black Ops IV: Blackout, and even Realm Royale; children need to understand their consequences for all their actions whether they are good or bad. It’s ultimately up for you to decide what kind of violence you will allow and what is within acceptable limits for you and your children.
Just like any options on the table, there is more than one, and even with my nephew(s), there are three options I put on the table for them to understand:
- No: This is my honest answer when it comes to them wanting to play games such as Wolfenstein: The New Order, DOOM, or other 18+ titles. They aren’t quite ready and when they’re ready, they can play the games they inquired about.
- With Moderation: When it comes to violent games, there’s a great area here, as comic-book mischief is getting labeled as a form of violence. This is where you – the adult – should do your research and decide whether or not the game fits your core values or what you think is acceptable for them to enjoy.
- Yes: You’ve decided to find the game to be within acceptable perimeters of what you will tolerate them playing. Still, though, you need to explain that there are real-world consequences if they were to replicate what they see on the screen.
Set ground rules for the games they play and how violent they can be. There’s a lot of reasoning behind this. The core reason: You know your kids better than a psychologist does. You are the parent or elder to that child and only you will know what’s best for the child versus anyone else in this world.
But the general rule of thumb? Just research what the kids are playing, make sure you spend adequate time with them, but also make sure that they understand that no matter what kind of game; if they try to re-enact what happened in the game, there are real-world consequences for their actions.
The conclusion – Talk to your children about adult-themed games, including violent ones
When it comes down to it at the end of the day, it’s ultimately up to you, the adult, to choose what is right or wrong for them. It’s up to you to ensure their safety, to ensure they are playing a game you’d like them to play, and it’s ultimately up to you to prepare them for the realities that will come with any actions that they decide to re-enact.
It’s up to you to guide them, to ensure their safety, but also their mental well-being as the studies have shown. But it’s also up to you to know when to say “no”. It’s all about research and understanding the contents of the games they wish to play before they actually play them.
If you’ve taken note of what was said up above then you know the conclusion: Violent video games do not affect your children nor will they be prone to violence without an underlying condition already having existed.
You may also like the following The Children’s Corner volumes:
- The Children’s Corner: Is it safe for children to online game?
- The Children’s Corner: Should you set up parental controls on gaming devices?
- The Children’s Corner: How Nintendo 3DS and the Switch might be best for the kids
- The Children’s Corner: There are some great benefits to your kids and gaming
- The Children’s Corner: Should you listen to the ESRB labels placed on games?
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.