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Video Games Violence

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Concern about video game violence is not new. There were calls to ban violent

games as early as 1976 when Death Race, often acknowledged as the first

violent video game, appeared on the market. Of course, the violence in

Death Race seems tame in comparison with today's "first person shooters."

As technology advances, each generation of violent games became more graphic

and extreme. The processing power of video game platforms has increased

an astonishing 188 fold in the past seven months. The goal of creating

virtual experiences draws ever closer. The addition of sexual material

and crude language raises additional worries.

As the annual report cards issued by the National Institute on Media and

the Family have shown, the most violent games still find their way into

the hands of millions of children and teens. Since these games have become

implicated in the string of recent school shootings, concern has reached

new heights. This testimony brings together some of the findings from research

to determine if these concerns are justified. In addition it provides findings

from ongoing research being conducted at the National Institute on Media

and the Family.

Review of Research Literature

The first thing we learn from the research is that it is the younger children

who spend the most time playing games. According to one study, the time

spent playing video and computer games peaks between the ages of eight

and thirteen (Roberts, 1999). A study we completed at the National Institute

on Media and the Family found a similar pattern with game playing time

peaking between eight and fifteen (Gentile and Walsh, 1999). We also know

that youth, especially boys, gravitate to the "action games," which include

the "first person shooters." In one study 50% of boys listed violent games

as their favorites (Buchman and Funk, 1996). A growing number of children

and teens now have the technological skills to customize the computer games.

A recent development is putting "skins" on the characters in the games.

This means that the player can insert the images of real people and places

thereby making the games even more realistic.

Many pre-teens and young teenagers therefore spend a significant amount

of time playing electronic games, with a preference for the violent ones.

We also know that they have easy and frequent access to increasingly violent

and realistic games. The next important question is, of course, "What are

the effects of this Because the ultra-violent games are relatively new,

the research literature is just beginning to accumulate. Research findings

appearing in the 1980s and early 1990s are irrelevant because those studies

did not include the types of violent games that have proliferated in the

past six or seven years. For the last few years most experts have pointed

to the vast body of research on television violence. That research clearly

shows that a heavy exposure causes negative effects on children (Walsh,

Brown, and Goldman, 1996).

Because there has been so little relevant research specifically focusing

on electronic games, some state that there is no demonstration of harm

to children. That, of course, was the same argument used to defend television

violence for more than three decades. It was only after many years of research

that that argument was abandoned. That argument, however, will become harder

to maintain with regard to electronic games, because some important research

findings are starting to appear that support the contention that the violence

in computer and video games may indeed have a harmful effect.

I would Re to highlight the findings of two research projects that found

similar results independently. The first project was done by our collaborator

Paul Lynch at the University of Oklahoma Medical School. Lynch has been

studying the physiological reactions of teenagers to video games for ten

years. He found that violent video games caused much greater physiological

changes than non-violent games. The changes were found for heart rate and

blood pressure as well as the aggression-related hormones, adrenaline,

noradrenaline, and testosterone. A very important finding in Lynch's research

is that the effect was much greater for males who pretested high on measures

of anger and hostility. In other words, the violent games do not seem to

affect everyone the same. Angry youth react much more strongly to violent

video games than do more easy- going kids (Lynch, 1999).

This finding was confirmed in a sophisticated research project completed



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