The first video game to be commercialized was called ‘Pong’, and was released in 1972. Its concept was a game like table tennis whereby players would hit the ball with paddles. As the gaming industry commercialized, the possibility of expansion for game developers increased, and this led to experimentation with violent content in games. The first game that had violent content was ‘Death Race’, which was released in 1976; its aim was to run down pedestrians, who screamed in the process. The content in the game caused an outcry in some communities and this led to its ban. Surprisingly, the controversy surrounding the game increased its sales. Violence in games has escalated to the extent of bloody scenes being shown on the screens. Games have evolved over the years with the help of technology: they now have better graphics, which give a more realistic playing experience than before. This high level of quality in technology has made the video game industry a force to reckon with, in both the players’ lives and market.
Some stakeholders support the use of video games by members of different age groups. These proponents state that the games improve the player’s computer literacy and manual dexterity. Other than those positives of gaming, there are no other advantages to it. It has been researched by numerous studies that games, especially those with violent content increase aggression in the user’s behavior and mannerisms. Studies by Marcovitz (2011) reported that there was a relation between teachers-reported aggression and video game playing. The playing of violent games or exposure to them evokes behavioral change, subsequently reinforcing the suppressed aggressive habits in players. This may also activate aggressive feelings, thoughts, beliefs or even memories.
A majority of teens and adolescents have admitted to being addicted to gaming and would not go a day without playing. Their best games have violence, inappropriate language or sex in their graphics. A study by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) showed that parents did not impose a limited period on the number of hours their children can play games. The study also pointed out that teens that played violent games were more aggressive, engaged in fights with their peers, more prone to get involved in teacher-student confrontations, and registered a decline in their academic grades.
Aggressiveness may be because of repetitive acts of violence in the game. Video games encourage teens to identify with their favorite characters in the game. This is called first person gaming, which is detrimental to players because they make decisions in reference to the character they imitating (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007). This is evidence enough showing playing violent video games affects the behavior of adolescents, teens and children.
Marcovitz (2011) argues that the increase in school shootings perpetrated by teenage boys is because of video games that have a violent nature. The developmental changes in teens compounded with the violent games they are playing may be cause enough for correspondent aggression. When adolescents are hostile, they tend to be more attracted to activities that involve aggression. It has been established that rough boys prefer violent media, for example toys, video game that depict destruction and anarchy. Anderson, Gentile & Buckley (2007) highlight that violent video games do have a negative emotional functioning and social effect on young adults, adolescents and children.
Anderson and Bushman developed a model known as GAM to explain how violent video games affect aggressive behavior researchers (Anderson, Gentile & Buckley, 2007). The model was used to explain both the individual differences that influence violent video games and the development of aggression across adolescents. Personological variables, such as attitudes towards violence, and situational variables, such as media violence, affect an individual’s internal state; this state influences cognition and arousal. According to the GAM, aggressive behavior is influenced by violent video games because of their long and short-term effects. Violent video games act as situational variables, which result in increased cognitions and significant increase in arousals.
Socio-emotional functioning in adolescents is negatively influenced by games. The processes affecting GAM should differentially affect the biological and psychosocial changes. Aggression has been linked to other factors other than gaming: family (verbal and physical aggression, low-parenting levels), school (dropouts and low grades), and personality (self-esteem issues).
Medical associations, such as the American medical association, American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, have cautioned parents about violence in the games their children are exposed to and the negativity it has on them (Marcovitz, 2011). They have gone a step further and advised parents on how to know the video game rating and set limits of the time their children are playing games. These organizations’ advice to parents also entails how to supervise their children’s internet use, monitor the media consumption in their homes, share information on games with other parents and lastly take time discussing the games with their children and explain the adverse effects they have on them.
Everything that is addictive is most certainly hazardous to human consumption. Video games may be a form of entertainment, but with violent content and indecent exposure to young minds; it is undoubtedly a vice, which affects their thoughts, emotions and behavior. Unless parents control the content, their children view in video games, society risks raising a violent generation that will use aggression to solve most of its conflicts.
Anderson, C. A., Gentile, D. A., & Buckley, K. E. (2007). Violent video game effects on children and adolescents: theory, research, and public policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marcovitz, H. (2011). Are video games harmful? San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press.