I would argue that there are some children who could play the most violent games without experiencing any increase in aggression, whereas there are others who will be violent regardless of the type of games they play. In between these two extremes are everyone else and this is where the debate should concentrate. Again, it is too simplistic to suggest that any violent video game will automatically increase violent behaviour.
I don’t think it is difficult to accept that playing realistic violent games for prolonged periods, with no other outlet for aggression and without access to other forms of conflict resolution and understanding about the differences between real and pretend, is going to increase a child’s tendency to act violently.
However, if appropriately introduced, controlled and combined with a range of non-violent activities, violent games can prompt discussions about behaviour and be a valuable tool in helping children develop an understanding of the consequences of violence.
The presence of violence in games is believed to be of more concern, than the violence seen on tv. This is because the player is active and making decisions to use violence in the game to achieve an objective, whereas the tv viewer is passively watching the actions done by someone else to someone else.
The impact of a game also depends on the game’s style. A realistic situation in which violent behaviour has a positive outcome (e.g. street fighting) is more likely to be internalised by the child and therefore more likely to encourage violent behaviour. A fantasy adventure with dragon slaying and good guys winning is not.
However, it could be argued that the message is more important than the style. If the message children receive is that violence is good and will make them more powerful/ popular/wealthy etc, then children are likely to respond to that with increasingly violent behaviour.
The impact of playing violent games is also mediated by the child’s age and developmental stage. A very young child will (hopefully) have little experience of real violence and so will not internalise the game in the same way as a teenager. However, the younger child will not be able to distinguish between real and pretend as clearly as an older child and so may model the behaviour.
In order to reduce the chances that playing violent video games will lead to an increase in violent or aggressive behaviour, parents and people responsible for children should:
1. Discuss other ways of resolving conflict, and highlight the negative consequences of violent behaviour.
2. Limit the time spent playing the games and the frequency of the sessions.
3. Evaluate the type of violence in the game and decide whether the child is likely to relate to the characters or situations (as opposed to being able to keep it in the world of make-believe).
4. Encourage children to take lots of physical exercise to help reduce pent up aggression and increase endorphin levels.
5. Encourage social activities. Socialisation provides children with a frame of reference for normal behaviour.
It would be irresponsible of me to suggest that playing violent video games is not causing increased violence in children, but I have tried to show here that there are a multitude of factors to consider, and that there may well be other factors responsible for the increase in violence in children today.