Book Review – Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents

Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents is an indispensable tool for parents and professionals who want to have important knowledge to make wise decisions about video game use in the lives of children and teens. One of the most exasperating challenges about trying to communicate about the negative effects of violent video games is that well-intentioned adults often say: But the verdict is not in yet on whether violent video game play is all that harmful. Video games are too new to have acquired any compelling data. Anderson, Gentile, and Buckley comprehensively slice through this, and other inaccurate and misleading arguments, that have been used to prevent parents, professionals, and policy-makers to deal productively with this critical issue.

Divided into three parts, the book can be picked up at any juncture to enlighten the reader on the complexities of interpreting the research and in understanding violent video game play in the context of bio-social and developmental factors. Part 1, The Introduction, provides a background on the history of violent video games; a well-documented summary of the effects of exposure to violent media entertainment, with clear definitions of physical, verbal and relational aggression, and important considerations of three types of research methodologies. This section also describes The General Aggression Model-a model developed by Anderson, Bushman, Carnagey, and Huesmann (p. 40) to integrate ideas from earlier models and to help distinguish between variables and processes that operate in immediate contexts and those that operate over a long-term. Part 2 explains and discuses three new studies that “were designed to address knowledge gaps in the video game research literature.” (p. 59) Part 3, General Discussion (What Does it All Mean?) provides critical links between theory, practice, and public policy, providing even more reasons for urgent action at both micro and macro levels.

The authors begin with, and consistently keep, a refreshingly honest and clear approach. For instance, Anderson and his colleagues call “a duck a duck” and discuss the c-word-causality-with academic rigor grounded in common sense.

Critics of violent media research like to remind us that we can never establish causality. But the authors refute this argument eloquently by helping us understand the probabilistic nature of causality:

“The old Logic 101 principles regarding the establishment of a factor as being necessary and sufficient cause of an effect simply don’t apply to most modern science (Anderson & Bushman, 2002c). We know that smoking tobacco causes an increase in the likelihood that one will contract lung cancer, but not everyone who smokes gets cancer, and some who don’t smoke get lung cancer. The probabilistic nature of modern science is largely due to the fact that multiple causal factors are involved in most medical, psychological, and behavioral phenomena. And for this reason, the old necessary and sufficient rules simply do not apply. Thus every time people argue that violent video games can’t be considered causes of aggression because they have played such games and haven’t killed anyone is committing a major reasoning error, applying the ‘sufficient’ rule to a multiple cause phenomenon.” (p. 21)

The authors go on to systematically explain aggression in terms of contextual factors over time, heightening this reader’s awareness of the profound contribution violent video games are making to increased aggression. Reading about the General Aggression model, in particular, brought me several ‘a-has.’ The model is based “on the assumption that human memory, thought, and decision processes can be represented as a complex associative network of nodes representing cognitive concepts and emotions.” (p. 41)

The General Aggression Model is a powerful tool because, like our work at the PCI, it takes into account multiple environmental factors when attempting to determine causality. I am drawn to the elegance by which it clearly addresses the complexities of living systems. In fact, the authors point out the General Aggression Model can be used to incorporate variables within what we call at the PCI, The Child’s and the Parent’s Growth Sphere. The authors cite the work of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological levels (p.45), providing a comprehensive framework for understanding the impact of violent entertainment that many parent educators, and certainly PCI Certified Parent Coaches, will immediately grasp, helping them to better explain to parents the inherent risks of children and teens playing violent video games.

Extreme acts of violence such as the Columbine shootings are never isolated from past and present bio-social interactions. The authors point out that habitual aggressive tendencies are most likely to develop in children who grow up in environments that reinforce aggression, provide aggressive models, frustrate and victimize them, and teach them that aggression is acceptable and successful. (p. 47) As our society becomes more violent, as more children are bullied, as more are victimized, as the news keeps amplifying these incidents, it only stands to reason that increases in aggression will continue as the world “mirrors back” violent mental models. Fortunately there are many ways to intervene so as to disrupt this cycle, but they all require a focused intent and an open willingness to make consistent choices that many parents can’t make because they don’t have the necessary information and that many professional don’t make because it is too difficult to help parents to make choices that are considered “weird” or “different” from the mainstream.

After finishing the Introduction section most readers will sit back and say to themselves: What in the world are we doing to our children? How can we stop this madness?

Luckily the book answers these questions.

The next section discusses three important studies. If the language is too technical, the authors have provided an “in a nutshell” explanation of each study. By reading the one-two page brief, readers can understand what happened and consider the implications. I love the questions that the authors include: “What worries us? What gives us hope?” For instance in one study, what worries us is that no one is immune to media violence. Yet, what gives us hope is that Again, parents are in a powerful position. Setting limits on the amount and content of screen media appears to be a protective factor for children. Truly, our work with families can be the most transformative work we do. For every child who grows up not playing violent video games means that the larger social structure is impacted by more peace and sanity and that the next generation will have greater possibilities for bringer even more peace and sanity to the family, the community, and the world.

Reading Section 3 helps to think about important consideration and once again, the urgent need for action. After all, the authors are first and foremost researchers and have at their fingertips it seems ways to connect the dots so that the reader cannot but help to be motivated to do something! For instance, they distinguish between old and new violent media. I did this as well in my book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. However, since 1999 when that book was published, violent video game entertainment has gotten much more sophisticated and certainly more available to younger children. The questions and points raised by Anderson and his colleagues in considering the differences and issues between older and the newer forms can help the reader understand the processes involved, in the challenges, as well as in the solutions. This entire section, to me, is like taking a retreat and reflecting on important issues in order to determine one’s priorities. One can get renewed commitment and feelings of energy for the issue by contemplating the compelling ideas the authors discuss.

I am very grateful that they refute the catharsis argument-that playing violent video games can help youngster “get out” their aggression. Nothing could be further from the truth. Citing brain research-we do know that repeating experiences is one effective way to learn them-the authors squelch this myth. They also point out that aggression is not a drive, but learned behavior, and that violent video games cannot help “vent” because catharsis carries with it feelings of pity and fear. In other words, the player must also identify with the victim and understand the entire narrative. Players are identifying with the murder. With such a reinforcing metacognitive script, there is no catharsis.

It takes a book to explain this issue. It takes long sentences, technical ideas, and complex ideas. It takes well-thought out, impeccably conducted research studies. Therefore, the suggestions given at the end of the book are sound and good ones. But they are the “what” of the situation, not the “how.” These suggestions have been given for over fifty years now and so few can make them a part of their lives. For instance, telling parents and grandparents: Don’t allow access to violent video games, is absolutely important. Yet, in our work with thousands of parents as educators and parent coaches, we know that most moms, dads, grandparents, and care-givers are not doing this even though they are well-intentioned and love the children. The reasons for this are as complex as the effects of violent video games. I would encourage these researchers to begin here with the next research imperative: Since we know violent entertainment is harmful, what works to assist parents, grandparents, and care-givers to make the daily, tough secondary choices that align with their fundamental choice to limit the harmful effective of violent media entertainment?

Copyright Gloria DeGaetano, 2010. All Rights Reserved,

Parenting Advice – Help! My Child is Addicted to Video Games

Video gaming is an industry that is close to 35 years old and continuing to grow each and every year. The growth in purchases is being matched by the improvements in technology. What was state of the art just 2 years ago is being trashed by gamers for the newest and greatest gaming systems.

Video games are also becoming more realistic and exciting which makes them popular with children and youth. Surveys have determined that approximately 79% of American children now play computer or video games on a regular basis. And most of the games on the market today are aimed at the population of children between 7 and 17.

In another study from the Netherlands based firm Junior Senior Research, video games are a part of the daily activity of nearly 61% of a population of boy and girls up to age 15. Interestingly though, in this study of nearly 4,000 children 65% preferred playing games on the computer and not a game console.

The growth of the gaming industry has not been without controversy. Although more research information appears to be available for television than gaming the initial results seem to bare out the theory that children who are involved in aggressive or hostile video games are more likely to become involved in physical aggression in real life.

Video games have a rating system that helps parents to understand the level of violence and sexual content in the game before it’s purchased. Most video games do have positive aspects to playing them. Children learn problem solving skills, improved concentration with distractions and the ability to strategize.

However, those games which belong to the subset that feature violence, gore and antisocial behaviors have raised concern with parents, educators, advocates and medical professionals. The result of this has been rounds of congressional hearings, policy debates and continued research into the outcomes for children and young adults.

In the past organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all conducted research which shows scientific evidence that children who watch violent television are more likely to have aggressive behavior. Researchers theorize that those who play aggressive video games are even at higher risk because the games are interactive and not passive, each game is repetitive as children go through the same levels to reach the next achievement, and because rewards increase the ability of the person to learn and the video games give rewards to the participants.

In an analysis of 35 different studies, which looked at violence in video games and the behavior of those who played, researchers found several interesting correlations. When watching violent games the physiological response of the person was elevated. This means that the game triggered increased heart rates and blood pressure. The exposure to these violent games also increased the aggressive thoughts and emotions of the children in the short term. In a study of 8th and 9th graders students who played violent games were also more likely to see the world as a hostile place. They got into more arguments with teachers and were involved in more physical fights.

It has been suggested that video games aren’t the culprit in these situations. Instead children who are naturally more aggressive are drawn to video games and television shows that are more violent. While this factor may have some truth it isn’t the whole truth. In another study the researchers measured hostility traits, controlled for sex and hostility levels and the amount of video game playing and still found that students who played violent games were still more likely to be involved in aggressive behavior, no matter what their previous hostility trait level had been.

The last correlation found was that those children who were exposed on a consistent basis to violent video games had a decreased ability to have compassion for others as measured by their willingness to positively help others in need.

In the aftermath of Columbine High School shootings, then President Bill Clinton, asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the validity of accusations that manufacturers of video games that were rated “M” for violence were deliberately marketing to younger children. The report, which was released in 2000, found that 70% of the games at the time that were rated “M” were deliberately marketed to children under the age of 17. This confirmed that although the games warranted parental caution they were being marketed in an irresponsible manner.

But the vast majority of video games available today aren’t violent. Instead they are legitimately aimed at the youth and may even have some educational value in playing them. There are games that teach problem solving skills, eye hand coordination, strategy development and planning.

Parents of school age and teen age children are often faced with two dilemmas. The first relates to the violence of the games that are marketed to our children. The second relates to the amount of time that children sit in front of televisions and video games wiling away their time watching other people live theirs.

The vast majority of the research done on video games has been on the effects of watching and interacting with violent games but there has also been research done on children who watch television consistently and the results may be extrapolated to those who also sit for hours in front of a hand-held screen of flashing images. Researchers from the University of California link watching television from 2 to 4 hours per day to increased risks of high blood pressure and obesity.

The results of this study should be self-evident. We are designed to be active and release energy. Sitting in front of a computer, hand-held gaming system or television only leads to decrease metabolism, poor food choices and weight gain. All of these things lead to poor overall health.

The question about whether or not children should play video games is a question that must be answered on an individual basis by the people who know them best, their parents. Some children exhibit characteristics of an addictive personality early and will find it difficult to get away from the games while others may only play while they’re on car trips or it’s raining outside. Parents should be intentional when they make their decision about getting computer games or a gaming system. Be prepared to make rules before the games are purchased and stick to those rules.

Video Games Affecting Children Negatively

Previous studies that have been published that clearly show how violent video games that children play can affect them in a negative manner. In fact, since the turn of the new millennium there have been several studies completed on this issue and the results have all been the same as shown in such issues as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

One such study even went into such detail as to prove that the more graphic the violence in the video games, then the higher the chance of the thoughts and behavior of the child being aggressive. This aggressive behavior was found not only to be found during game play, but it surfaced into more long-term behavior problems for the child where there was a real life impact left on relationships with others due to the aggressiveness of the child.

No matter what type of video game the child is playing, they become the main character within the game or as some psychologists refer to it as the “first person.” In the majority of these video games the main character will be the aggressor and thus, the child sees the video game world through the eyes of the character and takes on their personality. Many of these children are in a pretend world of their own when ever they are playing these video games, but the problem comes when they are allowed to be so aggressive within the video games that they do not comprehend pretend and real life.

The worst effects is that the video games places weapons within the hands of the children to enlighten the impact that the character has when ever attempting to destroy his enemy. This only causes the child to become that much more emotionally involved within the video game and the character. The child begins to enjoy destroying the bad guys as the video game becomes more and more addictive to them.

Research studies have shown that as a negative result, the child begins developing behavior that is considered to be some what violent and aggressive by experts. The behavior of the child will continue to deteriorate as they begin assuming within their own little heads that others have similar thoughts as they do, which focus around violence and aggression. The studies also showed that the video games that the children were playing that were violent were a way of programming the violent behaviors within the children over and over again. The result made the aggressive behavior easier to show up in real life unexpectedly.

Other research studies have demonstrated that video games with violent content teach juveniles an unmoral disregard for the value of others, their property rights, and the lives of others as well. They teach the children to see the world as if every one is out to get me, which places them on the defensive and makes them react violent due to feeling unsafe. These addictive video games teaches the children to fight with knives and guns against others in extremely aggressive manners while receiving positive reinforcement from the game for each kill. The kills themselves are explicit with blood, gore, and mayhem such as exploding body parts that also stimulates the child’s brain.