December 14, 2004
by Orrin Schonfeld
Are the video games on your kids' Christmas lists harmful to their mental health? With a new crop of games on store shelves, researchers are still split on the matter.
Several video game clips were shown on Capitol Hill by a group concerned about what you can do in them: commit carjackings, ask women to take off their bikinis, or recreate the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
David Walsh of The National Institute On Media And The Family wanted to warn parents. "If there are games out there and if adults play them that's fine. But they're not games for kids."
Iowa State psychology professor Douglas Gentile, research director for the institute, has found that kids can get games rated "M" for mature even though they're not supposed to. "When I send kids as young as seven into stores to go buy or rent these games, in one out of two cases, the kid walks out with the game, no questions asked."
Gentile also surveyed eighth and ninth graders about what kinds of games they play, and measured their innate hostility. Kids who played games they considered violent were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior like getting into fights. "These violent video games seem to have an effect both on the kids who are already at risk for aggressive and anti-social behavior, but also on the kids who are not already at risk."
But free speech advocate Marjorie Heins says such behavior could be caused by something other than video games. Author of the book Not in Front of the Children, she reviewed the body of scientific work on violent video games. "The majority of studies have not shown statistically significant effects."
She also points out that any effect of video games has not shown up in crime statistics. "The whole phenomenon of violent video games in the 1990s was accompanied by dramatically declining rates of violent youth crime."
She’s among those who think that getting their aggression out in the form of games might actually benefit kids. Gentile is getting ready to publish a new study that he says shows aggressive behavior increases over time in who kids play violent games.
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