When Ramon Rivera brought his six-year-old son Christian to a Newburgh GameStop store earlier this month, he said he was concerned that the boy might be exposed to violence while playing video games.
“And then he’ll probably start acting the same way that they’re acting [in the game],” he said.
Christian left with a copy of NBA Live 2K10, a basketball game, but the boy had gone into the store with a much different outcome in mind.
“What was the name of that game you asked for?” Rivera asked his son. “You told the guy that you wanted it and he said it was no good for you; it had a lot of violence in it.”
“Grand Theft Auto,” Christian replied.
Rivera said, “He [the GameStop employee] told me it has a lot of bad stuff going on in there.”
|Grand Theft Auto III, 2001|
Rivera shares a concern held by many parents: Are violent video games, as Rivera suggests, a factor in children committing real life violence?
“There’s a lot of research on the subject,” said Dr. Paul Schwartz, a professor of Psychology at Mount Saint Mary College in
violent video game viewing is not beneficial to the health and development of
“But what it comes down to is … there’s always been a boogieman for kids and adolescents. It used to be rock n’ roll, then it was television, then it was computers, [now] it’s violent video games.”
Schwartz says that just like any hobby, gaming can be a normal part of an adolescent’s life. Imagine a 14-year-old boy who plays on the school’s soccer team, is a member of the school band, and also plays video games both alone and with his friends for about an hour each day.
“There’s no evidence that that, in any way, would be a trigger for him to act in a violent manner,” said Schwartz. “There is no specific research that says, ‘Here’s [an adolescent]. He plays Grand Theft Auto; now he’s going to look to buy a black market 9mm gun and go out and shoot
However, that doesn’t mean that parents should allow children equal access to kid-friendly titles like Super Mario Galaxy and bloody shooting games like the Call of Duty series.
“We’re very, very complex. And people don’t like complexity and certainly psychologists don’t like complexity. So we look to find some causative factors,” said Schwartz. “But just because there’s some level of correlation doesn’t mean that one causes the other. There may be a correlation between kids who play violent video games and their being violent, but the question remains: Are the video games the cause of the violence? Or the fact is that these kids are violent, and that’s why they play violent video games?
“These are all unanswered questions.”
Schwartz said that violence in movies, games and television programs is prevalent in today’s society. It’s impossible to know which children might find such violence to be a cathartic experience and which children might act more violently as a direct result of consuming such media.
Like the GameStop employee who said that Grand Theft Auto games aren’t appropriate for young children like Christian Rivera, Schwartz agreed that adolescents should be exposed to age-appropriate material. Fortunately for parents, there’s a video game rating system that mirrors the one used for films. On the front of every game dating back to approximately 1995, in the bottom left corner, is a rating: “E” for Everyone, “E10+” for Everyone 10 and Up, “T” for Teen, “M” for Mature, meaning for players 17 or older, or “AO” for adults only. On the back of the game is a list of specific content that a parent might find objectionable, from “comic mischief” to “intense violence.”
For those wondering, Grand Theft Auto titles have consistently earned a “Mature” rating since the original offering in 1997.
Rivera said he’s worried about his young son’s mind, but what about his body? What about the physical effects of gaming?
Daniel Valentin, a 26-year-old secondary education teacher at
High School in
has been a gamer since the age of four or five. He says he routinely
experiences pain in his hands, wrists and thumbs. Bardonia, N.Y.
“Gaming pains are the worst. Monkey Ball on the 3DS busted my thumb and 50 hours of Soul Calibur has officially given me joint pain in my wrists and the base of my fingers,” he said. “Very few understand the plight of the gamer.”
This reporter suffered similar, recurring injuries after approximately 240 hours and 1,700 online bouts of Street Fighter IV and its successor, Super Street Fighter IV.
Though not everyone experiences repetitive motion injuries from gaming, there’s a simple way for parents to help prevent them from happening: Set a reasonable limit on your child’s play time. It’s also a good way to help your child develop in a balanced manner, said Schwartz.
“Video games can be a hobby. Video games can be an outlet. Video games can be a very positive social interaction. Why is gaming any more negative than stamp collecting; people spending three or four hours a day with stamps or coins?” he said. “The downside of gaming would be the downside of any extensive amount of time in front of a screen.
“If you spend five hours a day in front of your computer screen… than that’s negative because it limits your time face to face with friends, your other interaction time, and it keeps you for five hours in front of a computer screen – and we know about childhood and adolescent obesity.
“It’s like anything else: It can be very positive if done in moderation and there are other outlets.”
However, there’s one segment of the population, said Schwartz, who might benefit from many hours of gaming.
“Video games would be great for somebody who is old and retired,” he said, “because they can sit for five hours a day in front of a video screen and then go out and take a walk for an hour because that’s all they need [as mature adults]. But developing adolescents need more,” especially face to face social interaction and old fashioned family time.
While Christian looked over his new basketball software in the GameStop parking lot, Rivera said he wished he knew more about gaming so that he could make more informed choices for his son.
There’s a simple strategy parents can follow to do just that: Sit down and play video games with your children. One can learn a lot from the type of games a child prefers and the way he or she plays them. If nothing else, your child will enjoy some quality social interaction and family time – and it doesn’t take a psychologist to understand the benefits of that.