Electronic, Video and computer games have become extremely popular among people and children from different age groups. These games are collectively called as ‘Gaming’ and the gaming industry is worth more than 46.5 billion USD in 2008. The gaming industry seems to be research proof since the industry has seen a growth of 11.4 CAGR. There are a wide variety of game genres and probably hundreds of game developing companies, each vying for attention in a fast changing world. It must be noted that the ‘life’ of a computer game is short, sometimes less than a few days to a month when the maximum sales take placed. Developers typically spend millions of dollars in creating the games and the best way to get the attention of customers is to provide the best in artwork, music, storyline, game play, weapons and unfortunately violence. While the popularity of the games is well known, however it has been often alleged that the violence in the games, hardens and incites young teens to regard violence and destructive behavior as normal. There have been a chorus of voice that have called for violence in video games to be controlled and brought down. There are also supporters who argue that video games are actually good tools for learning and help children to increase their mental abilities faster. This paper examines the harmful effect of games on children’s health and if all games should be branded as violent or there are only a few games that can incite violence in children.
Background and Rationale for the Research
Right from childhood, boys and girls take up to playing games and while boys may play soldiers or make believe war games, girls prefer to play with dolls and houses. Children behaved all these centuries in that way. The games usually involved physical activity, jumping, climbing and mainly interacting with other buddies. These games encouraged social interactions and behaviors. However, computer and video games have changed the whole concept of gaming.
Devlin (January 2009) reports that people who play games regularly are more likely to consume drugs, speak less with their family and also suffer from a low self esteem. The author reported the results of a survey where 800 students from a university were surveyed. The results showed a negative trait and behavior associated with students who played action violent games. It was seen that students who played games on alternate days were 10% more likely to take drugs and consume alcohol. Students who played every day had three times more chances of using cannabis when compared to the students who did not play games at all. Female gamers as the study found out, had less inclination to play violent games but those that did play for longer hours suffered from low self-esteem, had behavioral problems with their parents and indulged in occasional drinking and casual sex. The study concluded, “The striking part is that everything we found clustered around video-game use is negative.”
Nightingale (August, 2008) has reported that the Internet with its online games has become a veritable playground and killing field for children. The author reports that in the age group of 5 to 7, about 59% of the children access the Internet where they search for toons, popular cartoon games, dressing up games and so on. Often the children access the net without parental supervision and end up opening up adult themed online games. While the children may to too young to understand what is being shown on the screen, they are known to ask very inappropriate and disturbing questions to their mothers. The mothers are naturally alarmed and decide to block all access to the net, which is a wrong thing to do. It is better that a parent or an elder sibling should be around to guide the child. The author has emphasized that while many Internet based games help children to understand simple maths, understand concepts of mixing colours, science and so on, care should be taken with online games.
The understanding developed until now is that while some genres computer games are harmful when played in excess, there are other computer games that can be used for education and entertainment.
Crawford (2006) points out that electronic games are available in different forms such as hand held devices, mobile phones and devices; computer based games; special gaming devices such as Xbox, Gameboy, Play station and many more. These games have achieved a mass following because of the fantasy and role playing elements along with the action that one feels while playing. The game player is basically competing against the computer in offline games and the computer would offer increasing levels of difficulty and resistance, as specified by the coding used by the game developer. The player finds mental stimulation in fighting and playing against the machine and some players find this a way to relax after a hard days work or study. In online games, a number of players form a group or guild and play against themselves and against the computer. One would say that all this is fun and certainly there is not harm in shooting up poorly rendered animals in 2 dimension, or racing with a car against other opponents. Certainly no one would call card playing or even chess played on the computer as addictive or that incite violence. The characters that showed up on the low resolution screens were stick like figure and there was no feeling of having actually killed or shot a being. A sense of remoteness was present between the computer screen and the player.
All this changed with the development of 3D games and the availability of Active X controls and DirectDraw software along with high-speed processors, huge amounts of disc space and high resolution monitors. The games became graphic and very realistic. So, when a person was shot on the screen, the developer could show gore such as blood, bits of exploding chunks of flesh and so on. Such features should create revulsion among people but to the gamer, they create a sense of fantasy and reality. Such violent games with highly realistic levels of immersive scenery and game play, with powerful weapons such as cannons and rocket launchers and mounted on fire breathing dragons create a fantasy world from which an ill adjusted and unsupervised child would not want to leave. This leads to addiction that is harmful for the child and it can make the child unsocial, prone to violence, to take up drugs and alcohol and so on, just as the hero in the game is glorifying in (Derbyshire, 2008).
While it is true that TV and films also have such violent themes, there has never been a question of which is more harmful, TV, movies or computer games. Just to answer this question, one would have to agree that games have a harmful effect on children and this is the main theme of the paper.
There are different genres of games and children play a number of them. However, research has shown that children have a marked preference for violence/ fantasy/ human violence games with 49% people playing such games. Next is sport based games with 29%; general entertainment with 20% children playing and them the last major genre is educational games and just 2% people play such games, Therefore the trend is that there is a marked trend of popularity for games that promote and propose violence and extreme violence (Stromberg, 2008).
A survey and study was carried out among 210 students who were made to play a violent action game, Wolfenstein 3D with graphic killing sequences. Psychological tests were given both at the beginning of the game and after 15 minutes of game play, to test the level of aggression. The players were also told that they could punish and punch their opponents by with a sound horn that emitted a loud blast. It was concluded that the aggression levels of players became very high after playing and their responses to words such as blood, kill, stab, dismember and other violent words were very strong. They also tended to punch their opponents with louder noise blasts. Other similar studies have reported that there is a ‘priming factor’ in such games and people who had natural high levels of aggression tended to be more aggressive after playing violent games. As the player grows older, the study reported that he tends to acquire aggressive levels of games and even to acquire instruments and guns that could be useful in real life conflicts. The author implies that such disturbed students with high aggression may take up to school shootings that have tragically consumed many innocent lives across different schools and universities (Derbyshire, 2008).
The review has thus shown that violent games tend to increase aggression levels and are thus harmful to the children’s health. More in-depth research would therefore be taken to examine this area.
The research question that is proposed is “Do all ‘games’ have a harmful effect on children’s health or if only a few game genres and game types deserve this notoriety”.
The methodology used would be secondary research along with detailed analysis and review of peer-reviewed literature. A through and extensive review of published literature and practices on call centers, off shoring, requirements would be undertaken. A list of key words was prepared for the topic and a search was conducted using online libraries such as Questia, Thomas Gale and ProQuest. Content was obtained from these archives and some printed publications, and the content was sorted to find their appropriateness for the research questions. A list of keywords was then created and the required content was read and interpreted and the analysis along with the implications was written down in this paper.
How this paper is organised
- Chapter 2: Methodology: The chapter gives a brief overview of qualitative and quantitative research and explains where they can be used.
- Chapter 3. Game Genres and Game Reviews. The chapter provides a brief review of the current game genres and reviews of a few popular and extremely violent games. The chapter would help in understanding how games are arranged according to different categories. The review of some games would show the kind of interactions players perform and the level of violence.
- Chapter 4. Researchers Views about Gaming: The chapter provides details of the what researchers, psychologists and experts feel about gaming. Various studies from research publications are also given.
- Chapter 5. Conclusions: The chapter provides a set of conclusion and answers the research question.
The term Methodology refers to the approach taken for the research process, from the theoretical framework, hypothesis to gathering and analyzing of data. The term method refers to the various means by which data can be collected and analyzed. The methodological assumption is concerned with the process of the research, from the theoretical underpinning to the collection and analysis of the data (Silverman, 2001).
Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Studies that use data cover areas of economic study, unemployment, health of the economy, scientific study, patterns of demography and others. Different type of data is collected using methods such as databases, reliable government studies, secondary research published in peer reviewed journals, experiments, observations, interviews and others. Data that is collected can be designated into two basic categories, quantitative and qualitative. This also formulates what type of research a study will be conducting: quantitative or qualitative. Denzin (2000) described quantitative research as “the research which gathers data that is measurable in some way and which is usually analyzed statistically”. This type of data is mainly concerned with how much there is of something, how fast things are done, and so on. The data collected in this instance is always in the form of numbers. In order to obtain quantitative data, one should have a specific framework about what has to be researched, what should be known, types of inputs that are admissible and so on. Such an approach can help in designing the questionnaire, make observations and so on. Denzin also defined qualitative research as “the research that gathers data that provides a detailed description of whatever is being researched”. Both types of research have their supporters and detractors and while some claim that quantitative research is much more scientific, others argue that qualitative research is required to examine a specific issue in depth.
Researchers who support that quantitative research argue that numerical data can be statistically analyzed and in this way, it can be established whether it is valid, reliable and whether it can be generalized. By using numerical data, these numbers can be used to compare between other studies, which also use the same numbers, the same scales, etc. With qualitative research, it is not so easily possible to achieve this result, as no specific method or scale of measurement is kept. This is the main disadvantage of qualitative research, as findings cannot be generalized to larger populations with a large degree of certainty and validity. The reason that this happens is because their findings are not tested and evaluated statistically in order to establish whether they are due to chance or whether they are statistically significant and to what extent. Another advantage of quantitative to qualitative research is that qualitative research is descriptive and many times subjective too, as it depends on the researcher’s perspective or how the research registers certain behaviors. Another researcher conducting the same study may observe the qualitative data, which is given in a completely different way. Quantitative research does not show this disadvantage as all the data is in the form of numbers and, therefore, it may be translated in only one possible way, that which is given from the objective value of each specific number. However, qualitative research has many advantages to offer too, which are not offered through quantitative research. It is usually through such type of research that a rich, in-depth insight can be given into an individual or a group, by being far more detailed and by recognizing the uniqueness of each individual. This type of research realizes the importance of the subjective feelings of those who are studied (Denzin, 2000).
Qualitative research analysis does not have to fall into the pitfall of being ‘forced’ to have all its values into certain numerical categories. It is clear that not all phenomena can always be adequately assigned a numerical value, and when this does happen, they lose much of their naturalistic reality. Qualitative research can simply describe a data for what it actually is without having to assign it to a number. Qualitative research can give attention to occurrences, which are not so common. For example, it is very difficult to find enough participants to conduct statistical correlations between nations on women being more accident prone and indulging in rash driving because women will not be willing to be used for such studies. In such cases, quantitative research is impossible and it is only through qualitative research that such cases can be examined in depth and conclude to specific findings and results (Byrne, 2002).
Game Genres and Game Reviews
For the research question to be answered and analyzed, an examination of different game genres and game types would be done first. Next some notoriously violent games that have become very popular have been briefly reviewed to understand why these games are dangerous, what they expect the player to do and the extent of brutality and aggression that is forced upon the player.
Game genres are a categorization of the games according to the platform or machine, on which they are played, theme, game play, plot and so on. Some of the main genres are discussed in this section.
The first classification is the media or the device on which the game is played and this is often called the platform. Shown below is a partial list of different devices or platforms on which games are created.
The above list would include educational, entertainment and violent games also and there is no rule about a particular game genre being made for a certain device. However, a game made for one platform and supplied on a CD ROM would not be playable on another platform unless the developer has released the game for another platform. The actual classification is done by the type of game play and story. As an example, movies are classified into different categories such as romance, comedy, western, historic, horror, tragedy, adult, children and so on. Following figure shows the brad type of genres available in games.
The violent games genre that are the subject of this paper are ”First Person Shooter; Tactical Shooters; Horror”. Developers have started creating multiple genre games so that a game would be a first person shooter with a horror theme. First person shooter – FPS place the player at the front, giving him control over the weapons. The player can then use a variety of weapons to destroy, maim and cripple the opponents.
This section has provided some extracts from different game guides of popular games. All these games have become very popular with mass following.
- Review of Resident Evil 4: “Just killing the critters wont suffice as the parasites start crawling out and you need to kill these as well. The Regenerators take forever to kill as they keep spawning each time they fall and they spread the parasites by biting. The iron maidens have spikes with parasites that burst open and infect. When the villagers and critters die, they leave goodies in the form of health packs, ammo and money. So, be sure to pick the loot as it comes handy. Krauser is very hard to kill and it moves very fast and uses his knife with incredible speed. No point is skimping on ammo when fighting with it. The best way with this creature and others is to aim for the legs and knock them down and then go for the finish, by blowing the brains out in a mass of sticky gore that clings to your shoes”.
- Review of Manhunt: “In this game you play as James Earl Cash, a convicted serial killer who was supposed to have been executed but was saved and is now in the deathly abandoned Carcer City. The boss of the city Lionel Starkweather has saved him and he makes killer movies that depict actual footage of people killing each other. Lionel has promised James his freedom if he completed some tasks and these include killing gangsters and anyone who come in the way. Rather hide in the shadows, without making a sound and get them from behind as they com. There are a number of stealth weapons such as plastic bag that you pull on the enemy and watch him choke to death. Then there is the glass shard that James slits throats with and makes the blood spout out and the spike that you can stab with. There is also the garrotte, hammer, chainsaw, crowbar, hammer, meat cleaver, nail gun and many others. The chainsaw is the favorite of Pigsy one of the main bosses who you kill in the last scene, Deliverance. James can grab the chainsaw and push it in the stomach of an enemy and hold it there till the victim withers away in a torrent of blood and entrails”.
- Review of Soldier of Fortune – Payback: “This is the latest in the series from the SoF franchise. The game allows you to perform ‘vivisections’ and graphic dismemberments with incredibly powerful guns and arms and legs of enemies are chopped off, heads explode like watermelons with the gray matter spilling in disgustful gobs. The game was actually banned in Australia and recently got approved after the dismemberment features were disabled. There are attachments for the weapons and they allow you to target specific parts of the body and dismember them. The reward and achievement system is designed to bring the worst in you and “The Black Knight” reward is given if during a single match, you shoot off the 4 limbs of the enemies; “Butcher” reward if you get 100 knife kills; “Head of the Class” reward if you get 100 headshots; “Not enough Milk” reward if you manage 500 dismemberments through the campaign and so on”.
- Review of Grand Theft Auto IV: “The hero kills, sells drugs, steals cars, has a nice time with ladies and so on. Playing GTA IV sort of hardens you so that killing people in cold blood seems a casual thing. In the mission ‘Out of the Closet’, you will meet a character called French Tom, have dinner with him and when you want to kill him, you just stand and shoot. When Nikko is injured, he can recuperate with health kits, sleeping and eating and even using an ‘escort service’ where some stunning babes service him. The game is filled with mindless violence we see everyday in films but since you are actually doing the shooting, garroting, stabbing, selling drugs to make money or running down a target with your car, this becomes dangerous to the psyche”.
A young and impressionable child who plays such games for many hours each day, gets totally immersed and starts regarding the psychopathic killer heroes as role models. The result is is that children get corrupted morally and begin to think of violence as the easy way to escape from a difficult situation.
The chapter has examined some genres of different computer games and the games can be categorized as per the platform on which they are available and the theme and storyline. Some four extremely violent and notorious games have been reviewed. The extent of violence, brutality and horror that is unleashed is perhaps beyond the imagination of even the worst serial killers who are currently waiting death sentence. However, children of less than 10 years are allowed to play such games, hours together, often alone and unsupervised. It is difficult to imagine that the on screen violence would not have a deep effect on children. It can be argued that TV and films show secondary violence that is someone else committing the acts. With gaming, it is the child who can initiate the violence, control the swing of the axe or the chain saw and thus there is a virtual killing allowed. These are the impressions formed by the student while researching this paper.
The next section would provide the view of experts, psychologists and researchers from this field.
Researchers Views about Gaming
Researchers and critics of computer games have been overtly critical of the dangers of electronic games. Among the dangers mentioned are bad posture related problems, carpel tunnel syndrome due to constant and repetitive motion, sedentary lifestyle habits combined with junk food that can lead to obesity. Other dangers mentioned are eyesight problems due to constant gazing at the monitor; antisocial and aggressive behavior and so on. There have also been some positive reports about the positive effects and use of gaming. This chapter presents a balanced view of both the supporters and critics of electronic games.
Pro Gaming View that supports electronic games
Schott (2006) is of the view that just because a few games are violent and have highly violent and pornographic theme, it does not mean that all the games in general are bad for health. The author reiterates that there is not conclusive linking that by playing certain violent games; the murder or assault rate has been increased by so much percentage. The author point out that gaming is a reality and a phenomenon that is going to stay until an alternate form of entertainment can be developed. They say that the so called notorious and violent games become all the more popular when governments ban them and in fact, very ordinary games that are very boring and would have faded away have become instant hits, just because the government banned them.
Schott (2006) points out that games have a certain education and therapeutic value and can be of use in training and teaching. There are a number of strategy based games that have very little violence and the focus is on the player using strategic moves in commanding armies to capture towns, use natural resources, build towns and take up trade. The Age of Empire series are the best examples and even personnel of the US defense are known to play such games. Simulation games such as Microsoft Simulator are used to teach recruits to understand the basics of flying and these games are very realistic.
Southwell (2004) mentions games such as 911 Paramedic by Legacy Interactive that is used to train and educate healthcare professionals. The game offers more than 35 medical emergencies and 40 medical tools. Players are given a very realistic facility to diagnose and treat patients. Another game called Super Monkey Ball is used by laproscopic surgeons to increase the speed and accuracy of hand coordination. The game allows doctors to practice very complicated keyhole surgery with a camera and micro tools. Games such as Dance-Dance Revolution are used by therapists as game mediated dance instruction to improve coordination among accident victims. Many other games teach children with learning disorder through stimulation techniques.
Schott (2006) comments that gaming is actually a social phenomenon with players meeting each other through online communities. Players of a particular game tend to seek out other players, pose questions when they get stuck at a particular level or when they want to give answers to others queries. Thus there is an active exchange of creative thought and such communities are usually self regulated. Spammers and people who pose obnoxious messages or ‘flame’ others are quickly kicked out. Therefore, gaming tends to foster positive relations that can help and heal.
The summary from this section is that technology is how it is put to use. Gaming also have not only and entertainment aspect but they are also used by doctors and healthcare professionals to increase their skills and knowledge so that lives could be saved.
Anti Gaming View that Critiques Gaming
Kutner (2008) conducted a research among 21 adolescents who played computer games and their parents, to find out how games were perceived by both. The study this had a total of 42 participants and all the parents and guardians lived in the same house with the child. The group was made up of one-third members from racial minority and ethnic groups. Each boy was playing games for at least 2 hours everyday while the parents did not play any games. The games had violent content such as shooting, fighting and bloodshed. These games were classified as Mature by the ESRB rating board but such games are routinely accessible to teens through their network.
Kutner (2008) used a survey instrument to understand if over a period, there were any changes in the behavior of parents and the boys. It was found that constant media exposure had made the parents wary about violent media games and they were concerned about the influence of violent content. Games with strong sexual content, nudity and graphic sexual acts were forbidden and such games were confiscated by the parents. It was reported by the parents that over a few months, the boys showed a reluctance to complete household chores such as taking out rubbish, taking the dog out, helping out in the house and so on. There were also some violent disagreements between the parents and the boys. In some instances, parents reported that there was a drop in the school attendance and in the school grades. This behavior was more so when Mature rated games were played. Parents then attempted to set stricter controls such hiding the consoles, sitting with the boys when they were playing, setting a strict limit about the number of hours that the games could be played and so on.
Olson (2008) points out that when compared to the passive media such as TV and the movies, games tended to blur the reality perceptions between reality an fantasy. Certain types of games such as ‘Bully – Scholarship Edition’, made the players to take the role of a school bully and torture nerds and other non-aggressive children. Over 4 million teachers who are members of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and other bodies have expressed great fears and anxiety about the dangers that such games can cause. The teachers have seen the harmful effects of bullying in schools and fear the deep psychological scars that such games can cause. According to the author, ESRB provides ratings for games such as E, M and legally, games rated as M – mature, should not be made available to children below a certain age. However, the ratings have little legal stand and such games are easily sold to teens and small children. The lawyer for the teen Lee Malvo was had carried fatal sniper killings in 2002 in Washington had said that the boy had taken up this kind of attack after he played many violent video games. It was later found that the boy had a long history of torturing animals, parental abandonment and violent behavior with weapons.
Qiu (2005) has written about the manner in which violent games, both online and offline are controlled in China. According to the author, the Chinese government has brought in strict regulations about how Internet would be used in the country. While the government allows and encourages the Net to be used for education, entertainment and learning, it strongly discourages all negative aspects such as pornography, violence based sites, sites that promote dissidence and so on. Much of the governing is done through cyber cafes that can act as control centers and regulate the activity. Moreover, the government has formed informal networks and online communities where parents and children can interact with government officials about accessing games. It is however not possible to bring in such measures in other countries where freedom of speech and free access to resources is protected by law.
The chapter has examined the pro and for arguments about games and the harm that they promise to young and impressionable minds. The pro arguments have shown that gaming is not a very bad idea and games have several beneficial uses. There are a number of games used by doctors to gain more practice in administering life saving processes. Therefore, games are not only about violence among children, harming children’s health and so on. The anti game group has used clinical evidence among research settings to show that constant exposure to violent games increases violent and aggressive behavior. They are of the opinion that such games should be banned because they encourage school shootings.
The whole point of banning violent video games seems to be over hyped. According to the arguments from researchers, children are corrupted by the violence and fantasy of computer games. Some children then acquire weapons and go on a killing spree. Therefore, the games should be banned. However, the argument is silent on the fact the guns are not banned but only games blamed and required to be banned. This anomaly continues to weaken the argument of violent games.
The paper has examined the theme of electronic games and the harmful effects they have on children. A research question was posed along with a number of research objectives and the paper has answered these. The research question proposed was “Do all ‘games’ have a harmful effect on children’s health or if only a few game genres and game types deserve this notoriety”. The answer to this question has been provided after due and diligent research using a balanced approach that considered both the pros and cons.
It has been seen that there are a great number of different gaming genres such as FPS, strategy, action, horror and so on. Each of these categories of games have different percentages of players and the category of Violence, fantasy and human violence had almost 49% of players. Other game categories such as education have hardly 2% of players. Therefore, violent based games are the most widely played.
The answer to the first part of the research question is No, since it has been proved that there are a number of other games that are played by doctors and children with learning disabilities. Such games are education oriented.
However, the fact remains that some children do play the extremely violent but highly popular games. It has been seen that such games do cause behavioral change patterns when children play them for long hours.
Therefore the answer to the second part of the research question is that Yes, only some genres of games deserve this notoriety. Unfortunately, such games have a mass following and they cannot be wished away. All efforts by government agencies to prevent such games from being accessed by children are thwarted as children manage to get the games.
The solution to preventing extremely violent games rests with the game developers and the media. The game development association must be shown results of an extensive study by reputed organizations. The game developers must then internally regulate the development and sale of such violent games by rogue developers. They can set up an internal governance body that would examine the games and stop the hosting of such games on well known game sites. By preventing advertisement and access, awareness of such violent games is very limited and the menace can be solved. The government needs to bring in suitable regulations that would help and support such punitive actions, without fear of reprisal of legal actions by the rogue game developers.
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