There are very few forms of media with a worse rep than video games. They have been blamed for everything from childhood obesity to mass murder. If you listen to the news, you may be wondering if you should allow your kids to play video games at all.
Video games are an easy target. When something bad happens, the news media can rage against them without having to really examine the situation. Politicians can then target them to show they are doing something to keep those bad things from happening again.
Is that rage and blame justified? Are video games really that bad?
Violent Video Games
The debate over violence in video games began in earnest in 1992 with the release of Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat was a fighting game that gives the winning player the opportunity to perform a “Fatality”. This is an ultra-violent move that results in the gruesome death of the losing character.
As the video game industry has grown and advanced, so has the violence. Each new hardware cycle brings more power for developers to create more graphic situations, both violent and otherwise. This has led many to blame violent video games for massacres ranging from Columbine in 1999 to the Norway attacks in 2011.
The problem is there is conflicting evidence on how much of a role violent video games play in these situations. Some studies find a link, others do not. However, there is one piece of data that is very telling.
The video game industry has been growing tremendously over the last few decades. It is projected to hit $70 billion by 2015. And, as I mentioned, the technology has allowed the games to become more graphic and violent. So, if there is a correlation between violent video games and violent behavior, I would expect violent crime to increase as well. However, this is not the case.
According to the FBIs Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime has declined since 1994, “reaching the lowest rate ever in 2009.” I admit this is not proof video games have no affect. It does tell me, though, they have less affect than the news media or politicians want you to believe.
When it comes down to it, I do not believe violent video games directly lead to violent behavior.
Choosing Non-Violent Games
However, I would never allow my 4-year old to play something violent. She just cannot handle it yet. The good news is, I have choices.
Violent video games make up a small portion of all video games released in a year. The ESRB (the organization that gives video games their content rating) rated 1,332 games in 2011. 9% of those games received an M rating, which is equivalent to an R rating for a movie. A full 65% (886 games) received a rating of E or E10+ (G and PG).
As a parent, you know what your kids can and cannot handle better than anyone else. I know my daughter is too young to be exposed to violent games. So I do not play them with or around her. But there are still a ton of games I can enjoy with her.
With that said, there is one more question about video games that needs to be answered.
They may not make my child violent, but won’t video games turn him/her into an overweight slob, with no job, eating Cheetos while staring at the TV in my basement when they are 40?
I will address that question tomorrow.