Based on recent research, it’s clear that teens (as well as adults) are spending more and more time immersed in the worlds of video games. These virtual fantasy worlds can challenge our minds to be creative, solve problems, and learn lessons like no other tool in history. Many of the games are so well produced that you can feel like you’re driving a race car, flying through space, or feeling the recoil of a high-powered rifle.
I started playing video games when pong came along in the 70’s. I thought it was even cooler than my 8 lane tapes! When Pac-Man came out shortly after my 16th birthday in the early ’80s, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my time between classes in high school. In the late 1980s, strategy/RPGs like Ultima and Balance of Power challenged me to think. I loved the thrill of winning after hundreds of hours of fighting.
However, in the early 1990s, action games like Dune and first-person shooters like Wolfenstein emerged. The latest games like Quake, Half-Life and System Shock are graphically real and mentally absorbing in their stories, you’re not just playing anymore, you’re part of the game.
These game worlds have very few laws (if any!) that govern what happens within them. It’s a dynamic that is limited only by the designer’s imagination and the player’s desire to be engrossed in fantasy. There is no holographic policeman in the virtual world to enforce what is right. Players must do what is right in their own eyes. This freedom to influence our children worries many parents.
Two studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on April 23, 2000 (Read the article for yourself on Violent Video Games May Increase Aggression) This article clearly demonstrates that violent video games negatively affect the behavior of those who play them. One study showed that graphically violent video games produce an immediate increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviors. The other study found that violent games not only increased aggressive behavior, but also had a long-term, real-life impact on player behavior and relationships.
Psychology professors Craig Anderson of the University of Missouri, Columbia, and Karen Dill of Lenoir-Rhyne College conducted the study on 227 undergraduate college volunteers drawn from introductory psychology courses. They found that violent computer games affect the player in the following ways:
1. The player identifies with the aggressor. In “first person” video games, the player assumes the identity of the shooter and sees the world through the character’s eyes. In effect, the game puts the weapon in the hands of the player to increase the impact of the game when the player kills the enemy. They found that players became emotionally invested in their character and “enjoyed” killing bad guys. (It’s one thing to see the “Terminator” work, it’s another thing to be the terminator.)
As a consequence of identifying with the aggressor:
a) the player develops positive attitudes towards the use of violence;
b) the player develops expectations that others will behave aggressively;
c) the player assumes that others have similar attitudes of aggression;
d) the player comes to believe that violent solutions are effective and appropriate for solving life’s problems.
2. The player actively participates in the violence. These studies found that playing violent video games is a way to rehearse violent behavior and makes it easier to bring that behavior to life. If you practice basketball shots thousands of times, you will get better at scoring. If you practice killing thousands of times, you’ll get better at that too. Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been playing “first-person shooters” for more than a year before that fateful day. When it was time to “play the game” in the real world, they were ready.
As a result of actively participating in violence:
a) The player develops a total disregard for social norms, property rights, and even the general value of other lives;
b) The player sees the world as a violent and unsafe place (everyone is after you);
c) The player learns that aggressive actions against others, such as fighting and shooting, may be appropriate, even necessary.
3. Violent video games are addictive. For aggressive performance, players receive constant and immediate reinforcement in the form of visual and auditory (sensory) stimulation during a kill. With special effects like exploding body parts, blood, gore, and general chaos, it provides an excellent environment to learn about aggression.
As a result of the addictive nature of violent video games:
a) Excessive exposure contributes to aggressive personality traits in the player, and continuing to play can make an already aggressive person even more aggressive;
b) The player becomes more aggressive, changes his way of seeing life and socialization, and tends to socialize with others who show similar attitudes of aggression;
c) Players’ socialization with non-aggressive teachers, parents and peers is likely to degenerate.
The more realistic the games, the stronger the negative impact. If you notice your child developing aggressive attitudes toward others, you may need to evaluate his video games and other forms of entertainment. These two studies validate the likelihood that your child will become more aggressive, irritable, and possibly even violent if he plays violent video games.
The Apostle Paul admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Paul warns us that subjecting our minds to what is contrary to the Scriptures will undermine our Christian lives.