|Valdemar W. Setzer |
Professor of Computer Science
Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
University of Săo Paulo, Brazil
| George E. Duckett |
(At that time) PhD Candidate
Faculty of Education
Deakin University, Australia
Recent advances in technology have made possible a more realistic, graphic depiction in the themes of electronic games. With the advanced improvement in the presentation of the games comes an increased use of the technology to present extremely violent, bloody, and sexually explicit game scenarios. As the largest consumers of these games are children, some thought needs to be given to the effects the games are having on them.
A review of the literature into effects electronic games have on children has turned up only a small amount of data and most of that has been based on earlier research of the effects of TV on children. Little research has been done on the effects of electronic games and what has been done is inconclusive. The results of the research undertaken portray electronic games as having little or no long term effect on the users. We can find nothing to indicate that more in depth research into the use of electronic games has been undertaken or even planned. With over 10.5 Billion US Dollars spent, world wide, on electronic games for use in the home in 1993, one would think research would be undertaken to determine if the high use of the games will affect the users. But then, on the other hand, the large amounts of profit from the sale of the games may discourage any research that may prove the games are indeed detrimental to the users. We believe that the prolonged and excessive use of electronic games contribute to obsessive, addictive behaviour, dehumanization of the player, desensitizing of feelings, health problems and development of anti-social behaviour as well as other disorders as described in this paper. It is not the intent of this paper to call for the banning of games but to encourage research into the effects on the users and ask parents to monitor the games played as well as the length of time their children spend playing them. (An abstract of this paper can be found in Proceedings Vol. 2 APITITE 1992 p. 471. This paper was presented as a poster paper at the Asia Pacific Information Technology in Training and Education Conference and Exhibition, 28 June - 2 July 1994, Brisbane, Australia.)
Questions asked of Valdemar Setzer by concerned parents and teachers, attending more that 120 public lectures given by him on problems caused by TV and computers in education, is the motivating influence to the writing of this paper. There is little doubt it will be called, by some, radical and unbalanced, as it only points out what we believe to be the negative aspects of prolonged and excessive playing of electronic games. Unfortunately, we can find no research to substantiate the negative aspects presented in this paper, but on the other hand, neither is there research to support any positive ones. The authors wish to be considered "radical," as their observations and theories have led them to be totally against the use of electronic games by children until proof that there is nothing detrimental to the health and welfare of the children using them.
The thesis of this is that the prolonged and excessive use of these games can cause, mainly upon children, a number of physical and psychological problems which may include the following: * Obsessive, addictive behaviour * Dehumanization of the player * Desensitizing of feelings * Personality changes * Hyperactivity * Learning disorders * Premature maturing of children * Psychomotor disorders * Health problems a. due to lack of exercise and b. tendinitis (Space invaders Wrist or Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)) * Development of anti-social behaviour * Loss of free thinking and will. A search of the literature reveals a dearth of systematic, empirical research that has been carried out as to the effects of video games on children. This lack of systematic or evaluative research reflects an attitude of disdain from within some segments of the computer community. Whatever the reasons it is clear that one can seldom find unequivocal, empirical answers to the questions (Lepper, M.R. & Gurtner, J. 1989) asked in this paper. To further emphasize the lack of current research, the bulk of the literature available dates from the mid-70's to late-80's and cannot take into account the new technology recently made available to the producers of electronic games to enhance the presentation of the violence found in some of the most popular games today. Is the enhanced violence having an effect, and if so what is the extent of that effect? As an example, the results of one published research project, with regard to addictive behaviour, was presented in the following vague terms "While he found some who felt compelled to play, they were in the minority" (Greenfield, P.M. 1984 p. 97). No further data were given as to the percentage compelled to play. Just what is meant by a minority? Forty-nine percent is a minority; how much of a minority is enough to be of concern?
As the existing research seems to be inconclusive and without substance, not to mention somewhat out of date due, we put forth a number of observations about electronic games and their users, with special emphasis on children. By using these observations -- until in-depth, systematic, empirical research can confirm or disprove them -- this paper attempts to conceptually draw attention to the probable consequences of children using electronic games and suggests an attitude one may take. In particular we address the compulsive addiction of young people to the violent electronic video games.
Electronic games fall into the following categories: Stimulus Response (SR), Simulation and Electronic Board Games. Our focus will be on the SR game. This type of game is very popular and generally found to be of a combative model and almost always contains the following features: highly competitive scenario and high level of stimulus response activity; high level of perceived violence and high level of excitement. When playing a hand held or home computer game, the player is normally seated, head held still. One may only observe minor movements of the hand and arm of the player. (The arcade games encourage slightly more activity due to the size and location of the game, but the general outcome of playing the arcade games is the same.)
From the point of view of the observer, there is very little activity taking place. As to the sensory activity of the game player, the only senses involved are sight and hearing, and they are only marginally active. The marginal activity is due to the minimal use of most of the eye functions: the crystalline lens is not activated (constant distance to the object), as well as the pupil (constant light levels) and the muscles which produce eye movements (fixed object). The sound coming from the loudspeaker only punctuates the visual activity of the game. As there are no detailed images or sounds, only the coarse audio-visual sensory stimulus from the game is required -- no discriminating vision or hearing sensory effort is needed. Emotions are being stimulated, as one may observe, through the expressions of success or frustration displayed by the player. This activity is produced by the external stimulation of the game; it is not due to some mental representation internally created by the player, as it would have been in the case of remembering something, reading or hearing words. These feelings are artificially created by the game and have nothing to do with the "reality" of the world we live in. Let us call them "feelings of challenge." The will of the contestant is active but in a very limited way. As the movements the player is to perform are repetitive and predefined, they require little effort of thought, and there is no need to exercise the player's will power. The games are designed so the player becomes so excited that he or she does not have to make a deliberate effort to continue playing. On the contrary, the player needs a strong inner constraint to stop playing as the game exercises such a tremendous attraction.
The 'conscious thinking' of the player is diminished. One may contrast this situation to that of a chess player, where thinking is absolutely essential and motor movements secondary. In the electronic game, the latter are essential, and conscious thinking only disrupts the play because conscious thinking requires reasoning, that is, the construction of chains of thoughts, which are always slow.
Automatic and rapid motor movements, elimination of conscious thinking and self-consciousness, and feelings of challenge stimulated by exact objectives leads us to characterize the player as an automaton: a machine that transforms restricted visual impulses into extremely limited motor movements. One may imagine the player substituted, with great advantage from the point of view of winning points, by a machine. There has been research done on the influence of TV on children and adults. The effect we think is the most important and the main source of all other problems is the fact that TV induces a drowsiness, a semi-hypnotic state in the viewer (Krugman, H.E. 1971, Emery, F. & Emery M. 1976, Mander, J. 1978). The passiveness induced by TV is only partially replaced by limited motor actions of the electronic game player. We can only suppose the effects of the games as we only have personal observations to support our arguments. Until extensive research is carried out, we will not know the true extent of damage we allege is happening. It is further difficult to determine if the observations made are related to watching TV or playing games, or is the problem compounded by both?
Is it possible to understand the obsession that people feel for playing electronic games over extended periods of time? Is it because the players stop thinking about their problems or is it the excitement of the competition that fastens the player to the situation created by the game? This may be highly desirable for someone who leads a boring life, or would like to forget his unpleasant day-to-day worries and frustrations. Can we compare the addiction to electronic games to that of drugs and gambling? It is the excitement of the competition that leads us to the hypothesis that the addiction to electronic games may be a chemical addiction linked to the excitement produced by the game. The release of adrenalin or natural euphoriant chemicals may give the player a feeling of wellbeing related to the stimulus received by the game playing. One may conclude that in terms of behavior, electronic games have as a consequence the "dehumanization" and "mechanisation" of the human being. The player is reduced to the reactions typical of animals reacting to an outside stimulus, as demonstrated by Pavlov in his study of the conditioned reflex. This indicates an extremely alarming trend as it is very subtle and not readily recognizable. It's even more tragic when the player is a child or young person in the process of forming his inner capacities and thus is much more susceptible to transformation than an adult. Unlike animals, which finish their development at sexual maturity, the human being takes one quarter to one third of their lifetime to become fully physically and psychologically developed. The Waldorf method of Education, introduced in 1919 by R. Steiner and practised in some 1000 schools around the world, employs as one of its bases the concept that during approximately the first seven years of life the child is open to the outside world and uses his incredible capacity to imitate as a means to learn. From the age of about 7 up to puberty (around 14) there is continuation of the physical development, plus the development and individualization of the feelings. Finally, from about ages 14 to 21 the primary development concentrates on the abstract thinking capacities and self-consciousness.
One should not make short cuts in education as the natural, individual evolution of the human being has its own proper sequence of learning. This natural sequence, if not suitably followed, may produce unbalanced individuals, e.g., if educational activities are not based upon subjects corresponding to developmental age, they can put the learner out of sync. One of the crucial educational problems of our times is that excessive, abstract concepts are presented at the wrong age, primarily during elementary and junior high school (Setzer, V.W. 1989).
Some recent news articles published in American newspapers claim that some children addicted to electronic games spoke too fast with limited sense, feeling or contents in their speech. This suggests that those children spoke with a speed compared to the use they make of their fingers when playing the games. There is a correlation between speaking and gesturing, which may be explained by the close proximity of the motor and speech neurological centres in the brain. The fact that children do not have the fully developed, active thinking and consciousness characteristic of adults means they don't have to make any effort to "switch off" these inner activities when playing electronic games and are not "sidetracked" by outside influences that can act as a buffer to overdevelopment of or addiction to an undesirable trait.
To further demonstrate this line of thought: The use of electronic games affects all of the described, developmental stages above. In the instance of a child, besides imposing an early physical specialization on them, it presents an environment which is fully abstract and deterministic with strict cause-and-effect rules. For the 7-14 age group, instead of nourishing a longing for real, social and moral feelings, the games compel feelings of violence and anti-social competition. In the oldest group, instead of developing the necessary abstract and objective thinking, during their use, games tend to eliminate completely the conscious thinking activity (which is too slow and would mean "losing" the game). Research has established that the human mind records everything that befalls the individual during his lifetime. A person may be unable to remember an experience, but it is still recorded and ultimately can be recalled to the conscious mind by using hypnosis. It is most important to remember that scenes of violence are impressed forever on the subconscious mind. Children are especially vulnerable. Under the age of seven children record acts of violence much more deeply than adults. This is the reason analysts search for answers to explain mental disorders that are the results of activities that occurred at a very young age.
The scenes of violence as depicted by electronic games are recorded in the subconscious of children who are more open and receptive to impulses coming from the environment than adults. Young children are unable to understand the difference of violence as illustrated by the game, to the brutality of real life. They are unaware of the desensitizing effects the games may have on them and will keep playing them for hours or even days.
If one thinks that Space Invaders, Pack Man and a number of other games were aggressive or violent, one should take a look at an example of the blood sport found in games made available using new CD and laser disk technology. The use of this technology has improved the ability to present even more graphically the scenes of violence (including copious amounts of "blood") in computer games. "Mortal Kombat" depicts one of the heroes of the game decapitating a victim, another prefers electrocution, a third rips out the still-beating heart of his victim with his bare hands, and a fourth tears off the head of his foe and holds it up in victory. A second game, "Nite Trap," depicts bloodthirsty vampires who stalk down five scantily-clad women, drill holes in their necks and hang them on meat hooks. The live-action video technology of these games makes the violence that much more realistic (Elmer-Dewitt, P., 1993 p. 58).
To further emphasize the hype behind the use of video games, we think that there is more behind the promotion of the games than meets the eye. Take as an example the release in September of 1993 of the Game "Mortal Kombat." A $10 million Hollywood style promotion was expected to bring in more than $150 million by Christmas 1993. Obviously what lies behind the promotion of the video/computer game is the large profits that are to be made; profits made without regard to the damage these games can cause in children. Video games return $5.3 billion in the US per year; that's $400 million more than Americans spend on going to films. World-wide revenues from games exceed $10 Billion (Elmer-Dewitt, P., 1993 pp. 56-57).
We can expect that, as long as there are large profits to be made, no real moves to support research into the possible, harmful effects of computer games on children will be made. After all no real attempt has been made to totally ban tobacco, as governments rely on it for a very large portion of tax revenue. Yet it is known to be linked to a number of respiratory diseases that cause suffering and death. Will the video/computer game follow the same path only to be highly taxed to 'discourage' its use? Notice that smoking directly causes physical damage; videogames produce direct psychological, that is, invisible damage. The monumental number of games being produced is staggering, and the trade in them is significant. As an example, the number of games that may be present in almost every home that has the economic means of buying them, may be reflected in a section in the most important newspaper of São Paulo, Brazil the O Estado de Sao Paulo, dated February 2, 1992. It contains a weekly supplement for young children. On pages 9 and 10 there is a section of items for sale or exchange. There is a total of 80 items offered. Of that number, 61 or 76% are for the exchange or sale of electronic games; the remainder are for bicycles, book collections, etc. Are the arguments presented in this paper exaggerated or radical in comparison to the state this miserable world has reached?
What's to be done? In Australia, moves were being made in Parliament to place restrictions on games of a violent or sexual nature. One game, "Nite Trap," is at this writing being held off the market, by the manufacturer, until a decision is made by the government about the classification of the game. The offending games were to possibly receive a Restricted (R) rating as do video tapes and films (Critchley, C. 1993). The outcome of the legislation appears to be as follows:
"The classification will be broken up into five segments: General (Recommended all ages), General (Recommended for children 8 years and over) [sic], Mature (Recommended for persons 15 years and over), Restricted (For sale or hire to persons of 18 years and over only), Refused (completely banned).... With games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II Turbo attracting a General (Recommended for children 8 years and over) rating, and Night Trap the infamous Sega PC Game, attracting a Mature (Recommended for persons 15 years and over) rating, it seems that all our fears can be laid aside. These ratings mean that the sale or hire of these games is not effected [sic] by legislation (that means anyone can buy them) and, basically, are a big finger in the eye to the media and all the video game wowsers who tried to whip up a scandal about violence in video games. Ha!...Again, the Computer Games Advisory Body has taken a practical approach to this problem and allowed distributors the option of having in-house classification officers for the General and Mature ratings." (Editor, Nitendo Magazine System 1993, p. 3.)
So much for the protection of young people from gaining access to inappropriate games in Australia if the editor of Nitendo Magazine is correct.
In the USA several cities and towns have curtailed or banned public video game access (Silvern, S.B. & Williamson 1984). Others have placed restrictions as to trading hours and do not allow access to school age children during school hours. Experience has proven that outright prohibition is not an effective deterrent. Banning of the games is not a reasonable or effective answer to the dilemma as it would only cause children to desire the forbidden fruit even more. Any initiative to overcome the perceived problems of the games must come from the individual consciousness of responsible adults. It is the responsibility of parents to monitor the access and purchase of the video games. We can only hope that by not purchasing games, all of which are detrimental to children, the market will not be a viable one for those who manufacture the games. It is recommended that: If there are no electronic games in the home, they should not be installed. If games are already installed, they should be disposed of. (Don't give them to others. Would you knowingly give the plague to a friend?) We hope that our words may produce an awareness leading to reflections and actions. The use of electronic games damages their users and should not be allowed, and the ill effects are much worse with children and young people.
Hopefully the observations made in this paper will be used as a basis to encourage and establish further study into the effects on the players of electronic games. Short of that, it may give incentive to everyone to reach his or her own conclusions with regard to allowing children to play with the games.
(The full text of this paper is available via electronic media by contacting: Mr. G. Duckett, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Prof. V.W.Setzer, http://www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer, where his e-mail address may be found)
Armitage, P. & Berry, G. 1987, Statistical Methods in Medical Research, 12 ed. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
Brachman, P.S. 1976, Epidemiology, in Communicable and infectious diseases, Top, F.H.(ed), 8th Ed., C.V. Mosby Co. St. Louis.
Cooper, J. & Mackie, D. 1986, Video Games and Aggression in Children. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, v16 n8 pp. 726-744.
Critchley, C. 1993, Video game Crackdown. Herald Sun, October 28, 1993, p. 7.
Elmer-Dewitt, P. 1993, The Amazing Video Game Boom, Time, Sept. 27, 1993, pp. 54-59.
Emery, F. & Emery, M. 1976, A Choice of Futures: to Enlighten or to Inform? H.E. Stenfert Kroese, Leiden.
Graybill, D., Kirsch, J.R. & Esselman, E.D. 1985, Effects of Playing Violent Versus Nonviolent Video Games on the Aggressive Ideation of Aggressive and Nonaggressive Children, Child Study Journal, v15, n3, pp. 199-205.
Greenfield, P.M. 1984, Mind and media: The effects of Television, Video Games and Computers, The developing Child Series, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts.
Jackson, J.O. 1993, Vidkids Everywhere, Time, Sept. 27, 1993, p. 61.
Krugman, H.E. 1971, Brain wave measurements of media involvement, Journal of Advertising Research, v11, n1, Feb, pp.3-9.
Lin, S. & Lepper, M.R. 1987, Correlates of Children's Usage of Videogames and Computers, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, v17, n1, pp. 72-93.
Lepper, M.R, & Gurtner, J. 1989, Children and Computers: Approaching the twenty-First Century, American Psychologist, v44 n2 Feb. pp. 170-178.
Mander, J. 1978, Four Arguments for the elimination of television, Wm. Morrow, New York.
Nitendo Magazine System 1993, Censorship: Victory is ours!, issue #8 Nov. 1993, p. 3.
Otter Publications Pty. Ltd. 1993, "Issue # 1."
Postman, N. 1988, The Disappearance of Childhood in Conscientious Objections - Stirring up Trouble about Language, Technology and Education, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York.
Schutte, N.S. et.al 1988, Effects of Playing Videogames on Children's Aggressive and Other Behaviors, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, v18, n5, pp. 454-460.
Selnow, G.W. 1984, Playing Videogames: The Electronic Friend, Journal of Communication, v34, n2, pp. 148-155.
Setzer, V.W. 1989, Computers in Education, Floris Books, Edinburgh.
Silvern, S.B. & Williamson, P.A. 1987, The effects of Video Game Play on Young Children's Aggression, Fantasy, and Prosocial Behavior, Journal of Developmental Psychology, n8 pp. 453-462.
Appendix by V.W.Setzer, on Jan. 18, 2006
If I remember well, this paper was written in 1993-94. It was based on an essay I had written in 1993, titled Reflections on Video Games, available on my web site. I strongly recommend the interested reader to read it, because it covers in more detail many points of the present paper.
The professor of psychiatry and neurology M. Spitzer, in his excellent book (2005) – with an extensive bibliography of serious research showing the effects of TV watching and video game playing – brings the history of video games, dividing it in three phases, according to Kent (2001): 1. 1977-1985, mainly Attari machines. When violence was depicted, it appeared in a "weakened" form. He cites the founder of Attari, N. Bushnell, commenting that there was an internal rule in his company establishing that violence against humans were not permitted. 2. 1985-1995, when graphics became more realistic. It’s the Nintendo time. The tabu of violence was broken, and games with increasing violence came to the market. In 1992 appeared Wolfenstein 3D, the first ‘ego-shooter’ or ‘action’ game with great commercial success. "In this kind of game the player fights behind the guns in a self-perspective, that is, he sees everything under the perspective of the shooter. He does not just look at what is happening, but finds himself in the game, which enormously increases the grade of reality of the game." The enemies were not just shot at and disappeared; they were thrown over the floor and blooded. "Just a year later, at Christmas, ... appeared the game Doom, in which these principles were even more developed: there was more blood to be seen and, for the first time, players could play against each other, that is, destroy each other in a virtual fashion." 3. 1995 up to today, dominance of Sony and its Playstation. Improved graphics lead to even more realistic scenes, with tens up to hundreds of millions of graphic pages displayed per second. "In 2000 appeared the game Soldiers of Fortune, in which the body of the represented enemy was divided into 26 ‘death zones’, therefore permitting a wound to be depicted with realistic consequences... In 1999 the worldwide market of video games reached 20 billion dollars, with 100 million Gameboys (Nintendo) and 75 millions of Playstations (Sony) sold... In the USA children and young people at ages between 2 and 17 spent 7 hours [must be per week]." So when we wrote our paper this horrendous situation was in its beginnings.
Since the time of writing the paper, there appeared facts, books and various scientific studies confirming my pessimistic foresights of the ill influence of video games upon children and teenagers. For instance, just to mention the most famous cases, clearly the school shootings at Littleton (Columbine High School), Paducah (Naisbitt 1999 and Grossman and DeGaetano 1999) and Erlangen in Germany were caused in great part because the perpetrators had extensively used violent games. An objection could be, "if video games produce such terrible extreme effects, why just relatively few of them have occurred?" To answer this question, one has to remind my main argument that the player of a stimulus-response game is in general in a semiconscious state of mind (reactions have to be fast but conscious thinking is slow) and every image and move is being recorded forever in his subconscious or unconscious memory. The player is conditioned by the games to react in some specific fashion, but only when acting semiconsciously or unconsciously. This happens in situations of stress, extreme fear or rage, etc., which are not very common. But aggressive acts do not have to be extreme like those mentioned shootings. As Anderson and Dill (2000) proved in their paper, violent video games lead to "aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior", for instance "feeling angry". They found that "[after playing violent games] women displayed higher levels of state hostility and aggression than men." Using my arguments, this is understandable: as conscious thinking is dampened, and willing (manifested through actions) is almost automatic, feelings are the most intensive player’s inner activity. As women are more sensitive to feelings (see, for instance, my essay "Men, Women and Computers", on my web site), the emotions felt during a game have a bigger influence upon them. Anderson and Dill have made their experiments with adult students; certainly the influence upon children is much worse because they are developing their experience, view and concepts of the world. Furthermore, as they have not fully developed their self-consciousness, they are much more open to the outer world.
Another possible reason for the relatively low level of strong violent behavior due to video games is the fact that the human being has an extraordinary resistance to bad influences. Also, cultural background and education at home and at school may play a very important role and make the individual refrain from extreme acts of aggression. But aggressions has many levels, beginning may be with verbal aggression. It’s a fact that bullying at young ages is increasing; Zimmerman et al. (2005) write that "it affects between 8% and 50% of children around the world, with a recent US estimate of about 30%." They show the positive correlation between TV exposure and bullying; I conjecture that a still higher correlation will be found for violent video games.
Why are video games worse than TV? As Anderson and Dill (2000) have put it, "Further consideration of some key characteristics of violent video games suggests that their dangers may well be greater than the danger of violent television or violent movies." This has been obvious to me, because TV conditions by images and sounds, and it works extremely well at that, because in general it puts the viewers in a state of drowsiness. If advertising on TV didn’t work so well as it does, large companies would not spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually for this advertising. In many countries advertising of cigarettes on TV is banned – because it works. Nevertheless, as Hancox et al. (2004) show for New Zealand, 17% of smoking by adults is due to exposure to TV in childhood, in spite of the fact that advertising of cigarettes is forbidden there since 1963; the reason is that many characters appear smoking in various programs. On the other hand, video games condition not only through images and sound, but also through actions. In "ego shooter" games, as soon as the game is turned on, the player has to begin shooting (Naisbitt 1999).
One of my arguments was desensitization. Grossman and DeGaetano’s excellent book (1999) tells the story that the American Army has been using killing simulators to desensitize soldiers against their resistance to kill – with extraordinary effects. They write "In the mean time, these simulators have entered our homes and arcades in the form of video games full of violence. Who does not believe it, should know that MACS (Multiporpose Arcade Combat Simulator), one of the most effective and frequently used simulators, developed in the last years by the US Army, is nothing else than a modified Super-Nintendo game. (In fact, it strongly looks like the successful game Duck Hunt, not mentioning the fact that the player fires at typical military objectives on the screen with a plastic M16.)" This quote is my translation from the German version of the book (2002, p. 87). In it, they mention a paper in the April 2002 issue of Science showing the results of a research with more than 700 17-year olds: high usage of TV and video games produce an increase from 4 to 5 times in violent acts in relation to low usage. Furthermore, they mention a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) experiment done at the Center for Successful Parenting at the University of Indiana showing that "... heavy users of video game kill at the games without conscious thinking. The killing was transformed into a conditioned reflex." This is exactly what I deduced from my concepts of what the games are and what is their influence upon users. MRI studies have shown that violent games damage the brain (see, for instance, http://www.schillerinstitute.org/new_viol/videos_brain.html).
There have been studies and articles saying that violent video games don’t generate violence. For instance, Rahner (2003) says about himself: "I have the makings of a killer, by some accounts. The training, at the very least. Spent countless hours bumping pedestrians into early graves, spraying enemy soldiers with lead, ... It was only in video games [cites some titles]. But add a childhood filled with violent TV – loved the ‘The Wild Wild West’ – and some people might be surprised at the self-restraint I’ve shown in life." One could ask if he would be even calmer had he not had such experiences in his life. And he does not examine himself for other possible influences, like what is his vision of the world, his capacity for concentrating his thoughts, his creativity, etc. (see my paper). Spitzer (2005) has a full section criticizing these types of articles. He says they are invariably anecdotal and not based upon serious scientific research, which always prove the contrary. Furthermore, he says that most of the authors of articles commending video games are paid by their producers.
One of the papers showing some apparently positive influence of video games is the now well-known study by Greene and Bavallier (2003), where the authors examined the visual attention capacities of persons after playing 10 hours (1 hour/day) of the ego-shooter Medal of Honor and of an older one, Tetris, fitting geometrical pieces together. Those people that had played the former showed some improvements of their visual attention and detection of simultaneous visual impulses displayed in a computer screen. That is, the subjects were tested for actions related to the games. There were no tests involving real-life situations. Obviously the games have trained the subjects for those specialized tasks. But, as Spitzer calls the attention, the big problem in education is improving concentration, and not attention connected to dispersion. He says that probably playing the games made those subjects with attention disorders worsen their situation. I may also call the attention to the fact that the authors didn’t test for other factors; they could have well discovered that the subjects that played the ego-shooter were doing worse than those that didn’t play it. On an interview to National Geographic News, Bavallier said "Balance is the essence of everything and if you spend your whole life playing [video games] you will have amazing visual skills for sure, but that will only help you if you do things in life that require visual skills" (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0528_030528_videogames_2.html). I would have said, more properly, "some specialized visual skills"; if they are useful for real life was not tested. Moreover, it’s important to note that the subjects of this study were university students, and not children.
Finally, I would like to briefly comment on two arguments that are frequently used to justify the use of electronic media by children and young people: if they don’t use the media, they will be socially displaced (because other children are using them) and will not be properly prepared for social and professional life. There have been enough scientific studies showing that the first argument is absolutely fallacious. For instance, Spitzer cites a paper by Thaleman et al. (2004), who have done a research with 323 6th graders (about 12 years of age). 9,3% of the children were identified as excessive video game players, and were compared with the rest. "It was demonstrated that excessive players of video games spoke less with friends and could communicate worse than the other children who spent less time with computer games." I recognize that avoiding the access of electronic media to children and adolescents may bring some social psychological problems; according to the experience in my family, these problems arise around puberty. But I and my wife compared the negative effects of our children watching TV (there were no video games at that time) and the social psychological problems they could have if we didn’t have a TV set at home. Our conclusion was that the negative effects of watching TV were much much higher than the possible psychological problems that could arise. It’s interesting to note that Spitzer also declares that he has no TV set at home, due to his 5 children.
The argument that without usage of electronic media children and young people will have problems in their professional life are even more fallacious; this a typical argument used by vendors of hardware and software. Electronic media have become rather simple to use, and in the future they will be even simpler. For example, my 83-year old aunt has got her first computer a couple of months ago. She had no problems in learning how to edit the papers and books she writes, to exchange e-mails and to use voice over IP software. If someone learns to use electronic media at age 17 or 18, s/he will have absolutely no problem dealing with these equipment, at home of professionally. Moreover, taking into account the cases of the relatively recent introduction of the Internet and of digital cameras, one may state that when the present children will be grown-ups, electronic media will be radically different from what it is nowadays.
As the history of the development of video games shows (see the beginning of this appendix), the situation is getting worse and worse, that is, the attacks on the mental activities and development of children and young people are getting stronger and stronger. I have no hope of reverting the general trend; the world and humanity are rapidly degenerating in all their essential aspects: pollution, physical and mental sicknesses, social and individual disruption. The only way of reverting this trend is education: education for social awareness and sensitivity, for compassion, and for social responsibility and action. I hope some people will recognize that electronic media, specially video games, in any of their forms (unfortunately, I kept mentioning only violent games, which are the most used and deleterious, but my objections apply to any electronic game) definitively damage children and young people and go against the development of those social abilities (see my books and my articles on my web site for consideratons on TV and computers in education). I hope that parents who recognize their ill effects will have the courage to go against the wave and don’t allow their children their use. We have to create at least a small group of people that will act like real humans, and not machines or animals – otherwise humanity is totally lost.
Anderson, C.A. and K.E. Dill. Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, V. 78, No. 4, April 2000, pp. 772-790.
Greene, C.S, and D. Bavallier (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention. Nature, May 2003, V. 423, pp. 534-537.
Grossman, D. and G. DeGaetano (1999). Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill. New York: Crown Publishers.
Grossman, D. and G. DeGaetano (2002). Wer hat unseren Kinder das Töten beigebracht? Ein Aufruf gegen Gewalt in Fersehen, Film und Computerspielen. Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben.
Kent, S.L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Naisbitt, J. (1999). High Tech, High Touch. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Hancox, R.J. et al. (2004). Association between child and adolescent televisioin viewing and adult health: a logitudinal birth cohort study. Lancet 364, pp. 257-262.
Rahner, M. (2003). No video game can make someone violent. The Seattle Times, Northwest Life, April 11, 2003, at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/northwestlife/134673189_videogames11.html (now archived).
Spitzer, M. (2005). Vorsicht Bildschirm! Elektronischen Medien, Gehirentwickelung, Gesundheit und Gesellschaft. Stuttgart: Klett 2005.
Thalemann, R. et al. (2004) Excessives Computerspielen im Kinderslater. Der Nervenartzt Suppl. 2, p. 186.
Zimmerman, F.J. et al. (2005). Early Cognitive Stimulation, Emotional Support, and Television Watching as Predictors of Subsequent Bullying Among Grade-School Children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. V. 159, Apr. 2005, pp. 384-388.