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Do violent computer games harm our kids

01:00 Sat 03rd Mar 2001 |

A. Psychologists attribute three harmful effects to media violence that they suspect might also apply to ultra-violent video game playing. They believe that game players, particularly children, may become more aggressive and develop favorable attitudes about the use of violence to resolve conflicts. Researchers have also found that children may become desensitized to violence in the real world around them, less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others and more willing to tolerate ever-increasing levels of violence. There are also fears that very young players may begin to believe that the real world is as mean and dangerous in real life as it appears on the media and in video games.

Q. Is there any evidence that video game violence leads to copycat acts of violence in youngsters

A. Although the debate around this issue is still raging, there does appear to be some research evidence to show that playing violent first-person games can encourage aggressive behaviour in young people. David Grossman, a professor at Arkansas State University, has published extensive research showing how ‘point-and-shoot’ games are similar to the techniques used by the military to breakdown a soldier’s aversion to killing. According to Grossman’s report, at the end of World War II the military found that only 10 to 15 per cent of infantrymen fired their weapons in battle. By replacing bulls-eye targets with man-shaped targets in training courses, the military was able to breakdown this reluctance. As a result, by the Korean War, 80 to 90 per cent of the fighting force were willing to shoot and kill.

Q. Do video games have ratings or classifications that warn users of the level of violence entailed in the game

A. Yes. The gaming industry has a self-imposed ratings system whereby extremely violent games are marked with the letter 'M', which stands for mature-rated. However, this is not a legally binding regulation and game producers can choose whether or not to use it.

Q. What are the statistics relating to the popularity of violent games among young people

A. In 1996, a survey of 900 eight-year-olds in the US found that almost half of their favourite games contained fantasy or extreme human violence. Another survey in 1998 reviewed 33 popular video games and found that almost 80 per cent of the games kids preferred had violence or aggression as part of the play. Almost half of this violence was directed toward other characters and 21 per cent depicted violence towards women. Later studies have gone on to show that 75 per cent of male and 67 per cent of female youngsters played up to six hours of video games a week.

Q. Which games are being condemned as the most violent

A. In the campaign to regulate video game violence, the game Carmageddon has come in for the most criticism. In Carmageddon players score points by driving virtual cars over as many pedestrians as possible - the person who kills the most innocent people is the winner. Another game that has become the target of anti-violence campaigners is Doom. The shoot em-up game has been blamed for encouraging one American teenager to rampage through the corridors of his high school wielding a shotgun. He killed one classmate and his head-teacher. Many researchers noted a direct correlation between the movements of the game and the incident at the school.

Q. Are there any campaigns aimed at reducing video game violence

A. The most high profile campaigner against video game violence is the former US president Bill Clinton. During his last year in office he and his vice president Al Gore stepped up their campaign against extreme violence in films and games, and they initiated a series of research studies into the effects on human behaviour. Other campaigners against extreme violence in video games include a charity called MediaScope and ESRB, an organisation that encourages good parenting.

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By Christina Okoli

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