Encouraging Positive Youth Video Game Activities
In today’s world youth are increasingly using electronic media. School assignments include web-based research for homework, e-mail has replaced letter writing, and the convenience of instant messaging is starting to replace the telephone. Youth today are more media literate than their parents, yet the outcomes of this transition are not always positive. Youth recreation has merged with media to include video games, music downloading, and interactive websites, in many cases replacing traditional youth activities, such as basketball, swimming, or other outdoor recreation.
Video Game Violence and Appropriateness
Most children under high school age are devoting time to playing electronic games. Across all ages, boys play for more time than girls. In about 5% of the players, there is evidence that their time commitment to playing is so excessive that it may be interfering with other activities.
Research has found that in general among most youth, there is no significant impairment in psychological functioning caused by game playing, however, some children have a special vulnerability. These “high risk players” are defined as those vulnerable children in whom even a small increase in exposure to aggressive behavior may trigger aggression.
Recent field observations at a mall video arcade found that youth, primarily young boys (about 7-10 years old), were dropped off by parents and left unattended. Older adolescents tended to play the same game for longer time durations, while younger children moved to other games. Shooting games were very highly frequented and comprised nearly one half of the working machines in the arcade. There were 11 labeled with the Animated Violence rating, 9 labeled with the Human Violence rating, and even some labeled with the Mild – Strong rating. Games ranged in cost from .50 to $1.00 for a play-time ranging from 2-3 minutes to 5 minutes on average, not including extended round features.
Games had elements such as martial arts, guns with silent telescope features, weapons that changed from revolver to shotgun to machine gun to grenade, lifelike violence that focused on shooting humans that bled when hit to more graphic depictions of shooting ghouls upon which blood gushed similar to that of a cut artery. Some games featured animated dancing girls in bikinis; one required the player to keep bikini-clad girls in sight to increase their “life gauge;” another featured a female figure with metal breast covers. All depicted an element of sexuality by portraying females with large-chests, thin-frames, and scantily-clad attire.
The most notable observation was that there was very little monitoring by adults of play time or play selections made by the children at the arcade. The games were taking on the role of guardian, occupying the youths’ activity time and entertaining them while their parents ran errands. The arcade employee did not engage in conversation with anyone in the arcade nor monitor the selections, even though some were rated “Animated Violence Strong.” The level of violence was obviously inappropriate for viewing by the age groups playing the games.
What This Means to Parents
Research in this area is new and much is still needed before we know all of the effects of media on children. There is evidence, however, that some games are not appropriate for youth. Youth are able to gain ready access to games, and media use is occupying more time by youth than ever before. Instead of totally restricting media use for recreation, parents may need to explore gaming more than before due to its increasing popularity and wide acceptance. By becoming more informed, they may guide their children to better choices.
Recommendations for Parents
- Be informed of the nature of some games so they may help youth make appropriate game selections for their developmental level.
- Test games prior to allowing their child to play them to make sure that they are not too violent in nature or contain figures with inappropriate sexual connotations.
- Play games with their children to keep informed of the latest changes and current trends in popular games.
- Be alert to the possibility of youth being able to play such games if left unattended or unmonitored as well as to the dangers of leaving their child alone.
- Educate youth about the rating systems on games so that they may make selections that are correct for their age.
- Encourage youth to limit their playing time so that the screen does not become their sole source of entertainment.
- Provide a wide variety of physical activities for youth that will offset screen-time, such as outdoor sports, crafts, or bicycling. These will keep youth grounded in the real world and provide quality time for all.
Adapted from the document Encouraging Positive Youth Video Game Activities, FCS2238 by Rosemary V. Barnett, one of a series of the Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. (7/2010).