Video game addiction
In his moving biography, Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction, Ryan Van Cleave describes the way that a violent online game, World of Warcraft, dominated his life to such an extent that he was unable to function normally and was driven to the verge of suicide. Video game addiction is now taken so seriously by psychologists and psychiatrists that it was recently considered for inclusion in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) as a diagnosable psychiatric disorder and has been lodged in its appendix to encourage further research. It is clear that many children play video games at a “pathological” level that causes damage to family, social, school or psychological functioning (see Anderson et al, 2012). For example, it has been found that 8.5 per cent of 8–18-year-old US video game players do so at pathological levels (Gentile, 2009). Similar studies have found figures of 11.9 per cent in Europe (Grusser et al, 2007), 8.7 per cent in Singapore (Choo et al, 2010), 10.3 per cent in China (Peng & Li, 2009) and 4 per cent for 12–18-year-olds in Norway (Johansson & Götestam, 2004), with a further 15.5 per cent “at risk”. As will be seen in the ensuing sections, the amount that children play video games is very important. Those who play excessively are not only at risk of a number of negative outcomes, they are also much more likely to be playing violent games (see Krahé & Möller, 2004).
There are some studies linking the amount of time children spend playing video games to attention deficits, impulsivity and hyperactivity (see Bailey et al, 2010; Swing et al, 2010). For example, Gentile (2009) found that adolescents who used video games at pathological levels were nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder than adolescents who played at non-pathological levels. In a landmark paper, Swing and colleagues (2010) examined the effect of video game playing on attention in elementary school children. They used a longitudinal study that statistically controlled for a range of other factors that could also lead to attention problems and found that amount of time spent playing video games predicted increases in teacher assessments of attention deficits in the children 13 months later. These results suggest that the children’s level of video game playing played a causal role in their subsequent loss of attentional capacity.
Anderson et al (2012) believe that on theoretical grounds some video games should have less effect on attentional problems (for example, those that require controlled thought and planning) and that those which require constant reactive behaviours from players (a common feature of many violent first person shooting games for example) may be more problematic in terms of children developing attentional difficulties.
It is well established that spending longer hours playing video games is linked with poorer school performance for both children and adolescents (Anderson et al, 2007; Chan & Rabinowitz, 2006; Chiu et al, 2004; Cordes & Miller, 2000; Gentile, 2009; Gentile et al, 2004; Sharif & Sargent, 2006). One explanation for this is a simple displacement of time – hours spent playing video games eats into time that would normally be spent studying and reading. For example, in a study of 1491 youth between 10 and 19, gamers spent 30 per cent less time reading and 34 per cent less time doing homework (Cummings & Vandewater, 2007). It is also possible, however, that children who perform more poorly at school are also more likely to “spend more time playing games, where they may feel a sense of mastery that eludes them at school” (Anderson et al, 2012). Of course, another possibility is the that excessive gaming creates attention deficits, which in turn can lead to poorer school performance. Increased aggression
Should we be concerned about children and adolescents playing violent video games? Can this lead to aggressive behaviour? Over 98 per cent of paediatricians in the United States have considered these questions and believe that excessive violent media exposure has a negative effect on childhood aggression (Gentile et al, 2004). Similarly, there is a consensus amongst the vast majority of violent video game researchers that too much exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviours, leads to desensitisation to violence and also leads to decreases in pro-social behaviours and empathy (Anderson et al, 2010; Huesmann, 2010). There are, however, a small number of researchers who dispute this evidence and it seems that the views of this small minority have had a large impact on public perceptions (Anderson & Gentile, 2008; Dill, 2009). In this section of the chapter we will broadly examine the arguments for this view and then review the scientific evidence that does find violent video game effects. In this way, we hope that readers can judge the evidence for themselves. 1. The first argument against violent video game effects is that there is little evidence linking the playing of violent video games to very violent behaviours (such as school shootings). To better understand
this argument it is helpful to reflect on the difference between aggression and violence. In essence, violence is aggressive behaviour that has extreme harm as its goal (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). Thus, all violence is aggression but not all aggression is violence. With this in mind we make four points.
(a) Ethically it is not possible to use the most powerful methods – experimental manipulations – to test the causal link between violent video games and violence because we cannot rightfully incite people to cause extreme harm in a laboratory. There are, however, ways to test links with aggressive behaviour, which can be examined ethically in a laboratory. It is disingenuous to suggest that because there are no experimental studies that randomly assign children to years of playing violent or nonviolent video games and then measure which group commits the most violent crimes, that therefore there are no established negative or anti-social effects. This is like saying that because there are no experimental studies on humans showing that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, smoking is not a causal risk factor. The causal links between violent video game playing and physical aggression are, in our opinion, well established. (b) Cross-sectional (correlational) studies and longitudinal studies of violent video game effects have established significant links to violent behaviour. Several longitudinal studies in particular provide strong evidence that these are causal effects.
(c) Aggressive behaviour, which can include bullying, hurting other people physically, hurting other people’s property or relationships and hurting people verbally, is a very important social phenomenon in its own right. Aggression does not have to escalate into violence to be harmful and destructive.
(d) No aggression researchers claim that media violence is the sole or even the most important source of violent behaviour. The most common approach, and the one taken by the authors, is the “risk factor” approach. According to this approach, people can have various risk factors for aggression or violent behaviour These might include coming from a violent home, having a violent peer group, high levels of trait aggression, exposure to violent media and a number of other factors. The more risk factors that are present for a person, especially when they are present from a young age, the more likely that person is to be aggressive or violent. Strasburger (2009, p 203) notes that:
The research on media violence and its relationship to real-life aggression is clear: young people learn their attitudes about violence at a very young age, and once learned, those attitudes are difficult to change (Anderson et al, 2003; Bushman & Huesmann, 2006). Conservative estimates are that media violence may be causing 10% of real-life violence – not the leading cause by any means, but an unhealthy chunk that we could do something about if we chose to (Strasburger et al, 2009; Comstock & Strasburger, 1990).
We believe that Victor Strasburger is right. Many risk factors for aggression and violence are very hard to deal with as parents, as educators, as professionals and as policy-makers. Media violence, though, is one risk factor that can be controlled and about which action can be taken from the level of the individual home through to the level of State and federal governments. This makes the research on media violence effects particularly important.
2. Detractors of the view that playing violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviour also criticise the methodology of video game studies and of meta-analyses of these studies. It is to this important scientific evidence that we now turn.
Positive Effects of Video Games
When your child plays video games, it gives his brain a real workout. In many video games, the skills required to win involve abstract and high level thinking. These skills are not even taught at school. Some of the mental skills enhanced by video games include: o Following instructions
o Problem solving and logic - When kids play games such as The Incredible Machine, Angry Birds or Cut The Rope, they train their brain to come up with creative ways to solve puzzles and other problems in short bursts o Hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills. In shooting games, the character may be running and shooting at the