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Recently, incidences of extreme violence involving young children have been on the rise. These occurrences have been linked to watching violent video games thus stimulating interest in studying the effect of video games on kids’ behavior. Studies show that in fact violent video games can stimulate vicious behavior, aggressive influence, aggressive cognition, and physiological stimulation. Anderson and Bushman (27) developed a General Aggression Model (GAM) to describe the relationship between aggressive video games and violent behavior in kids.

Introduction

Beginning late in the 1970s, video games became a major recreation among children. Video games are simply interactive games played on computers or consoles. However, due to increase in violent behavior in schools, the influence of the games on children behavior has been subject to intense scientific, public, and political examination. For example, several psychologists recently gave evidence to a US Senate Committee on the harmful effects of video games on kids’ development.

Influence of Violent Video Games on Children’s Development

Various studies have examined the association between playing video games and violent behavior in children. All the studies suggest that there is a link between these games and aggressive acts perpetrated by children. For example, Fling et al (44) claimed that there was a positive correlation between playing video games and children and teacher-reported aggressive behavior in children. Moreover, Dill (415) showed that playing aggressive video games resulted in more incidences of violence among children between ages 8 and 12. Similarly, Goldstein (221) claimed that playing aggressive video games led eighth and ninth grade children to engage in more acts of violence.

Theories of Aggression

There have been various attempts to explain the relationship between violent video games and aggression using traditional theories. For instance, in the context of video games violence, the social learning theory suggests that exposing kids to violent video games stimulates mimicry of the same behavior, strengthens prior aggressive tendencies, and enhances internal arousal. Internal arousal is manifested in the form of anger and irritability and it enhances the chances of perpetrating aggressive acts.

Berkowitz (420) neo-association theory of aggression has also been used to explain the aggressive behavior resulting from playing video games. The theory suggests that playing video games stimulates a system of violent thoughts, emotions, memories, and convictions. Another popular theory that has been used to explain the video games-aggression relationship is the social information processing theory. The theory claims that violent children commit aggressive acts partly as a result of a hostile attribution bias. This means that aggressive children are first exposed to hostile stimuli before they become violent. The hostile stimuli causes cue distortion making violent children construe the hostile cue as violent stimuli and to react violently. Social incidences such as playing aggressive video games could result in hostile attribution bias. For example, Kirsh (181) inferred a hostile attribution bias in grade three and four children which had been caused by exposure to aggressive video games.

The recently developed GAM model tries to incorporate the influence of violent video games on aggressive behavior in kids. The GAM model is in harmony with the ideas of social learning, neo-association, and social information processing theories of aggressive behavior. Empirical evidence tends to support validity of this model.

Video Games Playing among Children

Studies have shown that video game playing is linked to gender and age. For instance, a research by Griffith (210) indicated that children aged 8 to 14 years spent an average of between 1.2 and 7.5 hours playing computers games each week. In contrast, children aged between 14 and 17 spent less hours on average. The study also showed that boys were likely to spend more hours every week playing computer games compared to girls. Still, the relationship between age and playing computer games remained the same in both boys and girls, and girls were also found to play the games on regular basis just like boys.

Griffiths (204) lists nine distinct types of video games that children engage in: sports simulations such as football or baseball, racing e.g. motor sports, adventures e.g. imaginary rescue missions, puzzles, e.g. Sudoku, platform detonation, ‘beat them up’ involving punching and kicking, ‘shoot them up’ entailing shooting and killing virtual enemies, and weird games that do not fit into any class. Despite the fact that some video games are not violent, research shows that children prefer aggressive video games. This claim is supported by the high amount and variety of aggressive video games in the entertainment market today. Specifically, studies indicate that over 80 percent of video games in the market depict violent behavior. Another notable feature in the video games industry is the tendency to shift towards realism. For instance, the video games of 1970s and 80s were cartoonish in nature. Today, the cartoon characters have been replaced with more lifelike graphics portraying bloody violence (Dill 407).

Aggressive Behavior among Children

The pattern of playing video games among children is positively related to the development of aggressive behavior. For example, a study by Lindeman et al. (342) examined 10, 12, and 14 year-olds reactions to artificial interpersonal conflicts with two distinct types of aggression. One form of interpersonal conflict involved direct aggression that is, teasing while the second one entailed indirect aggression, i.e. spreading rumors. Similar to distinctions in real-life aggression, the study found that male subjects were more likely to respond aggressively to the artificial interpersonal conflict that females. However, both male and female responses to the aggression took an upward trend between 8 and 14 years and a downward trend between 14 and 17 years. Further research has indicated that real physical aggression such as fighting is highest between 12 and 15 years. Fascinatingly, parent-children conflict also tends to peak during this period.

Association between Playing Video Games and Children Development

Empirical evidence indicates that children are more likely to engage in playing video games during that stage when they are exposed more to acts of aggression in the real-life situation. In addition, studies show that more aggressive males favor violent media including toys, video games and television, compared to less aggressive males. Therefore, it can be inferred that there are psychosocial and biological factors which cause children to develop violent tendencies. There is also another inference that can be drawn regarding children’s love for video games. Since video games are action-oriented, they cause a very high degree of arousal compared to other activities. As Goldstein (220) argues, people exhibiting a high need for arousal are fascinated by violent media. Supporting this argument, McCauley (147) contended that people with a high need for arousal see violence on TV and films being more attractive than people with lesser need for sensation.

Some recent studies in the field of medicine also indicate that people high on the trait of hostility register a higher increase in the chemical epinephrine upon playing computer games relative to their counterparts who are low on that trait. Further medical research has shown that the heart rate and blood pressure increase upon playing violent video games. This phenomenon could be attributed to increased physiological stimulation. Therefore, studies show that playing computer games is linked to increased physiological arousal. Violent video games tend to provide more rewarding experiences to children because of the capacity for physiological arousal.

Effects of Playing Violent Video Games on Children’s Development

No matter what attracts children to playing violent video games, the effects of such activity are negative on their social and emotional development (Bushman & Anderson 29). To understand the relationship between playing video games and aggressive behavior, Bushman and Anderson proposed the use of GAM model. As stated by the model, individual attributes such as hostility characteristic and outlook towards violence, and situational factors like exposure to violent media have a role to play in influencing a person’s psychological state. A person’s psychological state first generates hostile thoughts which, in turn, induce hostile emotions. The hostile emotions then lead to physiological arousal making a person susceptible to perpetrating aggressive acts.

The GAM model claims that playing violent video games has both short-term and long-term effects on the subject. The short-term effects are mainly situational and characterized by increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and arousal. On the other hand, the long-term effects involve formation of aggressive beliefs and attitudes, expectations, and also making individuals insensitive to aggressive actions. These factors increase the chances of an individuals engaging in aggressive behavior.

Some Benefits of Video Games

Many studies on the effect of playing video games on children behavior have tended to focus on the negative impacts mainly increased aggressiveness and psychosocial effects. However, other studies have identified positive benefits of playing video games. Research conducted in the beginning of 1980s, for example, showed that playing video games had significant impacts on enhancing reactions times, improving hand-eye coordination, and raising a person’s self-esteem. The challenging and curious nature of video games also increases a person’s capacity for education (Lindeman 342).

Video Games and Education

Video games can take up a large amount of children’s time. In spite of this, it is crucial to examine the effect that a certain video game has on a child’s ability to learn (Dill 410). As a matter of fact, it is the potential of video games to facilitate learning that has led to the emergence of ‘edu-tainment’ media. Because video games are interactive, children find it very interesting to learn through such media.

Video Games and Development of Social Skills

In the past, video games have been incorporated in programs for helping special needs groups to develop social skills. For example, the games have been used to impart social, emotional, and language skills in autistic children. The games also help such children to boost their self-esteem (Griffiths 205).

Video Games and Healthcare

Research also indicates that playing video games can help children with attention disorders by making them more focused. In addition, it has been proved that video games can improve the self-care skills of patients suffering from diseases like diabetes (Griffiths 207). Another benefit of video games in healthcare is improving involuntary body movements such as heartbeats.

Ways of Reducing Children’s Exposure to Violent Video Games

From research findings, it is clear that children’s engagement in violent video games causes them to develop aggressive behavior. It is, therefore, important to reduce children’s exposure to aggressive video games to avoid the effects that such exposure may have on their social and emotional development. Some ways of achieving this reduction include: making sure that children do not play video games that are rated above their age, ensuring that children play only beneficial video games such as those with the potential to enhance their learning ability, and helping children to appreciate the psychosocial effects of playing video games. Additionally, understanding the effects of video games on children could be incorporated into the social and emotional learning curricula in schools so that students can understand the impacts from an early age.

Conclusion

Increased incidences of aggressive behavior in schools have been linked to children’s playing violent video games. Indeed, research seems to support this view as children who play video games have been found to be more susceptible to perpetrating acts of violence than their counterparts who do not play such games. Despite the influence of video games on children’s aggressiveness and psychosocial behavior, the games have several advantages on children’s development. These advantages include: promoting learning capacity, hand-and-eye coordination, social skills, and a set of some health benefits.

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