photo credit Mirror.co.uk

After another tragic incident at Virginia Tech last week, investigators are once again looking for answers to determine what turned the eyes of the nation to Blacksburg for all of the wrong reasons.  While there’s little connecting the two incidents besides the location, any time a seemingly arbitrary act of rage takes place, the media and the public immediately begin comparisons with incidents that have come before it.

Like the most notorious recent mass killings in Tucson, Norway, and Columbine, and many other tragic killings that get less exposure, one of the trends between many, if not all, of these incidents is the perpetrators significant exposure to violent video games.

Now, before we get derided by gamers across the world, we are not saying now, nor have we ever stated, that there is a direct correlation between violent video game play and mass killings.  Nor would we say that violent video game play directly leads to any specific acts of violence.  We will unfortunately likely always live in a world where deranged madmen will commit horrific acts of violence like those mentioned above.

While giving the caveat above, gamers and non-gamers who reflexively call those that even begin question the impacts of such games anti-First Amendment or heretics, should at least acknowledge that ignoring the consistent violent video game play would be negligent on the part of authorities.

But, instead of entering into a public discourse with those who have researched evidence that their are indeed impacts to the brain, and adverse effects of video game violence in aggressive behavior, there is consistently an effort to ignore differing research, and build a case against a straw man like in this Time article stating video games don’t make kids violent.  Mr. Ferguson has clearly done his research, and probably would enter into a meaningful discussion among researchers given the opportunity, however when all that is put out there is dismissive, at best, it makes that viewpoint somewhat suspect.

Nonetheless, we look forward to seeing what the investigation reveals about the latest tragedy in our country.  We hope that for the victim and his loved ones, some closure can be found.  For our country, we hope that if once again violent video games are part of the equation, we can have a true public discourse about the topic, and what steps should be taken as a result.

 


We at the Media Violence Resource Center have just recently become aware of an effort by the International Committee of the Red Cross asking the question above about violent video games that depict acts of war.

As the group indicates on their site, at “the 31st International Conference that met Geneva in November 2011 participants also explored the role that the law of armed conflict plays, or does not play, in simulations of war. They considered various ways in which the rules applicable in armed conflict could feature in simulations. The side event was an informal discussion; no resolution or plan of action was adopted.”

The mere idea that such a prestigious and influential organization is hosting such a discussion is great news.  We hope that it doesn’t end here.  More than an internal discussion, the Red Cross can be just the beginning of an important public discourse about the impacts of video game violence.

 


Today at the annual meeting for the Radiological Society of America in Chicago, landmark research is being presented on perhaps the most conclusive study to date between violent video games and agression.

The study was conducted by Indiana University researchers in Indianapolis, where “a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis of long-term effects of violent video game play on the brain has found changes in brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control in young adult men after one week of game play.”

From the release:
The controversy over whether or not violent video games are potentially harmful to users has raged for many years, making it as far as the Supreme Court in 2010. But there has been little scientific evidence demonstrating that the games have a prolonged negative neurological effect.

“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home,” said Yang Wang, M.D., assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “These brain regions are
important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”

For the study, 22 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, with low past exposure to violent video games were randomly assigned to two groups of 11. Members of the first group were instructed to play a shooting video game for 10 hours at home for one week and refrain from playing the following week. The second group did not play a violent video game at all during the two-week period.

Each of the 22 men underwent fMRI at the beginning of the study, with follow-up exams at one and two weeks. During fMRI, the participants completed an emotional interference task, pressing buttons according to the color of visually presented words. Words indicating violent actions were interspersed among nonviolent action words. In addition, the participants completed a cognitive
inhibition counting task.

The results showed that after one week of violent game play, the video game group members showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. After the second week without game play, the
changes to the executive regions of the brain were diminished.

“These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning,” Dr. Wang said.

Coverage of this news is starting to spread across the world, with the USA TodayLA TimesNewsday, and the UK Mirror, among over a hundred other publications having reported on these new findings.

Will this empirical data begin to make policymakers and parents take notice of this growing public health issue?  We at the Media Violence Resource Center certainly hope.


I was recently talking with a 1st Grade Teacher and she was discussing with me that on Monday mornings the kids in her classroom are asked to share with the rest of the class one thing that they did over the weekend.  She sets the perimeters that they can’t say that they ate, slept, watched TV or played video games.  I asked her why she tells them they can’t talk about the video games, and she told me it was because that would include most of her class, and they would state that almost every time.  I was in disbelief that this was for kids that were six and seven.  She said the scary thing is not THAT they are playing, it is WHAT they are playing and that they are playing them unmonitored, and for however long they want, without much input from the parents.

Because of this conversation with this particular teacher, it has me wondering about video games and children even more.  I think we need to beg parents to take more interest in these things.  The kids that are playing these video games endlessly are the ones that are not spending enough time doing their homework, who aren’t interacting or fully engaging with others.  These are the children that aren’t experiencing things and aren’t outside enjoying what the world has to offer. 

As I have stated before, video games can help certain children, and in certain situations, but those are not the majority of users, nor are they the “normal” consumer.  The “normal” consumer is not using video games once a week as a family activity. The “normal” consumer is not playing phonics games on their XBOX.  The “normal” consumer is not playing sensory stimulating games with their therapist.  The “normal” consumer that the gaming industry is hoping to target is one that will buy the top of the line games, and play them so much, that they will need to go and buy another game because they have already conquered the last game. 

I am just wondering who sticks up for the kid who has parents that don’t care about them and let them play Modern Warfare at 6 years old until all hours of the night.  I am wondering at what point is that considered abuse or neglect?  I am just posing the question of when do we cross the line as parents from being passive parents to being hurtful and neglectful or even abusive parents to our children by letting them watch terrible, horrible, inappropriate things that will hurt them, in this case certain video games?


I have been looking through the new games that are coming out for upcoming Holiday Season, and it still intrigues me that almost all of the games that are being promoted this season are rated M for maturity or T for teen.  I read the new Batman video game, and it says that it is rated T for teen due to tobacco use, alcohol use, mature themes, violence and more.  I am just wondering how many parents really understand the rating system for video games, because obviously the video game industry is banking on the fact that we don’t understand, and are just disregarding the system entirely.

Early Childhood (EC): Early Childhood rated games have content that may be suitable for persons ages 3 and older. Titles in this category contain no material that parents would find inappropriate.

Everyone (E): Everyone rated games have content that may be suitable for persons ages six and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal violence and some comic mischief and/or mild language.
icon_e10plusEVERYONE 10+ (E10+): Titles rated E10+ have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Teen (T): Teen rated games have content that may be suitable for persons ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violent content, mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes.
undefinedMature (M): Mature rated games have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain mature sexual themes, more intense violence and/or strong language.
undefinedAdults Only (AO): Adults Only rated games have content suitable only for adults. Titles in this category may include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. Adults Only products are not intended for persons under the age of 18.
Rating Pending: Used only for advertising and/or marketing materials created for titles that have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting a final rating.
Content Descriptor: Over 30 standardized phrases that indicate content that triggered a particular rating and may be of interest or concern, so it is different on each and every game, so make sure you read the entire label, not just the letter rating.  For example, one video game for T could have tobacco use, and a completely different one marked T has alcohol use, and no tobacco use.  These are just ways to make it harder for the consumer to understand.  The over-all feeling is that you need to play the game in it’s entirety before you can make an educated decision in regards to your child. That is fine and all, but as a parent, I have more pressing things on my schedule than sitting down and playing an entire game of Grand Theft Auto.  I just wish that the video game industry would take after the movie industry and make everything uniform and concise so that we don’t have to look so hard to find out what is in each game.  I hope that this has helped some parents understand the rating system better.

Posted on October 18th, 2011 in Media Addiction, Parents Stories, Public Policy | Leave a comment

The American Academy of Pediatrics today reaffirmed their position that media and screen time for kids younger than 2 can have potentially negative effects.

Recommendations include:

• The AAP realizes that media exposure is a reality for many families in today’s society. If parents choose to engage their young children with electronic media, they should have concrete strategies to manage it. Ideally, parents should review the content of what their child is watching and watch the program with their child.

• Parents are discouraged from placing a television set in their child’s bedroom.

• Parents need to realize that their own media use can have a negative effect on their children. Television that is intended for adults and is on with a young child in the room is distracting for both the parent and the child.

• Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure. If a parent is not able to actively play with a child, that child should have solo playtime with an adult nearby. Even for infants as young as 4 months of age, solo play allows a child to think creatively, problem-solve, and accomplish tasks with minimal parent interaction. The parent can also learn something in the process of giving the child an opportunity to entertain himself or herself while remaining nearby.

The full AAP Policy Statement below:


Posted on October 5th, 2011 in Media Addiction, Public Policy | Leave a comment

While researching media addiction, I came across some details on internet addiction.  A study was recently published in the journal Injury Prevention.  It stated that in teenagers that were addicted to the internet they were five times more likely to hurt themselves.  Injuries have included burning themselves, pulling out their hair, or hitting or pinching themselves.  If you are wondering if your child might be addicted, here are some of the signs to look out for;

  • Excessive time spent devoted to using the Internet
  • Depression, moodiness or nervousness when not online
  • Fantasizing about or being preoccupied with being online
  • A change in sleeping patterns or habits
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Lying about time spent on the Internet or denying use
  • Neglecting family, friends or activities they used to enjoy
  • Using the Internet to avoid problems

If you think that your child might be addicted to the internet then there are a few things you can do first, before you seek professional help.

  1. You need to limit computer usage.  There needs to be a start and stop time.
  2. You should put the computer in a common area where the time spent on the computer can be monitored at all times.
  3. Talk to them about the reasons they are on the computer all of the time, and see if there is anything that you can do without seeking professional help.
  4. If all else fails, seek professional, medical assistance.

A well publicized article in the UK Daily Mail today reported an unusual story of a man, Mark Bradford, 46,  accused of assaulting a 13 year-old boy after being “killed” by him in the popular interactive video game, Call of Duty.  A grown up assaulting a child is appalling anytime, but to have been provoked by something supposed to be for fun has to call into question the culpability of these games.  The mother of the alleged victim said this, “If you can’t stand losing to a child, you shouldn’t play the game.”

Gamers and proponents of games like Call of Duty, often dismiss incidents like this as actions of a small minority, and that the games themselves should not be questioned as a result.  But think about it, when was the last time you heard of a grown man throttling a young boy over losing at Monopoly?  What you do see, time after time, in many violent crimes is that the accused are gamers.  Does it mean everyone who plays these games will attack kids, or go on violent rampages?  Of course not.

But, should light be shed on the fact that all too often violent video games are part of these stories?  We think so.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that government needs to prevent their distribution, it does lead me to think that there is some collective imperative that more research is done on the correlation between the two.

As a parent, pediatrician or involved citizen, what do you make of these growing incidents between violent video games and real life violence?

 

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There have been quite a few questions in the media and legally about what the justice system can do to regulate the gaming community without infringing on individual’s rights.  I think we all know how I feel about that, but if you don’t, I believe that every person has a right to play whatever they want, but when it comes to children, we need to protect them.  Sometimes that means knowing more than they do, sometimes that means regulating by law what they can and cannot do, and sometimes, just sometimes it means stepping up to the plate and doing what is right, but not what is always popular.

I came across a CNN article about the gaming industry in Japan and how they are allowed to create anything without being censored.  The reporter was explaining how this greatly affects us here in America.  If you have access to the internet, you can download any video game that is created anywhere in the world, not just the ones that are deemed acceptable by our own government. There was a video game that was created in Japan called RapeLay.  It is a video game that was created to simulate a rapist who can follow, groom, and then rape their victims which could be females, children, etc.  It was actually sold on Amazon for a short period of time, until the uproar caused by the public forced them to remove it from the website.  I am appalled that Amazon was ever going to sell the game, but the fact that it was created in the first place is unsettling as well.  The reporter actually interviewed a couple in England that was able to download the game onto their computer via skype and play it as if they had bought the game off the shelf at their local Walmart.

I believe that as parents, and community leaders, as caregivers, educators, and citizens of the United States, we need to ask the gaming community to not allow any games to be downloaded via the internet that are not sanctioned by their companies. Similar to television V-chips, I think there should be a lock available for computers that can allow parents to filter the material that can be downloaded on computers, or foreign material that isn’t regulated by our own government.

That may or may not ever take place, so instead of waiting around, what can you do?  My husband and I were asking this question the other night, this is what we’ve come up with:

We were talking about what we will do when our children become the age where they will be encoutering innappropriate media with or without our supervision.  My husband’s first reaction will be that he will make sure that he knows more than they do in regards to the games that are out there, and the movies that are available.  I think that is great, more power to him and to all of the parents out there that can do that.

I also said that I would put any video game consule that we have out in the common area so that whatever game they play will be in full view of the entire family.  That was one thing that prevented me from watching inappropriate television when I was growing up, because the only television we had was in the family room for all to see! We also talked about going over the ratings system and finding out why they are rated the way they are and what other “gamers” are posting about this particular game before we purchase it.  My husband says that he will periodically watch them playing the game, and this includes at the beginning, through out the middle and at the end.

But what happens when we aren’t home? What happens when he or she is at a friend’s house that doesn’t believe exactly what we believe?  What happens when he or she stumble upon something inappropriate?

It’s on these questions that we would love to see some government action.  Maybe it’s an awareness campaign, similar to the anti drug public service announcements of the 1980’s and 1990’s, maybe it is stricter distribution on suspect material, maybe it’s increased regulation on what can be produced.  Even with all of these things, with the ease of information distribution on the internet, it’s going to take the vigilance of parents to protect our children.


For those parents who think that there is no such thing as rape in the video games being sold on the shelves of our department stores, please think again.  I read an article by a gamer who said that she has played the game and explains what the controversy is all about. 

Here is the explanation that I gathered from the article.  Grand Theft Auto allows you to pick up a prostitute and then proceed to have sex with her in your car, but you have to pay her.  This, in itself might be degrading and terrible enough, but not technically raping a female.  BUT, here is what happens next.  The player has the ability to allow the prostitute to leave the car, and then follow her, beat her up and take back the money.  I would also agree that in that circumstance that would be rape.  You can read the gamers description of the game as well as her opinion of the rape sequence here.

http://spooky.ms11.net/pages/p2.html 

Whether it was considered rape or not, the fact that you can pick up a prostitute and then take her to a seedy side of town and have sex with her, just seems unnecessary, and makes me wonder what happened to us a culture that we would allow our children to partake in such activities….WILLINGLY!!!  As parents, let’s get back to parenting and do what is necessary for our own children, and for society as a whole. I hope that anyone who reads this will ban this particular game from your children’s usage!