An Examination of the Effects of Violent Video Games on Children and Youth

Abstract

Video games were first introduced into American society in the 1970s. However, it was not until the recent past that the video games industry has attracted a heated debate from the public just like the televisions industry. The negative effects of video games, particularly concerning their violent content, on children and the youth, have attracted the attention of many scholars. This study aims to examine the effects of violent video games on the aggressiveness of children and youth.

A total of 150 participants will be selected from three rehabilitation centers for juvenile delinquents. Data will be collected through interviews and semi-structured questionnaires. It is hoped that the results from this study will sensitize parents about the need to spend quality time with their children, the need to be involved in their children’s activities, and the need to monitor and restrict the kinds of video games their children play.

An examination of the effects of violent video games on children and youth.

Introduction

Video games have become the latest trend associated with American popular culture (Taylor, 2005). More than fifty percent of American households with children own video games. This is despite the negative publicity that has surrounded the video games industry. The negative publicity of video games is mainly because most video games are laden with violent content. Eysenck argues that “surveys indicate that 80 percent of the most popular video games have violent themes while 50 percent have violent content” (2004).

Arguments made for the censorship of video games result from the higher level of individual involvement and identification with violent characters in video games than in other types of media such as television. It is a fact that many television programs have violent content which increases aggressiveness in the viewers, mostly young children. But the effect of television violence cannot match that of video games violence. This is chiefly because television viewing is a passive activity in which the viewer only observes the violence but takes no part in it.

This is contrary to interactive video games – the player takes an active role in the violence by being the perpetrator of violence. This is more pronounced in first-person video games in which the player actively plays the role of the violent character. In third-person video games, the player plays the role of a character different from the main violent character. In both of these types of video games, the player is actively engaged in the violence that is perpetrated by the game.

The learner is therefore in a good position to experience first-hand the aspects of the violence (Gunter, 1998). The result of this is that players of video games with violent content become more accustomed to violent behavior. The problem to be addressed in this study is the potential impact of violent video games on the behavior of children and youth.

The rationale for the study

The changing family structure in the American and other societies can be blamed for the increasing criminal and delinquent behaviors among children and the youth. In the majority of modern families, both the father and the mother are involved in breadwinning partly due to the harsh economic times and the liberation of women. As a result, the majority of children are brought up by nannies who have no control over what the children do or watch. Parents are too busy to spend quality time with their children and get to know what activities their children are involved in. Forms of entertainment such as television, video games, and computer games are bought by the parents for their children to keep them busy and give their parents peace while at home. As a result, there is no restriction on what children watch and play.

The increasing violent incidents in schools have been partly blamed on violent media content such as violent video games. A study of the Columbine high school shooting spree revealed that most of those involved in the shooting had not used any real gun before the incident. However, they were preoccupied with violent video games. Muscari argues that “one of the Columbine killers even reprogrammed one of his games so that it looked like his home neighborhood, complete with the homes of people he hated,” (2002).

Their obsession with violent video games had desensitized them to the extent that they were laughing hysterically as they went about their shooting spree. This study will equip parents with information about the effect that violent video games have on their children’s behaviors. It is hoped that this study will sensitize parents about the need to spend quality time with their children, the need to be involved in their children’s activities, and the need to monitor and restrict the kinds of video games their children play.

The heuristic value of the study

Excessive involvement in video games by children has a profound effect not only on immediate families or neighborhoods but also on the entire society. It leads to a loss of time that could have been spent on productive activities such as school work and healthy social relations (Gunter, 1998). In the end, obsession with violent video games leads to insecurity issues in communities and the entire society as well as the loss of economic resources such as time and lives. Research into the effect of violent video games on children is therefore important to create awareness among parents, teachers, and other authoritative figures. The research would also offer recommendations as to how aggressive behavior in children and the youth can be minimized leading to a safer and healthier society.

Research questions

This study will aim to answer the following questions:

  • Do violent video games have any effect on the aggressive behavior of children?
  • Does the impact of violent video games on children vary according to the age bracket?
  • Does the impact of video games on children vary according to the amount of time spent on the games?
  • Does the impact of violent video games on children vary according to ethnic groups?
  • Does the impact of violent video games on children vary according to the sex of the players?

Theoretical framework and covering law

The effect of violent video games on children can be explained through several theories: desensitization, normalization, and role modeling.

Desensitization – extensive playing of video games can minimize the horror associated with violence to the extent that the player becomes immune to violence. This process is known as desensitization. Desensitization causes players to be less receptive to and worried about violence. A desensitized person is more likely to engage in violent or aggressive behavior than a sensitive person (Amichai, 2005).

Normalization – Violence in mass media is often portrayed as an acceptable means of achieving desired goals and results. For instance, violence perpetrated against a school bully may bring his bullying behavior to an end; or violence against a debtor may cause him to repay the money he owes his creditor. The result of such reinforcement of violent acts is that children internalize that it is alright to use violence because it will bring about the desired results at a faster and more successful rate than any other means.

However, the reinforcement of violent acts is indirect in television and films. This is contrary to video games in which such reinforcement is direct. Amichai argues that “the video game player is directly reinforced for aggressing by seeing visual effects, hearing sound effects (for example, groans of pain from the enemy), hearing verbal praise such as ‘nice shot’, receiving points and advancing to the next highest level of the game” (2005).

Role modeling – Role modeling plays a significant role in nurturing violent behavior in children. When children play video games, it is only natural for them to take a liking to and identify with different characters depending on their personalities and interests. Such characters become role models to the players who in turn hero-worship them. A child will imitate the behavior of his hero to identify with and be like him (Amichai, 2005).

Research paradigm

The research paradigm of this study is positivism. This study is deductive and quantitative. It begins with the recognition of a theory (in this case the normalization, desensitization, and role modeling theories). The study is then conducted to prove or disprove the theories. The role of the researcher in this study is to be objective; that is, he or she is not supposed to influence the results of the study through bias (Creswell, 2003). The researcher is also autonomous from the objects of the study.

Literature review

The effect of violent television content on children has been a subject of extensive research and literature. However, the same cannot be said about the impact of violent video games. The impact of violent video games on children as a subject of research is a relatively new phenomenon. However, several studies have already been carried out. Gentile and Gentile (2007) carried out a study to examine how video games teach their players the skills involved in perpetrating violence against others. Gentile and Gentile hoped to test the hypotheses that: the amount of time spent on playing video games affects the acquisition of violent behaviors; and that more habitual practice of violent video games has a direct relationship to the acquisition of violent behavior.

The researchers utilized a sample of 430 3rd – 5th graders, 607 8th and 9th graders, and 1,441 university students. The samples were based in Minnesota but were selected from one suburban private school, three suburban public schools, and one rural public school (Gentile and Gentile, 2007). The researchers found out that violent video games are ideal teachers of violent behaviors. Playing numerous violent video games has a higher likelihood of instilling violent behaviors than playing non-violent video games or a mixture of violent and non-violent games.

Secondly, the researchers found out that regular playing of video games over a long period will lead to higher abilities of aggressive behavior. Other studies that had similar results include the study by Dominick (1984). This study examined the effect of video games on delinquency in adolescents using questionnaires. Dominick found out that there was a positive correlation between playing violent video games and engagement in delinquent behavior.

Ferguson (2007) carried out a meta-analytic study of the existing research of the effect of violent video games. Ferguson conducted an extensive literature search of peer-reviewed articles that deal with the impact of video games. The researcher analyzed the data from the studies using Pearson’s correlation coefficient. Ferguson found that the majority of the studies were highly biased as far as the effect of video games on aggressive behavior and visuospatial cognition were concerned.

After controlling for this publication bias, Ferguson found out that video games led to greater visuospatial cognition but not too aggressive behavior. Ferguson’s study is therefore one of the studies that oppose the view that video games lead to aggressive behavior (Ferguson, 2007). The results of this study are similar to the ones advocated by Vorderer and Bryant (2006) who found out that many video games have educational contents that can be of good use to children and adolescents by instilling in them critical thinking skills and creativity.

The impact of violent media content on children has also been studied by Boxer, Huesmann, Bushman, O’Brien, and Moceri. In their study, the researchers aimed to examine the effects that exposure to violent media content has on antisocial behavior. Boxer et al. (2009) used a total sample of 820 youth, 390 of which were juvenile delinquents and the rest were high school students. Interviews were conducted on the samples as well as on the parents/guardians and teachers/staff of the samples. The results of this study supported much of the literature concerning the impact of media violence on children and youth. The researchers found out that those who had higher exposure to violent media content were more likely than their counterparts to engage in violent behavior (Boxer et al., 2009).

The effect of violent video games on aggressive behavior was conducted by Scott (1995). Scott wanted to examine the extent to which playing video games can impact individuals with differing personalities. Scott used a sample of 117 students from Strathclyde University. From the sample, 45 were male while 75 were female. Three video games were used for the study: Tetrisc (nonviolent game), Overkill (moderately violent game), and Sega Mega Drive (highly violent game).

Scott found out that the non-violent and moderately violent games were generally associated with less violent behavior while the highly violent game was associated with more aggressive behavior. However, there was a significant difference in aggressiveness in the individual samples. Scott (1995) concluded that the effect of violent video games varies according to the personalities of the players.

Methodology

Operationalization and scales of measurement of the variables

The variables used in this study include:

  • Age – the data type for age is ratio level in nature
  • Sex – the data type for sex is nominal
  • Ethnic community – the data type for this variable is nominal
  • Exposure to violent video games – the data type for this variable is the interval in nature
  • Number of hours spent on video games on weekdays and weekends/holidays – the data type for this variable is the ratio in nature
  • Criminal/delinquent behavior engaged in – the data type for this variable is nominal
  • Physical aggression – the data type for this variable is the interval in nature

Coding of the variables

The coding of the variables depends on whether the variables are ratio, ordinal, nominal, or interval. For the nominal data, the responses have to be coded by assigning numbers to each response. The values associated with the interval or ordinal level data are specified to enable the analysis. Lastly, the ratio level data do not require any coding. Instead, they are recorded as they are (see appendix A for the data coding sheet).

Population, sample, and sampling techniques

The population of this study includes children and youth aged between 10 and 18 years. The study will be based on three rehabilitation centers for juvenile delinquents in California State. A purposive sampling technique will be used to select the rehabilitation centers. The centers should have more than 100 juvenile delinquents registered in their rehabilitation programs. They should also have a mix of both girls and boys in their programs as well as children and youth from at least three different ethnic communities namely: Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic communities.

Once the centers have been selected, a total of fifty participants will be selected from each center giving a total of 150 samples. Stratified sampling will be used to divide the population of the rehabilitation centers into groups according to age, sex, and ethnic community. The samples will then be selected from the subgroups – age, sex, and ethnic community – on a random basis to ensure that the population in the sample is equitably represented.

Research design

The research design of this study is a survey. A survey will be carried out to examine the effects of violent video games on children and youth. The survey will be used to provide a quantitative and numeric depiction of a part of the population (in this case 10-18 year-olds). The survey will also enable the researchers to describe and explain occurrences in the population that pertain to the problem under investigation (Creswell, 2003).

Data collection techniques and instruments

Data will be collected through interviews and questionnaires. The questionnaires will not be self-administered but instead, they will be used to conduct the interviews by the interviewers. A total of ten interviewers will be trained to carry out the interviews (fifteen respondents per interviewer). Five interviews will be carried out by each interviewer each day. Each interview session should last between 30 minutes and 1 hour.

The questionnaires used will be semi-structured; that is, they will consist of both closed-ended and open-ended questions (see appendix B). This will enable the interviewers to gather additional information through clarifications of vague responses and probing of short responses (Creswell, 2003). The interviews will be tape-recorded. Additionally, note-taking will be used by interviewers to note down non-verbal communication such as body language and facial expressions.

Data analysis

The inferential analysis will be used to draw conclusions from and to make inferences about the research results. The Pearson’s correlation coefficient will be used to measure the existence, absence, degree, and direction of correlation between the independent and dependent variables (Creswell, 2003). Secondly, the analysis of variance (ANOVA) will be used to measure the differences between the different sub-groups namely: age, sex, and ethnic community.

Ethical considerations

Several ethical issues should be considered while conducting this study. These include informed consent, privacy and confidentiality, and anonymity.

Informed consent – This study requires the responses of children and youth aged between 10 and 18 years who have been enrolled in rehabilitation centers for juvenile delinquents. Consent should therefore be requested from the administration of the rehabilitation centers, the parents/guardians of the participants as well as the participants themselves. In asking for consent, the researchers should provide them with information concerning the study such as the objective of the study, the duration of the study, the merits and demerits of the study, and the degree of privacy and confidentiality (Creswell, 2003); (see appendix C).

Privacy and confidentiality – the respondents of the study have the right to conceal any information about themselves that they are not comfortable with. The researchers should also protect the confidentiality of the information provided by revealing it only to the relevant parties.

Anonymity – the personal identities of the respondents should be concealed to ensure that the researchers remain objective in the study (Creswell, 2003).

References

Amichai, Y 2005, The Social Net: Understanding Human Behavior in Cyberspace, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Boxer, P, Huesmann, R, Bushman, B, O’Brien, M & Moceri, D 2009, ‘The role of violent media preference in cumulative developmental risk for violence and general aggression, Journal of Youth Adolescence, vol. 38, pp.417-428.

Creswell, J 2003, Research design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches, London, Sage Publications.

Dominick, J 1984, ‘Videogames, television violence, and aggression in teenagers’, Journal of Communication, vol. 34, pp.136-147.

Eysenck, M 2004, Psychology: An International Perspective, London, Taylor & Francis.

Ferguson, J 2007, ‘The good, the bad and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of positive and negative effects of violent video games’, Psychiatric Quarterly, vol. 78, pp.309-316.

Gentile, D, & Gentile, R 2008, ‘Violent video games as exemplary teachers: A conceptual analysis’, Journal of Youth Adolescence, vol. 37, pp.127-141.

Gunter, B 1998, The Effects of Video Games on Children: The Myth Unmasked, London, Continuum International Publishing Group.

Muscari, M 2002, ‘Media violence: Advice for parents’, Pediatric Nursing, vol. 28, no. 6, pp.585-591.

Scott, D 1995, ‘The effect of video games on feelings of aggression’, The Journal of Psychology, vol. 129 no.2, p.121.

Taylor, J 2005, Your children are under attack: How popular culture is destroying your kids’ values and how you can protect them, Naperville, Sourcebooks, Inc.

Vorderer, P, & Jennings, B 2006, Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences, London, Routledge.

Appendix A: Data coding sheet

Item Variable name Variable label Value labels
1 Age Age of respondent (ratio level data)
2 Sex Sex of respondent 1 = a, 2 = b
3 Ethnicity Ethnicity of respondent 1 = a, 2 = b, 3 = c
4 Engagement Engagement of respondent in video games 1 = no, 2 = yes
5 Exposure Frequency of video games engagement 1 = rarely to 5 = always
6 Duration Time spent on video games daily (ratio level data)
7 Offense Criminal/delinquent offense committed by the respondent 1 = a, 2 = b, 3 = c, 4 = d, 5 = e
8 Aggression Aggressiveness of the respondent 1 = no, 2 = yes
9 Aggression frequency Frequency with which the respondent engaged in aggression 1 = a, 2 = b, 3 = c, 4 = d

Appendix B: Questionnaire

  • What is your age? _________
  • What is your sex? __________
    • Male
    • Female
  • Which ethnic community do you belong to? ____________
    • Caucasian
    • African American
    • Hispanic
  • Do you play any video games? _________. If yes, go to question 5. If no, go to question 8.
  • Rate the frequency with which you play each of your three most favorite games.
    • Video game 1:
    • Video game 2:
    • Video game 3:
      • Rate: 1_______ rarely
      • 2_______ sometimes
      • 3_______ neutral
      • 4_______ often
      • 5_______ always
  • How many hours daily do you spend on video games during:
    • Weekdays ________, Weekends ________, Holidays _________
  • What criminal/delinquent offense have you engaged in?
    • Homicide ________
    • Property crime __________
    • Robbery with violence __________
    • Assault _________
    • Drug/substance abuse _________
    • None of the above _________
  • Have you ever been engaged in physical aggression? Yes/No ________. If yes, go to question 10.
  • How often did you engage in physical aggression before the rehabilitation program?
    • 1-3 times
    • 4-6 times
    • 6-10 times
    • More than 10 times

Appendix C: Plain Language Statement

Project: An examination of the effect of violent video games on children and youth

Chief researcher ____________________________

Associate researchers _____________________________

Purpose of the study: This study will equip parents with information about the effect that violent video games has on their children’s behaviors. It is hoped that this study will sensitize parents about the need to spend quality time with their children, the need to be involved in their children’s activities and the need to monitor and restrict the kinds of video games their children play.

Benefits of the study: Research into the effect of violent video games on children is therefore important to create awareness among parents, teachers and other authoritative figures. The research would also offer recommendations as to how aggressive behavior in children and the youth can be minimized leading to a safer and healthier society.

Risks/discomforts of the study: there are no risks that are associated with this study. The only discomfort that may arise is the tape-recording of the conversations between the interviewers and the respondent.

Your participation: Your participation in this study would be highly appreciated. However, participation is not an obligation; only those who are willing to participate will be accepted.

Confidentiality: if you agree to participate in the study, be assured that any information you provide will be used only for the purpose of the study and will not be revealed to other parties other than those taking part in the study.

Anonymity: to protect your privacy and confidentiality, personal details such as name and contact details will only be known to the researchers to enable them to contact you. The details will however not be indicated in the research report.

Results of the study: if you wish to gain access to the results of the study, please contact the researchers through the email address and telephone numbers provided below. Arrangements will then be made to provide you with a copy of the results.

Contact: In case of any questions concerning the project, you can contact the Executive Officer of the Deakin University Human Research Ethics Committee on 44 4112 0733 or by email: duhrethics@du.edu. The Executive Officer is not connected to the study but he can pass your concerns to the researchers concerned with the project.

Appendix D: Budget

Item Total
Personnel:
Training of interviewers
Compensation for the respondents (150 x $30)
Wages of the interviewers (10 x $ 150)
Wages of the data analysts (5 x $300)
$ 4500
$ 1500
$ 1500
Transport costs $ 250
Hire of tape recorders (10 x $100) $ 1000
Writing pads and pens $ 500
Development and printing of questionnaires $ 500
Total Costs $ 9750