Violence. Webster defines the act as an exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse. By definition the majority of video games on the market today classify as violent, whether we are looking at Mario jumping on top of Goombas or Captain Price shooting Russians in Call of Duty. Are this games really making our children act more aggressively?
Well according to certain studies yes, and this aggression isn’t just solely focused on video games either. Studies have found that children will copy and identify with characters in video game and animated shows, and often tend to copy violent behavior when shown. In the 95 children that participated in the study, a staggering 26 acts of aggression per hour was recorded in the kids that viewed what was deemed to be violent programming as opposed to just five with children that did not.
That’s not to say that other studies haven’t expressed the exact opposite opinion. In fact, according to statistics compiled by the FBI, as the popularity of video games has risen in recent years, youth violence has been on the decline. This may lead some to the belief that video games aren’t as detrimental to the development of our youth as some would have you believe.
Of course, the introduction of violent and aggressive content to our youth is ultimately controlled by the parents of these said children and that fact should not be overlooked. Just like the television and movie industries, the video game industry has an independent rating system in the ESRB that informs parents of the content in the products they choose to purchase for their children. The ESRB has been praised by many as a fantastic tool for parents to govern what content their children are viewing, and according to a 2009 study by the FTC, 87 percent of parents have said that they were satisfied with the content the ESRB provides.
After working at GameStop for 3+ years I can say that although the content of each game is right on the back of the box, many parents choose to ignore or simple don’t care about the ratings for video games, and this is where the real problem lies. I can’t tell you how many times I have sold a copy of Grand Theft Auto or Gears of War to a mother with a child no more than 11 years of age, even after explaining the extremes of the violence associated in the said title. Little Johnny would most certainly look at me with disdain as I was describing the violent intricacies of each title, but I felt it was my job as a sales clerk to do so. Nine times out of ten the parent would shrug their shoulders and purchase the title anyways, but it was the rare exception of the parent that would take my advice seriously that would help me sleep at night knowing that I didn’t contribute to the corruption of a young mind.
The studies can say what they want, but I personally wouldn’t allow my pre-teen child to partake in the violence associated with games like Call of Duty and God of War. Obviously each child matures at a different rate, and it is ultimately up to each parent to determine what is appropriate for their child, but is this proactive parenting really happening in this day and age? Every child processes information at a different rate, and views violent actions with a different filter, and it is up to each and every parent to determine when certain ideas should be introduced to their children. You wouldn’t talk to your child about the birds and the bees before they are ready to truly understand that information, so why should it be different when it comes to violence in a video game.
This brings us full circle back to Mario defeating Goombas. While this certainly does classify as a violent act, I think that Nintendo does a wonderful job in filtering this violent content from children in most of their first party titles. While a Mario title is accessible for children and adults alike, I think Nintendo has the correct mentality to not alienate their younger audience while still playing to the more mature section of gamers in the process. This isn’t to say that this hasn’t been to the detriment of what you would consider to be a more ‘hardcore’ gamer, just look at friend codes for an example of this, no one can say that Nintendo consoles aren’t a safe haven for younger gamers.
In the end, whether you choose to believe that video games are causing violent behavior or not, remember that the only way children are able to experience violent games is if parents are purchasing them for their children. It’s when they choose to turn the other cheek that the problem arises, and this above all else is as unacceptable a behavior as the violence that arises because of it. Will kids find a way play this questionable content one way or the other, probably. But not if parents are proactive in their children’s lives, and care about the media they consume. Video games or otherwise.