This post is the result of a school assignment Teleri had. The original assignment was to write a "letter to the editor". She modified the assignment to be a blog post. The topic, position, and composition are her own.
I really hate it when I hear someone argue that certain video games should be banned because they are EEEEVIL. Okay, they don’t use that word, but that’s what it comes down to. They might say “kids who play video games are more violent” or “video games make kids more likely to shoot someone.” Or they might say “video games encourage kids to be loners” or “gamers have no friends in real life.” They seem to think that video games only have negative effects on the people who play them.
With all the school shootings and violence going on these days, it makes sense that some people—especially parents—are concerned about how kids are behaving. Video games, especially violent video games, didn’t exist when they were kids, and neither did all this violence. So it makes sense for them to make a connection between the two. And because they think video games are the cause of the problem, it also makes sense that they want to ban them.
The thing is, I myself am a gamer girl. I’m almost fourteen years old and I have yet to shoot someone, let alone go on a shooting spree at the mall. I’m not any more violent than I was before I started playing video games. I have many friends and have no trouble making more friends. So either I am unique among all young gamers, or the assumptions people make about games are wrong. Based on the research done on video games and the people who play them, it turns out that the latter is true.
There have been studies that seem to prove that video games make people more violent. However, much of the research that
says this has been proven inconclusive, or in some cases is actually flawed. The studies that are scientifically accurate and peer-reviewed tell a different story. A University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study examined the effects of playing a violent video game and compared the results to a control group that did not play. They found that the players weren’t any more likely to argue with their friends and partners than the non-players, and they weren’t any more aggressive in general. This is the same result most studies are getting: there’s no causal relationship between violence and video games. MIT professor Henry Jenkins says “No research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.”
But what about all those shootings? Well, according to Jenkins, violent crime is actually lower than it used to be—even though 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls are playing video games. The reason we think there is so much violence is that we only find out about shootings because they’re covered in the news, and we hear about those relatively rare incidents a lot more than we used to. The kids who commit these crimes probably have personal or psychological issues that don’t come from playing video games; if video games didn’t exist, they might still have committed those crimes. And Jenkins also says that “researchers find that those serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population” (emphasis added). So video games aren’t to be blamed for crime. (Personally, I think gamers are just too busy to commit violence; it would cut into their game-play time.)
Another claim made by video game opponents is that children can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. In other words, a video game might teach them that it’s okay to shoot someone, so they might believe that shooting a person in real life is just a game and doesn’t really hurt them. But when you ask kids about this, they all say they know what the difference is. Game designer and play theorist Eric Zimmerman says that when people play, they enter what he calls the “magic circle,” which is how they distinguish between the game and reality. What happens while they are in the “magic circle” is always just a game, with only the smallest bit of reality to make it believable. Kids who would never hurt another person in real life have no trouble shooting bad guys in a video game, because they know it’s not real—it’s just a way of keeping score in the game.
But even people who don’t believe video games make kids more violent may still think video games have a bad influence on them. They might think that video games take up too much time and energy, or that they make kids isolated and unable to make friends or have a normal social life. If you’ve ever seen a kid staring bug-eyed at the screen while he shoots aliens, these arguments might seem valid. And it’s true that kids can spend a lot of time on the computer or the console with a favorite game. But that’s something that can be controlled by parents who are aware of their kids’ activities and work with their kids to figure out how much play time is appropriate. Just because there are games in the house, doesn’t mean that they have to play them all the time.
The other point—about gamers having a lack of social skills or being isolated—is so far from being true it’s almost funny. More than half of all gamers play their games with another real live person—often a family member. When you’re playing with another person, it’s usually as a team, and you both have to work together and strategize in order to succeed. This is the opposite of being isolated. Additionally, the hugely popular massively multiplayer online games encourage you to make friends and work with other people in order to have fun. Non-gamers often think that because you never meet these people in real life, it’s not a real friendship. But the hundreds of thousands of people who have participated in online guilds and other organizations would disagree.
What many people don’t realize as they’re focusing on these negative points is that video games can have very positive effects on players. One of these is how games encourage you to strategize and solve problems. These are skills that often come into use in real life. James Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, says that gamers are “active problem solvers who see mistakes as opportunities to learn and are encouraged to test new ideas.” Instead of thinking of mistakes as personal flaws, gamers often think of them as something to learn from. Another positive thing about video games is that they let children express feelings and impulses they wouldn’t be able to act on in real life. It’s better for them to work out anger by beating up a computer opponent than if they just went out and beat up a classmate who made them mad.
If you’re one of those people who think that video games are dangerous, I think you’re probably just worried about the safety of children. That’s a good thing to care about. But banning video games isn’t the way to keep kids safe. What I suggest is that you spend some time playing your kids’ favorite games. Get to know what games they like and why they like them. Your kids will think you are pretty cool if you do. You may find that there are some games that aren’t as awful as you thought just from the title or the box art. You’ll be much better informed about video games than if you just jump to conclusions. Who knows—maybe you’ll discover some games you like playing!