Are violent computer games harmless fun — or a dangerous pastime?
Are violent games dangerous? ... explicit title Grand Theft Auto
As study links graphic titles with aggression,
we speak to the experts
By MATT QUINTON
Last Updated: 03rd December 2012
CAN playing violent computer games turn you into a real-life thug?
As far back as the '70s there were claims that arcade gaming was damaging impressionable youngsters.
And there were fresh outcries in the '90s as hi-tech consoles moved into homes, with improved graphics making violence more gruesome.
But new research by Brock University in Canada claims to have found the first clear link between teenagers playing graphic titles and displaying aggressive behaviour in real life.
Researchers said games like Grand Theft Auto could be teaching kids that aggression is an "appropriate way to deal with conflict and anger”.
Realistic ... Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Primary school teacher Alison Sherratt, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says she has long suspected a link between games and aggressive behaviour.
Mrs Sherratt, who earlier this year called for tougher legislation on games, said: “I began to investigate this area after seeing one of my pupils flinging himself through the front of a plastic buggy, on to the playground floor.
“It turned out that he was acting out something he’d seen in Grand Theft Auto.”
After questioning the ten and 11-year-olds at her school she was horrified to find that large numbers had been allowed to play violent titles – with many more saying they had watched older siblings play.
Executions ... Manhunt
'Games can be harmful' ... Kate Fallon
She believes this is to blame for the increase in violent behaviour she has seen over the last 25 years.
She said: “The children are not trying to hurt each other – but they’re acting out something they’ve seen in a game, and they don’t understand that could cause real damage.”
“There have always been violent films and TV shows.
“But I am convinced that the graphics in computer games are now so realistic that children can’t tell if they are computer-generated or not – and that’s what causes this behaviour.”
General secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists Kate Fallon agrees that playing explicit games can be harmful for a child’s development.
She said: “The problems come when you have children living in certain circumstances being able to access video games that are completely inappropriate, which contain violence, or sexual violence.
“If that happens over a long period of time, then you do see normalisation of violence – or even sexual violence.
“These children are so used to watching people being hit that they don’t understand that if you do that in real life it hurts somebody.”
Gaming expert ... Professor Sara de Freitas
But gaming expert Professor Sara de Freitas, of the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University, says blame lies not with the games themselves – but with parents who don’t realise what their youngsters are playing.
She said: “Often children go off to their rooms and play on their computers, and parents don’t necessarily understand what they’re doing.
“In one study, we found that 53 per cent of boys were regularly playing Call of Duty - which has violent gameplay in it.”
In Britain games are regulated using the PEGI system. Each title is given an age-rating, meaning they can only be sold to gamers older than that limit.
And Dr Jo Twist, CEO of industry body the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, says these ratings are just part of the work being done to safeguard youngsters.
She said: “Just like any entertainment media, some games deal with adult themes.
“Carers of young people, especially vulnerable young people, have to take responsibility for their health and wellbeing.”
And Dr Twist added: “The games industry takes the wellbeing of all players very seriously.
“It has led the field in making sure that games can be enjoyed safely and sensibly, through PEGI age ratings and parental controls on all main games consoles.”
AUIE head ... Dr Jo Twist
But expert Mrs Fallon isn’t convinced that enough is being done, explaining: “I wonder if the gaming industry could be doing a bit more, insisting that you have to have a proper log in so that children can’t just accidentally come across these things.”
The top psychologist went on to warn that it is a mistake to think it is a simple case of violent computer games warping the children who play them.
She explained: “If a child wants to engage in violent video games an awful lot, you need to be asking questions about what else is going on in their life, causing that need to hurt somebody.
“That desire to hit somebody may be because somebody’s doing it to them."
Professor de Freitas agrees, adding: “We need to look at the underlying causes of aggressive behaviour.
“I think as with film and TV before it, there’s this idea that it’s the game that made somebody violent. But we are in control of our own actions, and it’s important to be aware of that.”
Brutal beat-em-up ... Mortal Kombat
The academic also warned against lumping all games in together, saying: “There’s a lot of evidence to show that non-violent games actually have a very positive impact on a child’s development and on behaviour.
“Many young people nowadays will also play games with their families, which can be very bonding.”
Dr Twist went even further, adding: “Games are incredibly powerful and positive experiences.
“They help people of all ages and understand problem solving, cognitive skills, collaboration, they inspire story writing and spark imaginations.
“In a survey we carried out this year, we found that 92% of parents recognised the positive impact games have on their kids.”
So what do you think? Is playing violent titles a dangerous game – or are they just harmless fun?