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Posted: 08/01/05

Video Games

The Good, The Bad, and the Dangerous

by Kerby Anderson

The recent controversy over the popular video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" is just another reminder of the deception of ratings and the need for parental direction and discernment. The game in question had pornographic content inserted into a game that was previously given a "Mature" rating. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board now requires that it be labeled "Adults Only."

"Grand Theft Auto" has already been a lightning rod for controversy because it rewards players for committing crimes and engaging in dangerous behavior. Nevertheless, the game has sold more than 5 million copies in the United States. It is still not completely clear whether the manufacturer knew of the hidden content and deceived the ratings board or whether the content was unauthorized by the manufacturer.

At the other end of the spectrum are games that have been proven to exercise the mind the way that physical activity exercises the body. For example, researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that video game players (often called gamers) had much better visual-recognition abilities than non-gamers. They even found that when non-gamers spent a week playing a World War II game, that their skills on the visual test improved significantly.

Parents need to ask what benefits there may be to playing videos and whether those benefits outweigh the detriments. Many of the games available today raise little or no concern. As one commentator put it, "The majority of video games on the best-seller list contain no more bloodshed than a game of Risk."

But even good, constructive games played for long periods of time can be detrimental. Over the last few years I have been compiling statistics for my teen talk on media that I give at Worldview Weekends. The number of hours young people spend watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Internet, going to movies, etc. is huge and increasing every year. Young people spend entirely too much time in front of a screen (TV screen, computer screen, movie screen).

So even good video games can be bad if young people are staying indoors and not getting out in the world and getting exercise. Obesity is already a problem among many young people. And good video games can be bad if they take priority over responsibilities at home and schoolwork.

Here is a brief overview of the many types of video games currently on the market:

1. Puzzles this would include such games as "Tetris," and are generally rated E (Everyone ages 6 and over).

2. Strategy these games may be as straightforward as "Chessmaster" or involve the use of tactical moves of troops or players such as "Advanced Wars."

3. Simulation games some games like "SimCity" require creativity and advanced problem-solving skills. Others involve driving or flying simulations that can be relatively tame or highly offensive such as "Grand Theft Auto."

4. Arcade games includes classic arcade games like "Pacman" or "Frogger" or may also include the violent "Street Fighter."

5. Role playing games these games may be less graphic but often involve fantasy and even the occult.

6. Action these games most often have an M rating (Mature ages 17 and over).

Many of these action games involve point-and-shoot games that are especially dangerous. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (former West Point professor and authors of books on killing) has testified that these games are essentially "killing simulators."

Gorssman testified on the shootings in Paducah, Kentucky. Michael Carneal, a 14-year-old boy who had never fired a handgun before, stole a pistol and fired a few practice shots the night before. The next morning he fired 8 shots and had 8 hits (4 of them head shots). The typical response in firing a gun is to fire at the target until it drops. He instead moved from victim to victim just like he had learned in the video game. When the goal is to simply rack up the highest "score" moving quickly and getting bonus points for head shots is the way to be successful.

Does that mean that anyone who plays these games will be a killer? Of course not. But Grossman points out that the kind of training we give to soldiers (operant conditioning, desensitization, etc.) are what we are also giving to our kids through many of these violent video games.

Looking back at the list of different types of games, it is pretty easy to see that it is possible to find acceptable games as well as questionable and even dangerous video games in any category. That is why parental direction and discernment is so important.

The latest controversy demonstrates that the video game industry has not been effective at self-regulation. And children cannot be expected to exercise good judgment unless parents use discernment and teach it to their kids.

Parents should understand the potential dangers of video games and make sure they approve of the video games that come into their home. They may conclude that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. If their children do play video games, they should also set time limits and monitor attitudes and behaviors that appear. They should also watch for signs of addiction. The dangers of video games are real.

Distributed by

By Kerby Anderson

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Disclaimer: Worldview Weekend, Christian Worldview Network and its columnists do not necessarily endorse or agree with every opinion expressed in every article posted on this site. We do however, encourage a healthy and friendly debate on the issues of our day. Whether you agree or disagree, we encourage you to post your feedback by using the feedback button.


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Re: Video Games: The Good, The Bad, and the Dangerous
Posted On: 09/15/05 09:52:49 AM Age 54, MN
I'm a school teacher and regardless of content, many students are unable to resist spending too much time playing video games. It has a much stronger draw than tv. I've seen ordinarily very good students break the rules and go onto games in the computer lab, known many students whose school work suffered. I've known many Christian adults who also spend inordinate, inappropriate amounts of time on games. I myself even played a "harmless" word game online and found myself justifying the hours I spend playing it. Yeah -- kind of addicted. The principle of "redeeming the time" needs to be taught and considered in evaluationg games.

Fantasy elements
Posted On: 08/26/05 10:25:23 AM Age 25, ND
I agree with this article. I enjoy playing games once in a while for a little bit (though I could not call myself a 'gamer'), but some of these games are getting way out of hand. They have swearing, pornographic elements and over-the-top violence in them that is absolutely unnecessary and discouraging to see. I believe I know myself and what is fine for me to play, but many kids do not (as well as many adults). One thing I do have a problem with in this article is the seeming condemnation of fantasy elements in "RPG" games. There is nothing wrong with fantasy. I get tired of tolerating raised eyebrows and frowns from church-goers because I enjoy stories about magic and dragons. The occult is another thing, of course, but do not lump all fantasy in with Satanism, please.

Re: No Retreats, No Reserves, No Regrets
Posted On: 08/09/05 11:30:23 PM Age 20, OH
From what you say in you post it sounds like your child is not addicted to video games (children generally talk constantly about anything that interests them at that age). The being afraid of many things can also just be something children do at that age (it's at this time that children usually start to wrestle with the difference between reality and fiction and what can happen in this world and what cannot). There is one other answer that could be alarming. This can represent that the child has not developed adequate trust. This generally happens in unstable enviroments. It can be anything from parents yelling and screaming a lot or having mood swings frequently, or it could be caused by something else that is making your child feel insecure in this world. Does he struggle with bullies or has he had any traumatic experiences where he feels that someone he trusted let him down? Anyway, good luck with your child.

No Retreats, No Reserves, No Regrets
Posted On: 08/02/05 11:03:17 AM Age 45, NJ
Maybe he's afraid of Jesus!!!!!

No Retreats, No Reserves, No Regrets
Posted On: 08/01/05 12:52:15 PM Age 42, MI
I enjoyed reading this article and I have a concern about video game addiction. My 7 year old son loves video games. He doesn't play anything really violent but he is pre-occupied with these games. He thinks about them all the time. He is also afraid of things. He thinks he hears noises all the time and is afraid to sleep in his own bed. He is afraid of going into the bathroom by himself and he doesn't like even going into another room where no one is. We have told him that he doesn't have to be afraid because Jesus is with him all the time. We have read Bible verses to him supporting that truth. He still is afraid. I have thought about taking video games away completely but I hate to take something away that he enjoys so much. I don't really know what to do. I would like information about video game addiction and how to recognize it and what to do if your child is addicted. --Jeanne Hartsuff, Eaton Rapids, Michigan.

Posted On: 08/01/05 11:20:21 AM Age 22, IL
I am actually rather surprised that I agree with the comments in this article (or this website for that matter). I am a young, (non-Christian) "gamer" and one who is generally on the side of the programmers and manufacturers when it comes to the controverseys regarding the playing of video games and the types of games being created and sold. Nevertheless I think it is about time that someone emphasized the parents' responsibility in all this. The companies in the video game industry know what sells and what sells is violence (and yes, sex). I am a fan of the GTA series and have beaten all three of the newest versions. That does not mean that I advocate any of the things I've done in the fictional world of the game nor do I think it appropriate for young children (anyone under 16 or 17) to be exposed to these types of "missions" or "objectives." The video games are out there. The programers are not going to stop programing them, the manufacturers are not going to stop manufacturing them, and people are not going to stop buying them. (In fact, most of this controversey actually adds to the consumption of these games rather than deterring people from purchasing them.) The only truly effective way to "protect our children" (as some people put it so frequently) is for parents to take responsibility for THEIR OWN children, for them to start acting like PARENTS for once. The fact that "inappropriate" video games are entering a house is not the fault of the creators of these games, it is the fault of the parents. I'd like to make clear that I am NOT IN ANY WAY ADVOCATING REMOVING THESE GAMES FROM THE SHELVES. I am just saying that the ratings are there for a reason. If there is any question as to what the "Mature" rating means, it is up to the parents to do the research and find out what the game contains. Kudos to Kerby Anderson for his intelligent input. While I do not agree with everything he said in this column it is nice to see someone putting parents back into the equation of video games and accoutability.

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