Video Games: The Good, The Bad, and the Dangerous

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The Good, The Bad, and the Dangerous
by Kerby <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />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.

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