There has been much debate about the harmful effects of the violence in video games. However, what about non-violent ones? Can they affect your children’s mental, emotional, or even physical health?
By Earl Hunsinger
There have been literally thousands of studies done on whether the simulated violence in today’s video games has a harmful effect on players. Most of these have recognized that there is a link between video game violence and antisocial behavior, especially in younger players.
“These are not just games anymore. These are learning machines. We’re teaching kids in the most incredible manner what it’s like to pull the trigger. The focus is on the thrill, enjoyment, and reward. What they’re not learning are the real-life consequences.”
― Rick Dyer, video game developer and president of Virtual Image Productions. (Readers Digest article ‘Computer Violence: Are Your Kids at Risk?’)
Brent Stafford, a researcher at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada conducted a study involving 600 young video-game players. As a result, he warns that many games “are training our kids to celebrate violence”. Maclean’s magazine reports: “Some hard-core players, who prefer the most violent and realistic games, ‘kill’ as many as 1,000 ‘avatars’ (on-screen characters) in a single night, often in scenes of gory realism.” This research also showed the extent to which such violent games “engulf young minds in worlds that desensitize them to violence, even killing.” Moreover online game Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which allowed players to act out the tragic events that took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, gave rise to controversy.
Of course, not all computer or video games sponsor violence. Many are educational or encourage creative problem solving, such as the Myst series of games. However, even if they are not encouraging your children to go out and commit murder, there seem to be other concerns about their effects on a player’s physical health.
Problems With Brain Development
According to a study in Japan, computer games only stimulate a limited part of a child’s brain. The study was done by Ryuta Kawashima, a professor at Tohoku University. It involved imaging the brains of children playing video games, and comparing these images to those of children adding single digit numbers. The results showed that the children playing the video games used a smaller portion of their brains. Kawashima argued that if this was true for such a monotonous task as adding numbers, there would be an even greater difference if compared to more complex activities, such as reading, playing outside, and interacting socially with others.
Of course, the video game industry disagrees with this interpretation, arguing that various studies have shown that the moderate use of such games may actually be a positive experience. Even if moderation is the key, it doesn’t seem to be the norm. According to MediaWise, “the average Everquest player, or EQer, plays twenty hours a week.” Fans of other games devote similar amount of time to video gaming.
Antonio González Hermosillo, president of the Mexican Society of Cardiology, stated in the El Universal newspaper of Mexico City that up to 40% of children who constantly play video games will develop high blood pressure. In addition to lack of exercise, this problem may arise due to the stress experienced by the players, as they immerse themselves in situations that are perceived as dangerous, such as attacks, virtual fights, and other conflicts. The newspaper reported that he “warned that this will make cases of cardiovascular disease, the primary cause of death in Mexico, shoot up in the country.”
Finally, we have to consider the similarities of video games to television, that other modern-day impediment to going outside and playing. Both have been accused of stifling creativity and development of imagination, because they hand a story to the user, rather than forcing him or her to imagine it for themselves.
A more immediate and obvious concern is the link between the use of these modern forms of entertainment and obesity. This link has nothing to do with the content of the game or television program, but rather with the time spent in these sedentary activities. The result is a lack of sufficient exercise. How bad is this problem? It has been reported that in the U.S., about 40 percent of children between 5-8 years of age are considered to be clinically obese.
In 1993, Dr. Oded Bar-Or, director of children’s nutrition at Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals in Hamilton, Canada told The Toronto Star, “Today’s children are fatter and more sedentary than ever before. Obesity among children has increased quite dramatically in the last 20 years.” According to the Star, doctors already “identified lack of exercise as a risk factor for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.” Dr. Bar-Or concluded, “An inactive child is likely to be an obese adult.”
In 1996, Dr. Philip Harvey, a public-health nutritionist, was quoted in the newspaper The Weekend Australian as saying, “Australian children are getting fatter, and they’re getting fatter fast.” His concern was based on a study that showed that the percentage of overweight children in Australia had doubled, over the previous ten years. Every indication was that it was continuing to increase. The newspaper noted that just as with adults, lack of exercise was seen as the primary cause for this increase in obese children, with high-fat diets also a factor.
In 1999, The Sunday Times of Britain quoted researchers as saying that one group of children they evaluated were “so inactive, that their heart rates were little different awake from when they are asleep.”
Finally in 2000, Dr. Chwang Leh-chii, head of the Dietitians’ Association of Taipei, Taiwan gave this warning, as reported in AsiaWeek: “Obesity is one of the most serious health problems facing the youth of Asia.” A study in Beijing showed that over 20% of primary and secondary-school students were overweight. Why? Because, according to the report, these Asian youths were spending more and more time watching TV and playing video games. AsiaWeek went on to say that without a change in habits, including a more healthy diet of course, such overweight children could be facing high blood pressure, liver trouble, diabetes, and psychological problems.
Brent Stafford, quoted earlier, also stated that the video gaming industry, growing at $17 billion a year, is “bigger than film and television combined”. Hence, there is a good chance that your kids are already playing video games. The question is: do you know what games they are playing, and for how long? More importantly, do you know the impact that this may be having on their mental, emotional, and even physical health?