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Sex and Violence in Video Games Change the Brain: What GKIS Parent Need to Know

Look, I am an avid video gamer. I love them. The last article I wrote for GetKidsInternetSafe talked about the benefits of gaming. But the real truth is, video games aren’t designed for kids. They’re designed for intense arousal and, ultimately, profit. Violence and sex are abundant in many video games, and research has consistently demonstrated that exposure can have a lasting effect on a child’s brain. There is a video game rating system designed to prevent minors from playing games with inappropriate content. However, a persistent child and an unaware parent can lead to unfortunate purchases. Even if the game isn’t purchased, there are many ways for your child to access violent and sexual games online. Here’s what every parent needs to know.

What early exposure can do

Like the effects of addictive drugs on the brain, a child that is repeatedly exposed to violent and sexual content will require a greater and greater shock to get the same effect. In addiction studies, we call that desensitization and tolerance effects. The irritability and agitation when the game is taken away or too boring is called withdrawal. Research is also demonstrating that violent video games negatively effect perceptions about the safety of the world and others and also impact behavior, such as being more aggressive and less empathetic and prosocial (APA, 2015).

A recent experiment compared kids who played violent games to a group of children who played non-violent games (Martin, 2014). They found that the children playing the violent video games were less likely to aid an injured individual, rated violent acts less seriously, and were desensitized to hearing fights.

Another study found that prolonged exposure to violence created the idea in children’s heads that violence is an acceptable form of problem solving. Researchers found that prolonged exposure to violence created a mean world syndrome, defined as a belief that the world is a dark and sinister place (Justin, 2015).

Children playing violent video games may also have a greater chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders due to the aggressive and stressful environments of the game (Laura, 2013).

Video games are not designed for kids

 Video game companies develop games made specifically for children, but they amount for a small percentage of the gaming markets overall revenue (Evan, 2011). The average age of a gaming consumer is 31-years-old (Jeff, 2014), and by that age the consumer wants to play games with escalating and mature content. This content can include scenes depicting graphic violence and gore, vulgar language, drug use, nudity, and sex. Since 2009 the top selling video games have all been rated mature (Dougy, 2014). Because of good marketing and pester power, a significant portion of those sales come from parents.

A recent survey revealed that 50% of parents allow their kids to play mature games (Martin, 2014). Even games that are made for children can be turned into dangerous situations by strangers. A New Jersey mother was horrified after her daughter told her about an experience she had playing an online video game called Roblox. Her character was approached by others characters in the game who asked her for sexual acts. The daughter said the characters then got naked and began imitating sexual movements on her character (Jeff, 2017). As an experienced gamer, I believe this type of sexual behavior happens often in popular role play games.

Even the seemingly harmless but popular game, Pokémon Go, has been exploited in order to commit robberies. Unsuspecting children have been attracted to locations where robbers can catch them off guard. They do this by placing lures, which are in game items that spawn rare Pokémon catches. Children close by will notice the new location and travel to catch the Pokémon unaware of the trap being set (Tracy, 2016).

Other means of access

Without your consent or knowledge, your child could be watching violent and sexual video games. Video streaming sites such as YouTube and Twitch TV allow your child access to other people playing violent and sexual video games. Apart from the violence and sexual content of the game, the video streaming players your child watches may use vulgar language or engage in inappropriate behaviors on camera. On Twitch TV, many female streamers dress in revealing clothes. Some have even been banned for nudity (Saira, 2016).

There are many games on the market with the sole purpose of simulating sex. They are easy to access online and allow children to explore their sexuality in multiple ways, such as group sex, bestiality, and many other fetishes. On sex game websites, advertisements are placed for other pornographic sites for the sole purpose of attracting more viewers and time spent online. A child’s chance of attaining sex addiction increases the more sexual content they are exposed to.

Video games have a rating system

You, the parent, have the final word when it comes to what games your child can play. Video games are a form of media just as television and movies and have a rating system called the entertainment software rating board (ESRB). Review this before purchasing the next game for your child.

RP (Rating Pending) – this is placed on games which have not yet received a final ESRB rating

EC (Early Childhood) – suitable for ages 3+, these games tend to be educational and do not contain any inappropriate material

E (Everyone) – suitable for all ages, may contain mild fantasy or cartoon violence

E10+ (Everyone 10+) – suitable for ages 10+, may contain mild language, fantasy or cartoon violence

T (Teen) – suitable for ages 13+, may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, blood, infrequent use of strong language

M (Mature) – suitable for ages 17+, may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, strong language

A (Adults) – suitable for ages 18+, may contain prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content, gambling with real currency

Tips for Parents

  • Always check the ESRB ratings of the video game.
  • Engage in play with your child from time to time to learn about the games content, and to model appropriate play.
  • Set clear rules as to how long play can be, at home and away.
  • Monitor your child’s online gaming conversations to make sure there are not taken advantage of or threatened.
  • Make gaming sessions take place in a family community areas to optimize supervision.
  • Encourage your child to engage in alternative activities for healthy balance, learning, and enriched learning.

The violence and sex children see in games is glamorized and free of consequences. By protecting them from this content, you can help them grow happier and healthier.

Thank you to CSUCI Intern, Dylan Smithson for providing us with an experienced and balanced perspective about gaming. If you missed his first article, Is Your Child a “Professional Gamer”?, it is well worth the read!

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

American Psychological Association (APA). (2015). Resolution on Violent Video Gameshttp://www.apa.org/about/policy/violent-video-games.aspx

Dougy (2014) The top selling video games of the past 30 years. http://thechive.com/2014/03/29/the-top-selling-video-games-of-each-of-the-past-30-years-photos/

Jeff L. (2017) Roblox: Alarm over “sickening” virtual sex acts in app for children. http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/roblox-alarm-over-sickening-virtual-sex-acts-in-app-for-kids-1.3290039

Justin C. (2015) The Problem with Exposing Kids to Sexual and Violent Content. https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-problem-with-exposing-kids-to-sexual-and-violent-content/

Laura S. (2013) 8 Ways Violent Games Are Bad for Your Kids http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-st-john/8-ways-violent-games_b_3875846.html

Martin R. (2014) Children as young as SIX are being exposed to video games scenes involving violence and prostitution because their parents ignore age limits. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2723841/Children-young-SIX-exposed-video-games-scenes-involving-violence-prostitution-parents-ignore-age-limits.html

Saira M. (2016) Twitch streamer gets banned for 30 days for flashing her viewers. https://dotesports.com/general/twitch-streamer-legendarylea-banned-for-flashing-viewers-3240

Tracy B. (2016) http://ktla.com/2016/07/10/pokemon-go-used-by-robbers-to-target-victims-in-st-louis-area-police/

Photo Credits

Manhunt 2 Bobbie Johnson, CC BY 2.0

Dead or alive KASUMI TECMO barite Videojuegos, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

ESRB ratings Fred Seibert, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Video Game Violence Casey Fleser, CC BY 2.0

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