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I love playing video games! My first article discussed the benefits of gaming. But the truth is, most popular games aren’t designed for kids. They’re designed to attract us and keep us playing. The more we play, the more money the gaming industry makes. Violence and sex attract gamers. But research has demonstrated that exposure to this content can negatively affect a child’s brain. However, child development experts have not been able to pull violent games off the shelves. The best they’ve done so far is accept the game industry’s offer to develop their own rating system. Today’s GKIS article covers why experts are concerned about child exposure to video game violence and why the research hasn’t been enough to make a dent in the global game industry’s annual $183billion revenue.[1]

Most kids start playing video games before adolescence. Content, time spent playing, ability to be interactive, and player vulnerabilities must be considered when determining effect.[3] This makes for messy factors to control for quality research and controversial opinions about the risks of violent video games.

The Benefits of Gaming

In Dr. Bennett’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time, she covered many of the benefits of gaming.

Not only are they fun, but research has also found that they can lead to improvements in:

  • visual-spatial capabilities
  • reaction times
  • attention span
  • ability to process multiple target objects
  • detail orientation[4]
  • visual short-term memory
  • mental rotation, tracking, and toggling between tasks[5]
  • problem-solving
  • strategy building
  • goal setting
  • and increased confidence, social connection and networking, cooperation, and self-esteem.

Social benefits are particularly valuable for players who may be isolated in tiny towns or who have disabilities. Gaming can also teach important job skills and offer profitable e-sport tournament competition.

The Risks of Gaming

Research has demonstrated that gamers who play violent video games show more aggression toward others. It has also found that gamers show a decrease in friendliness, positivity, and helpfulness.[6] It’s also been demonstrated that gamers are less likely to emotionally react to violence over time. We call that sensitization to violence.

For example, a 2014 experiment also found that gamers were less likely to help and injured person, rated violent acts as less serious, and were less likely to respond to fights.[7]

Another study found that exposure to violence created the idea in children’s heads that violence is an acceptable form of problem-solving. It can also lead to a mean world syndrome, defined as a belief that the world is dark and dangerous.[8]

Video games are not designed for young kids.

Video game companies develop games for kids, but they amount to a small percentage revenue. The average age of gamers is 32-years-old.[14] Since 2009, the top-selling video games are rated mature.[15] Because of good marketing and pester power, a significant portion of those sales come from parents of young kids.

Young players are so common on video streaming sites and MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), they’re referred to as squeakers due to their child voices. Child predators hunt for victims on gaming platforms.

For example, in PokémonGo, predators have been reported to place lures , which are in-game items that spawn rare catches. Children close by will notice the new location and travel to catch the Pokémon unaware of the trap being set.[16]

Regulating Video Games

Attempts to block violent video game content from kids have been unsuccessful. Since the 1972 release of the first popular video arcade game, Pong, parents have worried about the impact of video gaming on their children. Just like our kids, we have largely become desensitized to its impact. From 1976, when parents succeeded in getting the video game Death Race pulled from the shelf due to the little gravestone that appeared when a character was killed, to now, we’ve come a long way. Or have we?

In response to video game players committing violence, several lawsuits have claimed that game manufacturers were negligent by selling violent content that is harmful to children. Few have succeeded due to first amendment (free speech) rights claims and insufficient evidence.

City ordinances attempting to limit gameplay by unaccompanied minors in public places have also failed. Law professors and psychologists argue that the evidence is too flimsy to make solid claims that video games cause violence. For instance, if video games cause aggression why is the rate of juvenile violent crime is at a thirty-year low?

A particularly impactful blow against state regulation was the United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011). This ruling concluded that the California law restricting the sale and distribution of violent video games to minors was unconstitutional. The ruling stated that “speech about violence is not obscene” and is “as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best in literature.”

Video Gaming Rating System

To counteract consumer complaints and stop legislation, the video game industry created the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in 1994. This voluntary and self-regulating board rates content and classifies video games based on the appropriate user age.

Most stores refuse to sell video games that don’t have an ESRB rating. Similar rating systems exist in other countries. Overall, ESRB ratings have been somewhat successful in limiting child access.

RP (Rating Pending) – this is placed on games that 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 

  • Check the ESRB ratings before purchasing.
  • Engage in video game play with your child to learn about the game’s content, and to model appropriate play.
  • Set clear rules as to how long play can be at home and away with your free GKIS Connected Family Agreement.
  • Monitor your child’s online gaming conversations to make sure there are not taken advantage of or threatened.
  • Set up gaming stations in a family community area (never the bedroom) to optimize supervision.
  • Encourage your child to engage in alternative activities for a healthy balance, learning, and enriched learning.

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

Photo Credits

Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

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

Works Cited

[1] https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/the-global-games-market-will-generate-152-1-billion-in-2019-as-the-u-s-overtakes-china-as-the-biggest-market/

[2] NPD Group (2011). Kids & gaming, 2011. Port Washington, NY: The NPD Group, Inc.

[3] Ferguson, C. (2011). Video Games & Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, Vol. 40, No. 4.

[4] Taylor, J. (2012, December 4). How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think & Focus. Retrieved October 18, 2012, from http://wwpsychologytoday.com/glog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-say-children-think-and-focus

[5] Holfeld, B., Cicha, J. & Ferraro, F. (2014). “Executive Function & Action Gaming among College Students.” Current Psychology Curr Psychol 34.2: 376-88. Web.

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

[7] 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

[8] 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/

[9] 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

[10] Petry, N., & O’Brien, C. (2013). Internet Gaming Disorder & the DSM-5. Addiction 108.7: 1186-187. Web.

[11] Petry, N., Rehbein, F., Gentile, D., et al. (2014). An International Consensus for Assessing Internet Gaming Disorder Using the New DSM-5 Approach. Addiction 109.9: 1399-406. Web.

[12] Kuss, D., Griffiths, M., Karila, L., & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026–4052. 10.2174/13816128113199990617

[13] Strittmatter, E., Parzer, P., & Brunner, R. (2016). “A 2-year longitudinal study of prospective predictors of pathological Internet use in adolescents.” Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 25(7): 725.

[14] 2019 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry,  Entertainment Software Association

[15] 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/

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


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Dr. Tracy Bennett