Are video games good or bad? About 88 percent of the nation’s children ages 8 to 18 are playing video games; and 8.5 percent of them are considered to be addicted to video games. With about 45 million children that age, Douglas Gentile, associate professor of psychology, claims studies show more than 3 million children in the United States are addicted.
“I don’t know if video games are good or bad … but as a developmental psychologist who studies aggression in the media, I’m worried,” Gentile said.
Gentile isn’t a typical associate professor of developmental psychology. In order to understand his research, Gentile spends time playing some of the aggressive video games he studies such as “Halo.” As the director of the Media Research Lab and the assistant director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State, he conducts research on different forms of media; and how it positively or negatively impacts children and adults, intentional or unintentional. These studies include aggressive or violent video games.
Why do video games matter?
“Video games are great teachers,” Gentile said at the Osborn Research Club lecture on Monday. “Hundreds of studies are showing that education software can have real benefits. Does ‘Reader Rabbit’ really teach your preschooler how to read? Yes, it does. Does ‘Math Class Teacher’ teach you math skills? Yes, they do.”
Why does this work? Gentile said video games have clear objectives — they adjust and adapt to the player while giving immediate feedback and awards. With “Reader Rabbit” and “Math Class Teacher,” video games’ ability to effectively teach and get preschoolers hooked is very positive.
So video games are good?
Yes and no.
When it comes to the students at Ames High or Iowa State, players of video games such as, “Halo,” “World of Warcraft” and “Call of Duty” are becoming hooked, or addicted, because the video game is such a good teacher. This addiction can be very negative.
Gentile’s studies showed that kids are naturally aggressive, or hostile, 28 percent are likely to get into fights; but with violent video game playing, they are 63 percent more likely. For kids not naturally aggressive, or not hostile, they jump from a 4 percent to 38 percent likelihood of getting in a fight after playing violent video games, and more likely than naturally aggressive kids without video games.
Though the public perception is kids who seek to play violent video games do so because they suffer from depression, anxiety or other anti-social disorders, Gentile’s work does not support that perception. In fact, Gentile’s research shows depression, anxiety and anti-social behaviors are the results of video game addictions.
How many games, how long students are playing, what kind of content the game has and what context of the student plays video games are very important to Gentile.
“The brain becomes what the brain does,” Gentile said.
Gentile explained, rather than extreme cases of aggression, such as a public shooting in a theater, violent video games have multiple effects which affect everyday aggression. For example, accidentally bumping into someone can have very adverse responses from different people. A person who plays aggressive video games is more likely to perceive the world as a much more hostile place than someone who does not play violent video games. Frequent players of violent video games are more likely to push back or even spread a rumor about you to affect your relationships with others.
“As a mother whose children perform in these kinds of video games, I am interested in their effects,” said Kan Wang, chairwomen of the Osborn Research Club, “All parents whose children play these video games should know and understand.”
Gentile’s research is committed to understanding these effects so parents and children can make the right choices when it comes to video games.
Posted on iowastatedaily.com Friday, September 28, 2012. Published September 28, 2012. Vol. 208, Num. 29. Pg. 1 & 2.