Violent Video Games as a Learning Tool




Xbox 360 Controller

Video games have come a long way from the early days of Pong and Pac-man. Today’s games are sophisticated media that blur the line between fiction and reality. One of the most heated debates surrounding video games, and, especially, their playing by young kids and adolescents, is the explicit violence present in many action-oriented games. While many parents, educators and psychology experts worry about the amount of violence that pervades society, new research is leading gaming experts to claim that video games, even violent ones, are actually useful learning tools.

Recently, Games for Learning, a symposium on the use of video games in education, brought together researchers and gaming experts to discuss current trends and research in educational software. Among the presentations was research that found that individuals who played action-oriented video and computer games had improved visual resolution (the ability to see details amid visual clutter) and improved visual contrast sensitivity compared to non-game-playing individuals. There is also evidence to suggest that game-players learn how to allocate resources and adapt to new situations through the scenarios presented in the games. Researchers believe that these benefits of video games can be used to treat amblyopia, or lazy eye, in children, as well as aid in rehabilitation, decrease cognitive aging, improve math skills, and train professionals like surgeons, pilots and military personnel.

The games upon which the current research was based included violent, first-person shooter games. The kill-or-be-killed situations might very well improve hand-eye coordination, attention span or multisensory processing, but that does not make the violence less controversial.  A multitude of research and meta-analyses report that exposure to violent video games increases aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive affect. Further, violence in video games decreases empathy and prosocial thoughts and behavior. Video games also lead to poor mental health among some gamers, and academic problems.

The violence is everywhere: even video games rated E  (for “Everyone”) have significant amounts of violence and other objectionable sexual and alcohol-related content. Even more worrisome is that most adolescents play video games rated M (for “Mature”), which contain intense violence, strong language, and other content deemed appropriate for only individuals over 17 years of age.  The public health concern over what today’s children are exposed to through video games, television, movies and other media is growing, as is the concern over how much time children spend playing video games and the safety of online-gaming with strangers, none of which were addressed by the current research.

Video games do have an effect on the players. If violent, aggressive games lead to negative thoughts and behaviors, then the opposite may be true. One study found that gamers who played video games that promoted prosocial behavior were more likely to be helpful and considerate in real life situations. Clearly, video games are influencing the gamers; the struggle is to maximize the benefits and minimize the violence.

Video games may well have some benefits, but time spent playing video games displaces other activities for many children. While video games may be able to improve math skills or judgment-oriented tasks, there are other activities that promote these talents. Children today should be encouraged to get outside, play a sport, learn a musical instrument or read a book. Video games may have a place as an occasional hobby, but society is a long way from accepting them as legitimate educational tools.

References

Allahverdipour, H., Bazargan, M., Farhadinasab, A., & Moeini, B. (2010). Correlates of video games playing among adolescents in an Islamic country BMC Public Health, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-10-286

Anderson, C., & Bushman, B. (2001). Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature Psychological Science, 12 (5), 353-359 DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.00366

Anderson, C., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E., Bushman, B., Sakamoto, A., Rothstein, H., & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136 (2), 151-173 DOI: 10.1037/a0018251

BROWNE, K., & HAMILTONGIACHRITSIS, C. (2005). The influence of violent media on children and adolescents: a public-health approach The Lancet, 365 (9460), 702-710 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)17952-5

Donohue, S., Woldorff, M., & Mitroff, S. (2010). Video game players show more precise multisensory temporal processing abilities Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, 72 (4), 1120-1129 DOI: 10.3758/APP.72.4.1120

Powell, C. (2008). Craig A. Anderson, Douglas A. Gentile, and Katherine E. Buckley, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Policy Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38 (3), 483-485 DOI: 10.1007/s10964-008-9344-1

Greitemeyer, T., & Osswald, S. (2010). Effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (2), 211-221 DOI: 10.1037/a0016997

OLSON, C., KUTNER, L., WARNER, D., ALMERIGI, J., BAER, L., NICHOLIII, A., & BERESIN, E. (2007). Factors Correlated with Violent Video Game Use by Adolescent Boys and Girls Journal of Adolescent Health, 41 (1), 77-83 DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.01.001

Thompson, K. (2001). Violence in E-Rated Video Games JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 286 (5), 591-598 DOI: 10.1001/jama.286.5.591

Weis, R., & Cerankosky, B. (2010). Effects of Video-Game Ownership on Young Boys’ Academic and Behavioral Functioning: A Randomized, Controlled Study Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797610362670

  • http://www.keen2learn.co.uk/news/ Keen2learn

    The gap between commercial enterprise and genuine learning is becoming clouded. Too many video games claim educational content as a means of widening its appeal. Young children’s minds are like sponges absorbing all manner of detail. We have duty to ensure that they what they see and learn is in context. The educational value of video games now needs independent scrtuiny to reveal and rate its actual beneficial content and separate the video nasties from children.
    Alistair Owens Keen2learn

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  • Marissa

    When lets start by asking the all Military advertisements to get out of the channel. Is ok to limit their view when they are under 18, but Gods forgive if you are not an understanding parent and support your 18 son to choose that career path. What is the difference, that they are actually playing the violence, or executing it.

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Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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