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Educational Tools or Consummate Evil For Today’s Youths?

Close to a year ago an article in The Daily Mirror claimed that “video games harm you in 20 minutes” (Cook, 2006, 24). It is not uncommon that the media, politicians and various interest groups intent on capturing the public attention portray video games as corrupters of youth and consistently link them to a whole list of society’s ills, in particular youth violence. Yet, the media, in addition to scholars interested in the subject, have a hard time finding any concrete proof that videogames do in fact increase violent behavior in America’s youths.

Ironically enough the benefits of video games-most notably educational ones-have been shown through an abundance of studies and educational programs. There is no doubt that video games have captured the youth of today and many educators are jumping on the bandwagon of enthusiasm and using it to their own advantage. Video games can serve as an entertaining and educational way to introduce new concepts and improve student participation. Fanning the Flames At the heart of media portrayals of video games is the idea that society on a whole is becoming increasingly desensitized to violence.

The fear is that through constant exposure to violent media, most notably violence in video games, people will become more and more desensitized to the true nature of violence and as a direct result violent crime levels will rise. Adolescents are the group that these fears are most often directed at. Some analysts believe that the media, in addition to political groups deliberately fan the flames and create a paranoid atmosphere where videogames are seen as one of the main culprits in the decline of American youth (Ferris, 2005). Yet, the media are not the only critics of the affects of video games on youth.

Specialists in psychology, communications and social studies have also tried their hand at connecting video games with violent behavior. A study by Anderson and Dill (2000) attempted to prove the direct relation between one type of violent media, videogames, and aggressive behavior. The study concluded that playing video games was both associated with short run aggression and long-run crime levels. Although the study also highlighted the fact that it was most often male delinquents who were most attracted to violent video games in the first place who resulted to be violent.

Eisenman (2004) on the other hand claims that the such a high percentage of Americans playing video games in a closed environment and the resultant lack of ensuing violence coming from these scenarios should be a clear indicator that the two can not be so totally linked. Ferris (2005) claims that taking into consideration studies such as Anderson and Dill’s the evidence does not necessarily signify that violence in video games creates aggressive people. In fact he states that, “It is more likely that aggressive people are attracted to violent media.

” He adds the analogy that “Blaming violent media would be like going to the opera, noticing that most people there are rich, and concluding that opera makes people rich. ” Eismann (2004) also holds that it is difficult to predict just who could be made aggressive by video games although he does add that, “it would seem to be a good guess that those already predisposed toward violence find it easy to become more violent prone when faced with violent images, whether in video games, in the media, or witnessing it in their homes and neighborhood” (170).

It is also important to note that aggression can be compartmentalized in two sub-groups: proactive violence and reactive violence. Proactive aggression signifies that an aggressor acts violently to achieve a goal, such as robbery, but that they have not perceived a provocation from the victim before hand. With reactive aggression it is the provocation itself that leads to the violent act. Varying cognitive responses are linked to these differing types of aggression and Eisenmen (2004) claims that it is most often habitually aggressive people who “tend to over perceive others as aggressive toward them, even when that is not the case” (171).

In addition to studies which loosely link violent crime to video games there are those that attempt to show that video game violence and real-world aggression are not one and the same. A long-term study on online videogame playing done by Dmitri Williams (2005) showed that even intense playing would not necessarily lead to violence by the individual playing. In the study individuals who played an average of 56 hours on popular and explicitly violent games showed no “strong effects associated with aggression” (qtd in Lynn, 2005).

In particular, the study noted that in comparison to a group who had not played the 56 hour quota, the players were not more aggressive both verbally and physically than those in the control group (Lynn, 2005). Williams conceded that, “I’m not saying some games don’t lead to aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet [and] Until we have more long-term studies, I don’t think we should make strong predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding” (qtd in Lynn, 2005).

In reality factors such as socio-economic status, family relations, and race relations may have a far greater affect on levels of violence in youth. Indeed, the Surgeon General of the United States categorized violent media as “Small Effect Size” (qtd in Ferris, 2005). Buchman and Funk (1996) add that, “As yet, there is insufficient research to support strong causal statements about the impact of playing violent electronic games. Past work suggests that gender of player, time spent, and location of play (home or arcade) are key predictor variables” (20).

Even those who caution on the unmonitored use of videogames within the home concede that, “although violence in the media can have a deleterious impact on behavior, the nature of this impact can only be understood in the context of multiple dimensions, but especially, one’s personal psychology” (Javier and Primavera, 1998, 339). America, A Violent Nation? For some defenders of videogames the most important evidence of videogame’s lack of ramifications on youth violence can be found it the lowering levels of violent crime reported by government agencies. The FBI crime report in 2004 showed a drop in crime of 2.

2% since the previous year and a drop in murders of 2. 4% (Ferris, 2005). Ferris shows alongside a graph of crime levels in 2003 released by the Department of Justice that with the parallel release of some of the industry’s most violent videogames, including Grand Theft Auto and GTA 3 there was no upward shift in crime at the time. Ferris in particular notes that in 2002 youth homicide dropped and he uses a quote from the Department of Justice itself in which they claim that, “Recently, the offending rates for 14-17 year-olds reached the lowest levels ever recorded” (qtd in Ferris 2005).

In fact, Ferris armed with this evidence believes that the fear of connections between video games and violent crime are largely produced as the result of media hysteria surrounding incidents such as the Columbine shootings. Although it is interesting to note that the increased level of violence seen in media stories, most recently shown by the viewing of the Virginia Tech murderer’s correspondence, the media does not seem to hold the control of violent images as a principle concern.

In fact at one point Ferris (2005) includes the media in his study of violence in video technology. He claims that of the 300 studies on the effects of violent media (30 of which were on video games), “Most have found little to no connection, although some studies found a small, casual correlation between aggressive people and violent media. ” In any event, media criticism of violent images portrayed in videogames is close to the pot calling the kettle black. Video Games as an Educational Tool

Despite all the criticisms they receive, videogames, both those containing little to no violence and those containing record breaking levels of violence are becoming a part of American culture. Videogames in all walks of life are finding their consumers. But the question remains whether or not videogames are on some levels educational. Williams claims that videogames of all types can lead the player to improve upon teamwork abilities, group management and problem solving (in Lynn, 2005).

He states that, “How often can someone direct and coordinate a group of eight or 40 real people to accomplish a complex task, as they do in these role-playing games? That’s a real skill” (qtd in Lynn, 2005). In addition, both Southern (2003) and Deubel (2006, 30) claim that videogames can help sharpen perceptual and motor skills and help people to perform better. The hype, most specifically by youth, over video games has lead many educators to discuss the possibility of including them as an integral part of classroom education.

Various program have sought or are seeking to integrate videogame playing into educational programs. Lynn (2005) claims that to not take advantage of the high level of interest youths show for videogames would be wasting a potentially valuable resource in education. She states, “Games are about solving problems, and it should tell us something that kids race home from school where they are often bored to get on games and solve problems. Clearly we need to capture that lightning in a bottle. ”

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