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The Effects of Video Game Violence on the Desensitization of Children

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By no coincidence, America attributes a pattern that feeds itself on controversial issues. You choose not to believe me? Go to the nearest gas station or grocery store and I guarantee you will find an array of tabloids discussing Hollywood’s A-list celebrities’ personal lives and the issues they face. For instance, Miley Cyrus became a hard-hitting topic for weeks because of her lackluster and inappropriate performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Furthermore, the correlation between whether an individual would want to discuss her scantily clad clothing or the amount of money she contributes to private organizations, shows that one would rather gossip about the negative than the positive. Rightfully so, personal debate makes us human. We are passionate about subjects we believe should be defended and stand behind topics based on common knowledge and moral law. Today’s society is built upon a melting pot of different actions experienced both in children and adults. Consequently, different cultures hold different beliefs concerning what is necessary for their children to grow both mentally and physically. In retrospect to the controversy of whether video game violence contributes to the desensitization of a child’s social, emotional, and physical background, one could agree that children are highly influenced by what they see and react to in specific environments.

From a societal perspective, children are surrounded by an accumulation of video games arranged based on their rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board or ESRB for short. As a matter of fact, according to Karen and Jody Dill, the two authors of, “VIDEO GAME VIOLENCE: A REVIEW OF THE EMPIRICAL LITERATURE,” state:

The popularity of video games has reached phenomenal proportions. The video-game industry’s leader, Nintendo, sold an average of three games every second of the 12 years from 1983 to 1995 for a total of one billion games sold. To put that number in some perspective, that is one game for every teenager on earth, or one game for every person in North America, Europe, and Japan, or enough games that, if laid end to end, would reach around the equator two and a half times (Dill and Dill 408).

In perspective, the statistics are based not only on children, but adults who also play video games. However, the Dill sisters also mention:

Egli and Meyers (1984) found that 13% of the adolescents they surveyed showed what could be described as compulsive behavior toward video games and sacrificed other attractive activities so that money and time could be devoted to video-game play. Braun and Giroux (1989) called video games, ‘. . . the perfect paradigm for induction of “addictive” behavior,’ and noted that this, ‘. . . should be of some concern especially with regard to children as consumers’ (p. 101) (Dill and Dill 409).

While some people would disagree about this information, the infallibility remains that certain societies contain children, who would rather surround themselves with a virtual reality containing their favorite animated characters than actively participate in leisure outside or by other means. My own niece, for example, will come to my house and play with her Nintendo DS, a compatible video game console, instead of using her time to entertain her stuffed animals or create vivid, imagined worlds. I am not suggesting that video games destroy the imagination of children, but I believe they play a role in influencing what children imagine. Furthermore, Dill and Dill use information from L. Berkowitz and R. G. Geen to correlate the relationship of TV and video game violence to suggest that the more children are exposed to the content, the more they become susceptible to lowering their inhibitions about what is considered as societally acceptable behavior. Coincidentally, they state that “learned behaviors” through video games become justifiable because that is what the video game, for example, Mortal Combat, is portraying (Dill and Dill 410). By learned behaviors, I am referring to when a child sees a man they idolize karate chop someone’s neck, they in turn will sometimes mimic the motion. Not to say that the next child who sees such an image would mirror the action, but children do have a way of repeating actions and behaviors they learn in their own society. As well as being desensitized from learned behaviors, children’s educational backgrounds are sometimes affected adversely to what society standardizes as acceptable. Several authors of “Brains on video games,” an article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience have stated “At the same time, it should be noted that the daily time spent playing video games in school-age children has been shown to be inversely correlated with academic achievement, arguably because time spent playing video games is time stolen from reading and curriculum-related academic study” (Bavelier, Gentile, Green, Han, Merzenich, Renshaw 763). Additionally, I for one can state that I have sacrificed missing classes in the past to relax and shoot a cluster of Nazi zombies or listen to people argue over Xbox Live. Go ahead and ask a child whether he or she would rather play with flash cards or a video game. The response is usually obvious. He or she will choose the latter because although it provides little stimulation to the brain, the child becomes entertained by the bright colors and vivid imagery the game entails. More importantly, by choosing this over studying, the action may become habitual and could inversely affect the studying behavior, or whether the child would be engaged in their studies overall. Children’s minds absorb information like a sponge and sometimes become influenced by what they see and hear.

The emotional development of a child becomes crucial to the behavioral patterns he or she exhibits later on in life. Sometimes, the content they become influenced by becomes detrimental to their emotional capacity and empathy. Michael M. Merzenich, one of the authors of “Brains on video games,” states his concern and says:

…action games with anti-social (violent) content – which are particularly addictive and provide particularly strong motivational bases for driving positive cognitive changes – have been shown to reduce empathy, to reduce stress-associated with observing or initiating anti-social actions, and to increase confrontational and disruptive behaviors in the real world (Bavelier, Gentile, Green, Han, Merzenich, Renshaw 764).

By reducing the empathy of a child, whose mind is still maturing and experiencing specific situations, this could be a factor leading to why he or she shows little to no interest in social or loving relationships. One is simply cutting the root before the bud has blossomed and has left the flower stem hindered; the bud will never bloom and the remains become nothing. Likewise, when a child is at the stage, where their emotions are deeply affected based on their experiences, the possibility remains that his or her mind could become hindered by the constant exposure to violent video games. Also, two authors corresponding to the relationship of desensitization of children due to video game violence have both noted, “Thomas et al. (1977) also suggest that desensitization occurs when an initial arousal to violent stimuli is reduced and thus changes an individual’s present internal state. Likewise, systematic desensitization has been shown to reduce avoidance behavior, and when there is no direct adverse consequence of fear-provoking behavior, there is an opportunity for fear extinction (Bandura, Blanchard, and Ritter 1969). The concerns associated with desensitization are that individuals may not notice aggressive events, may perceive resulting injuries as less severe, may feel less sympathy for victims, and may have less negative attitudes toward violence (Carnagey, Anderson, and Bushman 2007)” (Becker-Olson and Norberg 84). The concerns of the authors show they believe that over an extended period of time, consistent exposure to violent video games may contribute to why children may exhibit less empathy toward emotional trauma such as loss or could become less affected by fear. Now, I am not suggesting children are going to carjack the nearest person and go on a rage-induced rampage, but they could participate in risky behavior such as defying heights or testing their bravery by other dangerous means. They may even see the learned behavior that their character can “re-spawn” if he or she dies, so they in turn could believe they possess the same omnipotence and try diving off their roof or a cliff. By knowing how important the emotional development of a child is, we can help to shape their minds in a positive way by monitoring the content in the games they play. Statistics and analyses show the physiological development of children may be hindered due to their exposure to violent video games.

Finally, children are socially and emotionally prone to outside exposure, but their involvement is fundamentally based on their physical wellness. However, video game violence has been shown to negatively impact the brain and other physical aspects of a child’s life, which in turn affects how he or she interacts on an emotional and social level. Specifically, Marilynn Larkin, the author of “Amygdala differentiates fear response” collaborates with scientists and concludes that at the site of the amygdala, a memory gland in the brain, “‘The amygdala is not just there to mediate fear and anxiety, as many people think. It’s a fundamental learning device that mediates associations between stimuli and reinforcers, regardless of whether they’re nice or nasty, and thereby the impact of these conditioned stimuli on behaviour in the future’” (Larkin 268). As was previously stated, statistics have shown how violence in video games could negatively affect a child’s perception of fear and empathy toward different situations in his or her life. The amygdala is the brain’s receptor for almost every emotional feeling. It acts as a memory transmitter to store information as well as a fight-or-flight response to dangerous situations. But, try to imagine that response is either hindered or cut off altogether. The similarity would be placing your hand on a hot stove without having the stimuli of your brain telling you to take it off. In turn, one could experience grief or loss in some way but not know how to handle it because one’s receptors impede due to his or her mental conditioning through consistent playing of violent video games. Also, research shows that significant decreases in heart rate and skin response measurements exhibit that individuals exposed to violent video games compared to those who are not, have the same reaction response to viewing real-life violence (US Fed News Service, Including US State News 1). Furthermore, the group of psychologists who gathered the evidence from Iowa State University concluded:

The results demonstrate that playing violent video games, even for just 20 minutes, can cause people to become less physiologically aroused by real violence,’ said Carnagey. ‘Participants randomly assigned to play a violent video game had relatively lower heart rates and galvanic skin responses while watching footage of people being beaten, stabbed and shot than did those randomly assigned to play nonviolent video games. It appears that individuals who play violent video games habituate or ‘get used to’ all the violence and eventually become physiologically numb to it (US Fed News Service, Including US State News 1).

Studies conclude desensitization does play a role in the involvement of violent video games in a child’s life. Whether the statistics were based on empirical evidence through children or adults, the results remain the same. Also, to reiterate, my purpose is in no way suggesting the relationship of violence in video games toward influencing the minds of mass killings and murders. I am simply stating the correlation of video game violence toward the desensitization of children’s physical, psychological, and societal state.

Whether physiological or psychological, statistics declare that some children’s lives are adversely affected by the exposure to video game violence. However, my experiences are based on my own individually. I am not stereotyping every single person into one group. On the same note, the authors of “Brains on video games,” discuss how video game violence affects people individually, not as a whole. Some develop great mental acuity and obtain sharper vision through the use of online-based role-playing games, while others remain unaffected. However, it is not certain whether these attributes stem from an experienced “gamer” or a “non-gamer”; the experience is singular to that individual (Bavalier, Gentile, Green, Han, Merzenich, Renshaw 763). However, we still have the ability to change the way our children adapt to their outside environments. We must not turn a blind eye away from this topic. The controversy will not go away by itself. However, by interacting with our children more and exposing them to less media-influenced entertainment in an effort to expand what they find as sentimental, we can help reestablish what they find important and morally right. Society will always find a way to dig its nails into your side to maintain a stance on controversial topics. Some overshadow others, but the truth remains that sometimes what we believe is true, is not always the case. We are only exposed to the side of the story the media believes that will benefit us most in the long run. But who is to say the media is right? Are views skewed to the point where people have made themselves believe they consider appropriate content for their children should be based on the decisions of a group of men; a miniscule thought in a large bubble of societal rights and moral laws? As one final thought, I strongly believe if we can influence the minds of children through virtual reality, would it not be effective to engage in real-life experiences such as planning a camping trip, picking apples from an orchard, or letting them decide the perfect Christmas tree at a tree farm, thus leaving imprints in their minds to cherish for the rest of their lives.

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GradesFixer. (2018, October, 22) The Effects of Video Game Violence on the Desensitization of Children. Retrived April 8, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-effects-of-video-game-violence-on-the-desensitization-of-children/
"The Effects of Video Game Violence on the Desensitization of Children." GradesFixer, 22 Oct. 2018, https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-effects-of-video-game-violence-on-the-desensitization-of-children/. Accessed 8 April 2020.
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GradesFixer. The Effects of Video Game Violence on the Desensitization of Children. [Internet]. October 2018. [Accessed April 8, 2020]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-effects-of-video-game-violence-on-the-desensitization-of-children/
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