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4 pages /
Over the past three decades, video games have become a massive pop culture sensation among younger individuals. As David Deutsch, author of “Playing Video Games Benefits Children,” explains, “They provide something for which most of human history was not available, namely an interactive complex entity that is accessible at low cost and zero risk” (2). Stated in “Excessive Video Game Playing Can Adversely Affect Children's Health,” video games are a part of a growing industry that is bigger than television and film combined, growing and becoming stronger throughout the years and reaching further into the lives of teens and children (2).
Although the future holds only promise for growth of the industry, controversy revolving around younger people playing video games has arisen not only in the United States but also around the world. In recent years, research has revealed many concerns involving the negative effects of this pastime, grabbing the attention of both parents and school officials alike, but with responsible playing and management of a healthy lifestyle, video games can be a harmless and fun recreational experience.
Because video games offer a world of their own, hours upon hours can be poured into a game, consequently leaving a noticeable effect on the user's social life. Shao-I, Jie-Zhi and Der-Hsiang report in “Video Game Addiction In Children And Teenagers In Taiwan,” that 77% of teenagers play video games regularly, spending thirty minutes to an hour per session (2). What is surprising is not the amount of teenagers that play but for how many hours these youth play. Many teenagers spend as much time as four hours per day or 140 hours per month online playing games, earning the characteristic of “abnormal behavior” (Shao-I, Jie-Zhi, and Der-Hsiang 1). Aaron Boyce says in “Effect Of Videogame
Play And Extracurricular Activities On Parent Perceived Socio-Emotional Functioning In Children And Adolescents,” students who spend more time in front of a screen and less time with others suffer socially. (Boyce, et al 7). This has been proven though research of younger college students. Boyce also says that, “Undergraduate students who spent more time playing computer videogames evidenced a higher degree of social anxiety” (6).
Exceptions to social anxiety accompanying video games do exist. One, for example, is the use of prosocial games where the user interacts with other players to reach an in-game goal. When tested, students who played more prosocial video games engaged in more positive social interactions (Boyce, et al 8).
Prosocial games also increased interpersonal empathy among students (Boyce, et 8). According to Douglas Gentile, of the authors of “Effects Of Prosocial, Neutral, And Violent Video Games On Children's Helpful And Hurtful Behaviors,” “in terms of prosocial video game effects, the only published longitudinal study found that prosocial video game exposure significantly predicted prosocial behavior 4-5 months later, even after statistically controlling for other relevant variables (2). Another exception to the social anxiety experienced alongside video games is participation in extracurricular activities, such as sports or school clubs. Aaron Boyce states:
Participation in extracurricular activities may act as a buffering point for playing violent videogames and the potential impact on socio-emotional functioning. That is, individuals who engage in more extracurricular activities may offset some of the potential impacts of playing video games. (9)
These discoveries through research are evidence that video games do have a social impact on the user, especially when used excessively. However, when a healthy balance is applied, video games can be beneficial to social situations. One characteristic that traverses through several different genres and, depending on its extent, grants games the popular M-rating for mature players only is violence. Violence is more prevalent in allforms of media, but it especially has a strong foothold in video games. After all, when surveyed in 2004, 49% of 7th and 8th grade students preferred violent games as opposed to sport-type, general recreational, and educational (Shao-I, Jie-Zhi, and Der-Hsiang 4).
In fact, many hard-core players of the most violent and realistic games kill up to 1,000 on-screen characters in one night of playing (“Excessive Video... Health” 1). Violence in video games is an important factor that plays in the attitude and behavior of children and teenagers after playing. Specific subject matter in violent games—like blood or amount of violence—can impact aggression in children and teen players (Boyce, et al 3).
This is also true on a long term scale. Studies conducted for as long as thirty months have shown that children participating in very violent video games become more aggressive over time (Saleem, Anderson, and Gentile 1). Research states that certain factors of violence arouse the most aggression in young players. Research points to blood in particular. Aaron Boyce says: Participants at different levels were exposed to varying amounts of blood whenever a character was attacked in the game. Participants in the maximum and medium blood level condition showed an significant increase in physiological arousal and hostility after playing the videogame. (2)
Violence in video games has been seen to encourage not only aggression but also delinquent behaviors. Research shows that children playing more violent games are more likely to steal items outside the home and have more negative academic outcomes (Boyce, et al 4). Another interesting discovery was the connection between family violence and violent video games. Verbal and physical abuse among family members was a significant predictor of whether or not the user of violent games would react aggressively (Boyce, et al 10). Because of the data collected by research and studies, it is safe to conclude that violent video games do in fact cause aggression in younger players.
In the act of playing video games, the user remains unmoving with images and ideas presented to him or her with little imagination required in the process. As with any excessive inactive periods of time, this sedentary screen time is linked to several negative health consequences. One possible negative health result is high blood pressure. As much as 40% of children who constantly play video games will develop high blood pressure at some point (“Excessive Video... Health” 1).
In addition to lack of exercise, this may be a result of the player putting him or herself in a situation perceived as dangerous due to in-game attacks and other conflicts (“Excessive Video... Health” 2). Another physical consequence includes abnormal heart activity. In a 1999 issue of Britain's The Sunday Times, researchers reported that a group of children who were involved in excessive sedentary screen time were “so inactive that their heart rates are little different awake from when they are asleep” (“Excessive Video... Health” 2).
The most obvious problem caused by inactivity like that which takes place while playing video games is obesity. Because video games require no physical exercise, children's odds of developing obesity are increasing. Dr. Oded Bar-Or, a director of children's nutrition, states that, “Today's children are fatter and more sedentary than ever before. Obesity among children has increased quite dramatically in the last 20 years” (qtd. in “Excessive Video... Health” 2).
In fact, 40% of children between the ages of five and eight years old were considered clinically obese in 2008 (“Excessive Video... Health” 2). Obesity among children is not just a problem in the United States. Obesity in some Asian countries is on the rise due to increasing time being spent playing video games or watching television (“Excessive Video... Health” 2).
LeBlanc says in “Active Video Games And Health Indicators In Children And Youth: A Systematic Review,” one solution being implemented is active video games, or AVGs, which would require the player to take part in physical activity, or PA (LeBlanc, et al 3). According to Allana G. LeBlanc, “AVGs have the potential to increase habitual PA and improve measures of cardiometabolic health among children and youth who would otherwise be spending time in sedentary, screen-based activities (3).
The research involving the link between physical health and video games basically comes down to inactivity, meaning that if a child or teenager wanted to play video games, maintaining a healthy level of exercise to combat poor physical health and obesity would be the most beneficial decision.
Video games have been accused of affecting not only the physical condition of the child or teen that is playing but also his or her mental state. Some individuals believe video games stifle imagination by simply handing a story to the viewer rather than allowing him or her to create one themselves (“Excessive Video... Health” 2).
Similar to the player not using his or her imagination, studies have shown that some computer games only use a limited portion of the brain. A study involving this is explained in “Excessive Video Game Playing Can Adversely Affect Children's Health”: The study was done by Ryuta Kawashima, a professor at Tohoku University. It involved imaging the brains of children playing video games and comparing these images to those of children adding single digit numbers. The results showed that the children playing the video games used a smaller portion of their brains. (1)
Kawashima's study is evidence that non-educational games cause very little activity in the brain, and are therefore not beneficial for growing the mind. As time progresses, video games look better with each new release, meaning putting the player in a realistic, life-like world is more possible than ever.
Violent video games, especially, look extremely convincing now, allowing the player to experience violence in the midst of a war or even in America's own cities. Brent Stafford, a researcher at Simon Fraser University, explains that, “Violent games engulf young minds in worlds that desensitize them to violence, even killing” (qtd. in “Excessive Video... Health 1). This causes children and teenagers to accept violence as a regular and natural occurrence in their lives. Therefore, violence may not be as shocking to a child or teenager who has played violent video games.
The least played yet most beneficial type of video games is educational games. These games are created to teach the player (usually a child) skills in reading, spelling, math, science, or other academic subjects. Educational video games are proven to be successful as students who play these games are more likely to be more academically proficient with better grades (Boyce, et al 5).
As many know, children learn best when they have a method that is both fun and effective. Owsten, a researcher on the subject, states in “Attitudes And Effects Of The Use Of Video Games In Classroom Learning With Specific Reference To Literary Attainment” written by Charles Mifsud, Rosalind Vella, and Liberato Camilleri that students who play educational video games “show improvement in writing skills, higher level sentence and question construction, and basic literary skills” (qtd. in “Attitudes And Effects... Attainment” 3).
Considering that alphabet is one of the very first subjects that children learn, educational video games teaching letters are extremely helpful. After playing spelling games, younger children show better understanding of letter-identifying and letter-sounding skills, including knowledge of letters in their name (Mifsud, Vella, and Camilleri 2). According to researcher Burnett in “Attitudes And Effects Of The Use Of Video Games In Classroom Learning With Specific Reference To Literary Attainment,” “During game play, the learning of and exposure to words and symbols take place while experiencing the actual reality of these words” (1).
Video games featuring role playing are academically beneficial as well. Role playing games allow students to place themselves in a story and give students ideas for creative writing (Mifsud, Vella, and Camilleri 5). The results of students who played educational games is evidence that some video games can actually be academically beneficial to the player.
Video games have risen to become the number one entertainment industry in the world largely through the support of children and teenagers. The success, however, brings with it criticism from different sources. Through much research and many studies, researchers have determined that it is not video games themselves that cause harm but whether or not the players play responsibly and manage to balance a healthy life socially, physically, mentally, and academically.
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