As the popularity of video games increases among children and teenagers, there have been growing concerns about their impact on gamers’ well-being and psychological state. Many children play games regularly, spending at least one-two hours a day on this entertaining but rather meaningless activity (AACAP, 2015). While some games are informative and educational, the majority involve violence content and promote the killing and abuse of people and animals, sexual exploitation, criminal behavior, violence, obscene language, etc. It is not surprising, therefore, that many parents, activists, and policymakers are concerned about the negative impact of videogames on children’s psychological well-being and behavior. In this essay, I try to analyze the available evidence to understand how exactly violent video games affect young gamers.
Some researchers claim that the negative effect of violent video games is exaggerated. Thus, for example, Marczyk (2016) argued that seeing violence in media or games does not make a person more aggressive in the real life. The author noted that people do not find a game appealing simply because it is violent. They rather focus on action, visual effects, and missions and like to test and display their skills and competencies. Furthermore, the recent study conducted by Szycik, Mohammadi, Münte, & Te Wildt, (2017) showed that the level of empathy among those playing violent games long-term does not decrease. These findings allowed researchers to suggest that violent content does not have such as pervasive influence on a personality as it is commonly believed.
However, the majority of current, reliable studies strongly disagree with these arguments. A study by Hollingdale and Greitemeyer (2014) found that playing violent video games in comparison to neutral games significantly increased the level of aggression. It is believed that violent games lead to desensitization to violence among children, which means they lose the ability to assess real-life conflict situations. After analyzing an abundant body of literature on the topic, the American Psychological Association confirmed that video games decrease prosocial behavior and make gamers less sensitive to other people’s suffering and pain (Sarkar, 2015). Heffner (2003) supported these findings and noted that violent content may make children more fearful of the world around them. Children’s psychological state is rather unstable, so any aggressive influence may change their attitudes and behavioral patterns.
It appears that pathological players are most subject to the negative effects of video games. Researchers found that problem gaming may result in anxiety, depression, and social phobias. Children regularly playing video games have more mental problems compared to their peers and tend to have low academic performance (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017). More importantly, gaming has a negative long-term effect on children, which emphasizes the need to limit the time spent on games every day. It is important to note, though, that the impact of violent video games may also depend on the games themselves and a child’s psychological state and character. What may be detrimental for one child is totally safe for another. The problem is that parents cannot know how exactly gaming will affect their child in the long term.
To summarize, the impact of violent games on children’s mental and psychological well-being, academic performance, and behavior has been widely debated. Some scholars found no evidence on the negative effects of gaming; however, the majority of researchers warn against the regular playing. Findings have demonstrated that violent content adversely affects young players, leading to aggression, decreased sensitivity to violence, mental problems, poor academic performance, etc. This evidence has been supported by reputable psychological organizations such as APA, which allows concluding that violent games are indeed dangerous for children.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2015). Video games and children: Playing with violence. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-and-Video-Games-Playing-with-Violence-091.aspx
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017). Video gaming can lead to mental health problems. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Video-Gaming-Can-Lead-to-Mental-Health-Problems.aspx
Heffner, C. L. (2003). The psychological effects of violent media on children. All Psych. Retrieved from https://allpsych.com/journal/violentmedia/
Hollingdale, J., & Greitemeyer, T. (2014). The effect of online violent video games on levels of aggression. PLOS One. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111790
Marczyk, J. (2016). Violence in games does not cause real-life violence. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pop-psych/201610/violence-in-games-does-not-cause-real-life-violence
Sarkar, S. (2015). American Psychological Association affirms link between violent games and aggression. Polygon. Retrieved from https://www.polygon.com/2015/8/13/9149481/violent-video-games-aggression-research-review-report-apa-resolution
Szycik, G. R., Mohammadi, B., Münte, T. F., & Te Wildt, B. T. (2017). Lack of evidence that neural empathic responses are blunted in excessive users of violent video games: An fMRI study. Front. Psychol., 8, 174. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00174