This paper will investigate the evidence on whether or not video games are as harmful as they have been portrayed in the media over the years. It will discuss the history of video games over the last thirty years including defining the environment, the history with the media and how gaming and its impacts have changed over those years. In order to fully understand the impacts a discussion take places on why males involve themselves in the game industry and environment and explores the affects this involvement has on distinct groups within the male study ages. An exploration of the different development and social impacts video game involvement has on teenage males is discussed at length. For the purpose of the study group and affected individuals input a survey was taken for two separate groups impacted by video game usage. One was deployed for parents with sons and one for males who play video games. Their input was complied, compared and discussed against what the statistics claim to be true of video games. In conclusion it is decided whether or not video games are an addiction or a healthy outlet and what recommendations can be made for the current perceived problem with our male youth and video games.
Keywords: addiction, outlet, video games, gaming industry, game addiction, teenage males
Addiction or Outlet
Video games and the media have long had a heated and somewhat tormented relationship. In the past as well as in the current state of our country many times when our country suffers another loss from a violent act, we see news anchors discuss whether or not violent video games incite violent behavior. It has also been brought up whether or not it hinders development in younger children who are introduced to video games too early and that is stunts or affects their social and life skills. Though video games can or could become an addiction to some male teenagers and possibly expose them to unintended graphic situations, video games can also be a healthy outlet when properly monitored. Those unintended side effects can be avoided with proper steps and steer video game usage in a better, less influential method of release. It can help those who struggle in social situations or with social or anxiety disorders. Video games can also give those same people an appropriate outlet, relief from stress, confidence in themselves and improved concentration. My research aims to demonstrate that with the proper support video games can be a healthy outlet for teenage males and though there may be an association to behavioral issues, causation does not always equal correlation, but that when left unchecked and not monitored, it can become a trigger.
The history of video games is a long and interesting one between the development of the actual technology used to play them and the work that goes into actual game development. Though video games have been around for over six decades, for the purpose of this research we are only going to go back to the 1990s, when the technology really started to rise. The early nineties are when home consoles and video games really started to see a rise. Sega and NES were becoming household names and we “saw the release of a wealth of popular games on both consoles, including new franchises such as Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat” which sparked conversations all the way to the government about the regulation of video game content (History.com Editors 2017). The following will discuss and go more in depth on video games, what they include, what they are, their relationship with the media and how they have evolved over time.
What is video gaming and its associated Environments?
Video Gaming Overview.
In today’s technological world, video games can and do encapsulate a large category of systems and games. We have anywhere from a smartphone or Nintendo switch to an Xbox or a PS4 to a Personal Computer. Gone are the days where video games belong to a stationary device from the comfort of your home. So, the environments that are considered video game centric are vast and now very far reaching. For the definition of an actual video game, it doesn’t get any less broad, “video games could also be defined as consisting of three essential parts: setting, sensory stimuli and rules” (Zackariasson & Wilson 2012). This would include apps like Candy Crush all the way to something like Call of Duty. This is part of the reason why video game usage is so common in today’s environment; you can almost always find a way to be involved and gaming no matter where you are or how simple your device may seem. This progression in technology has only added to the strife involved in the media’s portrayal of video games because we now can have them anywhere, we go.
Definition of gaming for the purpose of this research.
That large and broad definition of video gaming most certainly bleeds over to and extends into the definition of gaming as well. So many genres, types and platforms exist that it is hard to narrow down what exactly gaming is. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a gamer is “a person who plays games, especially a person who regularly plays computer or video games” and I would add that it is someone who consistently engages in this act (2019). Gaming is the act of engaging in the use of the video game environment and playing a nonspecific video game or game genre on a regular and steady basis. For all intents and purposes in this research we will abide to this definition when referring to some being a gamer or part of the video gaming environments.
Definition of addiction and outlet.
The definition of addiction and outlet, though they may be straight forward in text, the interpretations of them are vast within our current social environment. The level of threshold for something to be considered an addiction changes from one person to the next and even the connotation of that word can as well. There are plenty of people who would consider an addiction the gym healthy, but one to video gaming to be unhealthy. Even if we look to the dictionary definition of addiction it doesn’t quite help to clear this up. Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence” but goes on to include that it could also be “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly” (2019). The first sounding far more severe and negative than the second, both are considered an addiction. In regard to how we will define addiction intended purpose of defining video game addiction from here forward, we will be referring to the first definition and its side effects.
Outlet on the other hand is far easier to define and up for much less debate in the public opinion. If you asked someone what an outlet was, you will almost always get an agreeing opinion that it is something people do to let off steam or relax. The technical definition includes “a place or opening through which something is let out, a means of release or satisfaction for an emotion or impulse [or] a medium of expression or publication” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary (2019). Any of these definitions will suffice when referring to a video game as an outlet. It can and does serve as such for many people and these definitions accurately represent the act of using a video game as channel of relief.
History of the influence of video games in the media.
Violence in Video Games.
Violence in video games has long been a controversial topic. This one in particular you have heard in the news many times as of late, but it is not new. It seems that anytime there is a newsworthy violent event, all the sudden violence in video games and how they affect those who play those games becomes a headline once again. As the American Psychology Association states, “news commentators often turn to violent video game use as a potential causal contributor to acts of mass homicide. The media point to perpetrators' gaming habits as either a reason that they have chosen to commit their crimes, or as a method of training. This practice extends at least as far back as the Columbine massacre (1999),” so you can see the influence from video games is not a new discovery (2015). I would like to point out the use of the word casual in the previous statement, as if it is not the sole contributor, because I don’t believe it is. Here is where I think the news drops the ball. They see a link from mass acts of violence to video game use but forget to dive deeper into they why. Though these same people who committed those acts of violence did dive into a video game world as well, the why is far more important. We need to know if these individuals had supervision, monitoring or any restrictions in regard to playing. In order to list video game violence as the sole contributor, it would also have to be the sole reason. In most cases video game usage is linked to an outside factor in life, i.e. social anxiety, stress relief, etc. As you will see in my survey results, most of those who engaged in a video game community do it for an escape, if what they were escaping from was addressed, rather than the escape into video game use, we might make more progress is solving the connection to aggression and violence.
Unfortunately, we come to researching a topic like this that is so highly researched and discussed, you find that there are many, many complicating opinions floating about. One of the more discussed supposed side effects from playing too many or too much video games, is becoming antisocial. Many claims that those who resort to video games lose their ability to function and interact on a normal day to day basis. Jenn Wilson at GoodTherapy.com stated “according to a new series of studies conducted by Morgan J. Tear of the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland in Australia, these games have virtually no negative effect on prosocial behavior at all” in reference to two of the most commonly played and criticized violent video games (2013). Wilson is referencing a study done by Tear and Nielsen where they conducted multiple experiments using these video games and concluded that the “three experiments failed to find a detrimental effect of violent video games on prosocial behavior, despite using contemporary and classic games” which contradicts the information provided by the APA, but it is valuable because it showcases how nuanced the study of human behavior can be (2013). There are too many moving parts and factors to attempt to blame one singular stimuli, video games, for violent outburst, acts of violence or antisocial behaviors. Tear and Nielsen study is particularly important because they were seeking to prove previous studies that claimed the link between video games and antisocial violent tendencies was there and that this existed because of the use of only modern games. Their research helps show that in certain circumstances no link can be found, where in others it can. In my opinion, this is because you cannot pinpoint one external source for a complete change in one’s behavior and moral, core values. More than that is necessary to alter a human being’s behavior and outlook.
Something that certainly does not help the argument of the influence and side effects video games cause are the stereotypes that go with it. Often times the news wants to describe people who engage in video games as outcasts, those who have no friends or never leave their room. This simply is just not the case and only further perpetuates the negative connotation of video game use in our society. In research done by Kowert, Festl and Quandt, they surveyed the gaming community to provide a deeper pool of data in order to either dispute or support the cynical gaming stereotypes and concluded the following:
“Online players do not seem to be more lazy, overweight, or unathletic than offline or nonplaying participants, as they all reported similar levels of exercise, nor are particularly unpopular, socially inept, isolated, or reclusive, as online players reported equivalent levels of quality friendships and sociability as compared to the other groups, as well as a greater social motivation to play than offline players” (2014).
The stereotype we hear about in the news or see portrayed and most likely made fun of in tv shows and other pop culture references, thought may be true in some instances, it is not true for the whole community. Stereotypes, in any instances, help to influence how we see a whole group of people who are likely not actually highly represented by the stereotype itself. It is similar to the saying “one bad apple ruins the bunch.” Just because we have met or have seen someone who is reclusive because of video games, it first and fore most, does not mean that the video games caused that behavior, but secondly, it doesn’t mean that person represents the whole or even the majority.
Game development over time and its impacts.
Trends of popular gaming genres.
It is no secret that over time and with technological advances, trends and impacts are bound to change over time and video games and their systems are no exception. We obviously did not start with games like Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat, but with something much simpler, like Pong. Overtime both game genres and what we played them on adapted and grew. In the early nineties, Nintendo was king and games like Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Kombat and The Legend of Zelda were ruling the roost (Fekete, 2009). Even though we see Mortal Kombat on the list, the content was much different than what we see today. It was pixel based and not nearly as graphic or blood filled as the most current versions are. By 2005 the Xbox 360 was released, and we had evolved to things like Need for Speed, F.E.A.R and Gears of War (Fekete, 2009). There is a stark difference between what we saw in both graphics and content between 1990 and the early 2000’s. By 2009 was when Call of Duty made its debut in the most popular list and really by no surprise in my opinion (Webb, 2019). The industry had been growing in this direction for some time and now had the technology and graphics to support it. Call of Duty stayed on or near the top of the list for most popular for the next almost ten years, which would make sense since this is the video game you hear referenced most in the news whenever video game violence and shooting becomes the hot topic for the moment. But what is notable to me is that before this, there was a wide variety that sat atop the popular list and the Call of Duty dominated for years at a time. The trend became consistent and that is likely what fueled the conclusions that it must have something to do with the violence in real life.
Statistics of average daily use.
Many people believe that those who indulge in video games spend far too much time invested in them and that it is a waste of their time and energy. What is interesting to me about that opinion is that we don’t say the same thing about those who invest time in things like running, the gym or sports as an adult. Admittedly, yes, the latter offer health and fitness benefits, but they are essentially used as the same thing; an outlet or release of energy or stress, for most people. We can’t dictate what people are interested in, so projecting a negative connotation on to something just because we don’t understand or enjoy it, really is not fair. According to the key findings from The Common Sense census on media use in tweens (ages 8-12) and teens (ages 13-18), “teen boys average 56 minutes a day playing video games” which comes out to about seven hours a week (2015). In comparison to the amount of time spent at school, doing homework or just about any other daily activity, seven hours a week doesn’t add up to much time spent. There are obviously participants who fall on the extreme end of the spectrum, but as an average total of the test group, that is not a lot of time spent gaming. To then try to blame or connect behavior issues to something that, as a majority, doesn’t take up more time then school, seems like a far reach.
Rise or fall of owning a game console
Overtime the use and buying of video game consoles has obvious grown and spiked as they have become more popular. The trends don’t do exactly what you would think they would. As seen in the media you would think sale would be rampant and show a large spike in buying over the last ten years, but the sale charts actually indicate the opposite. In the statistics compiled from VGChartz by the WEPC (Figure 1), it shows that game console sales have actually decreased since 2008 (2019). To me this figure was shocking. With the way video games are portrayed and their usage is discussed, you would have expected to see a strong and large rise in both usage and consoles owned. Granted, those who own or bought a console five years ago, likely still have and play it and don’t always buy the latest and greatest versions, so even though there is no large spike in the sales on consoles, that doesn’t equate to there being a lack of people or less people owning and playing video games. If anything, the graphic from WePC shows that there was a large spike at one time, there isn’t an overall large trend in buying power, but a large amount of people does still own video game consoles.
The “Why” and “How”
In order to understand why and how something affects someone, you must first ask and understand the reasons that fuel those decisions. Personal accountability is the one thing that most research seems to fail to consider or leave out. If someone knowingly engages in a video game in order to avoid life, that is a choice they are making, not a voice the video game industry forced upon them. In this sense, causation does not equal correlation because not all causes, and impacts are being considered. If a child has a bad day and goes home to play a video game he knows he excels in; he isn’t purposely retreating from the world and lacking empathy, he is searching for the gratification he missed during the day and if monitored correctly, it could help in raising his confidence in himself back up to start the next day better.
Basically, if we only look at the fact that teenagers are engaging in more video games and leaning on an alternate reality, we of course are going to see them as the cause of the problem. But, if we look at the why they are gravitated towards the games and the escape instead, we might find the real root of the side effects the games may or may not be causing. It is likely that there is an outside source or reason for teenage males retreating into and depending on video games for interaction, friends and a stress relief or escape. The side effects that the general population thinks we are getting from the use of video games, in reality, are probably coming from the reason our teenage male population is playing those video games in the first place.