Video Games Can Negatively Affect Us: So What?

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Gamers and game journalists routinely deny that video games can have negative effects on people. This denial is rooted in insecurity about their chosen interest and a fear of politicians and other groups who (unscientifically) link video games to violence.

A recent IGN article, dubiously titled “Games Definitely Don’t Harm Kids, Says Huge Study,” is an embarrassing display of this chicken-shit mentality. The article is also a downright lie. This is the final sentence from the “Huge Study” referred to in IGN’s desperate headline:

However, the study suggests that a cautionary approach to the heavy use of screen entertainment in young children is justifiable in terms of potential effects on mental wellbeing, particularly conduct problems, in addition to effects on physical health and academic progress shown elsewhere.

One might argue that we can’t be too hard on IGN since journalists often suck at reading and understanding scientific articles. My purpose isn’t to single out a publication for butchering science, though. The insecurity and fear behind IGN’s ignorant article represent a widespread disease in the gaming community — a disease that needs to be eradicated for the good of video games and their fans.

Do not misunderstand me: I am not for censorship, nor do I feel anyone should blame all of our problems, including violent shooting, on video games. But it’s time for the gaming community to stop running away from the conversation by lying about the potential negative effects of games. If the gaming community continues to do this, politicians and other groups will continue to set the tone for the conversation. This negative, idiotic tone is reinforced by IGN’s clueless article: “[V]ideo games aren’t a source of pernicious evil designed to rot young minds.”

We have the potential to frame the issue of the potential negative effects of video games in our favor. The legal foundation of this more mature outlook is that games, like any form of media, are here to stay due to protection from the First Amendment. This foundation is no different than the foundation of the childish mentality of IGN’s recent article. However, the next logical step separates a mature perspective from an immature perspective: games might have negative effects, but these effects can be prevented through personal responsibility.

Alcohol offers a helpful, though flawed, comparison. After the massive failure of Prohibition in the United States, no sane person would suggest alcohol should be banned across the board. However, we freely discuss and acknowledge the potential problems associated with alcohol. While alcohol is clearly more dangerous than video games, the lesson of this comparison is clear: acknowledgement of potential problems doesn’t make a form of entertainment illegitimate, as long as we promote the idea of personal responsibility. If you drink too much, you might lose your job. If you play World of Warcraft too much, you might lose your children.

Honesty and courage are required to admit that too much of an enjoyable thing can be bad in certain contexts. I mentioned in a recent Fate of the Game podcast that playing Street Fighter IV online made me snap at my wife sometimes. To fix this problem, I stopped playing the game for a while. The potential negative effects of video games are only a problem when we deny them.

5 Comments

  1. Interesting take on the subject. It’s always good to see smaller sites taking on the larger ones that seemingly can write whatever they want. I still tend to place the blame on parenting though. In the end they are the gatekeepers to their children’s entertainment.

  2. Thanks and I don’t want to come off sounding like I think that kids should be always playing games or just any games. I really think that it comes down to exactly what you said about personal responsibility. Parents need to realize that the games are not the problem but they themselves by not knowing what their kids are playing and how often they are playing. It is time for them to take an interest in what their children are doing and provide some proper guidance and dare I say it just interact with their kids. This to me is no different than the sudden emergence of bullying on the internet via social media. It is not the fault of social media, that is just the forum. Where are the parents? Why are kids allowed to be on these sites continually without any guidance? It is not an excuse to say well it is a new generation or I am not into social media so I don’t follow what my kids do. If you are a parent it is your job for at least 18 years to not only be a friend but more importantly be a guide to them and sometimes be the asshole so that your kids when they grow up and have a frontal lobe in their brain can make proper decisions.

    I can’t say it enough, “let you kids have fun but be there to guide them and sometimes tell them what they don’t want to here.”

  3. Thanks for the reply. I certainly do not want to come over sounding like I think that everyone should let their kids play games all the time or all types of games. The personal responsibility you mention is exactly what people need to exercise for themselves and their kids. Where else are the kids going to learn responsibility if not from the parents.

  4. While I agree that the gaming community should take up the mantle so that others do not determine agenda when it comes to the question of harm to children I really think that every one has missed the point. This is a common occurrence as people generally want a scapegoat.

    I work in the engineering profession and specifically in maintenance in heavy manufacturing plants. When an issue is encountered we do something call root cause analysis. This means that when something goes wrong you start at the failure and go backwards to find the original cause of the problem.

    It is very easy (and also sells ads) for the media to grab a quick headline like, “Killer shots 4, favorite pastime was playing Call of Duty online. What people do is immediately jump to the conclusion that the game drove him to do it or he was so enthralled with killing people online he just had to do it in real life.

    If you look for the root cause you will find that this person either was mentally ill in some fashion or just as likely that he had absent parents that were never around to give him the attention and guidance that he needed to function correctly in society. If you think that is the root cause you are mistaken. You need to go further. Why were the parents absent? Maybe they were loving parents that were both worked to the bone just trying to make a living and too worn out or had no time to spend with him. Why was that? Well there was a lack of decent jobs available. Etc.

    The point is that this is a societal problem not a game problem. The absolute vast majority of people can be perfectly moral and responsible people and have grown up gaming their entire life. Maybe the organizations that want to blame gaming would prefer the easy scapegoat to the hard answer that our current society does not allow for the proper guidance and upbringing of our children.

    I have been snappy with my wife many times and she has reciprocated. Sometimes I was playing a game but the game had nothing to do with it. I was responsible. What I failed to do was think before I acted. The best we can do is to say to ourselves that was not appropriate therefore the next time I will think before I act.

    This all comes down to one thing and one thing only, people and society in general no longer wants to take responsibility for its actions. They want a scapegoat.

    • Jed Pressgrove

      Thanks for the contribution, KingDad. I’m against two types of extremist factions: (1) the politicians, media, etc. who want a scapegoat and (2) the gamers, journalists, etc. who claim that video games are always a good thing 100 percent of the time. My main criticism is that games can be a significant part of a problem if overplayed in certain contexts. It doesn’t mean we should use games as a scapegoat. It simply means we need to be aware that too much of a good thing is not good. Such awareness can help all of us exercise personal responsibility when necessary.

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