Violent games could hinder moral development in teens

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The debate over whether or not violent videogames are bad for children, turning them in to rage-filled homicidal maniacs rages ever on. A study from last year by Canada’s Brock University and recently  published in peer review journal Educational Media International says that violent games could indeed skew young folks’ moral compasses.

In a rather small-sample study of 109 boys and girls aged 13 and 14, they actually found that in general, long-term videogame playing has no discernible effect on children’s development. That said, games that were particularly violent led to a lower sense of empathy within the children who played them.

Games that reward players for killing, maiming, decapitating, torturing, and otherwise inflicting harm on another “human” NPC’s could hinder moral development. You know, the sort of games that are rated 18+ and shouldn’t be played by children anyway.

“Spending too much time within the virtual world of violence may prevent gamers from getting involved in different, positive social experiences in real life, and in developing a positive sense of what is right and wrong,” said lead researcher Mirjana Bajovic.

“Exposure to violence in video games may influence the development of moral reasoning because violence is not only presented as acceptable but is also justified and rewarded.”

Here’s the thing though. The study acknowledges that it’s not cut-and-dry – and that not all children who played violent games had a slower morality development.

“However, not all adolescents who played violent video games demonstrated lower level of sociomoral maturity,” the study says, adding that it was only those who completely lost themselves in games for hours upon hours every day. Yes, the sort of anti-social person who’d be troubled whether they were playing games, or outside bashing rodents’ heads in with bricks.

The key here is that it’s not videogames, but guidance – or a lack thereof – that ultimately determines whether your children grow up to be amoral, inconsiderate jerks or not.

“As an educator, I strongly believe that positive guidance and help in deconstructing the real meaning of messages delivered through different forms of media, places students on the path to becoming positive, democratic citizens of the world,” says Ms Bajovic.

As parents, it’s your job to see what you’re children are playing. Hell, play games with them and make sure they’re able to separate fantasy from reality. And banning games isn’t a solution to anything.

“There should be no desire to stop children from playing video games, but opportunities can be created in and out of school to enhance their ability to become tolerant and compassionate in helping others and themselves,” concludes the study

Last Updated: February 11, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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