Playing with fire: boys and violent video games
On average, boys play online games for a massive 100 minutes each day. And although not all video games contain violence, violent video games are increasing in popularity; half of Australia’s current top 10 video games contain excessive violence.
But is playing violent video games really such a big deal? After all, it’s just boys having fun… isn’t it?
Here are a few reasons why I believe violent video games can contribute to boys’ aggressive behaviour.
A risky time for boys’ biology
Boys are more likely to play video games than girls. They’re also most likely to play games in their teenage years.
During adolescence, physical aggression in boys increases, peaking between 13 and 15 years. Teenage boys experience an increase in adrenal hormones and testosterone, which fuel aggression and ‘fight/flight’ responses – chemical impulses boys have little control over.
Therefore, boys are likely to be exposed to violent gaming when they are most vulnerable biologically; a dangerous combination.
A warped view of violence
Heroes in violent video games often use violence to win and/or are rewarded for violent acts. There are few real-life consequences for the hero; he’s rarely put in prison, and the law enforcement is often ridiculed. Many violent video games place violence in a humorous context. Younger boys can struggle to distinguish between reality and fantasy, so when violence is represented as ‘funny’ or ‘cool’, this can cause real confusion.
The dangers of desensitisation
Exposure to violence, even brief exposure, can also cause desensitisation. This means that our boys change their view of what violence actually is, with acts needing to be more and more aggressive. Violent video games have also been linked to an increase in aggressive thoughts and feelings, with kids more likely to use words to hurt others, physically hurt others, and/or deliberately damaging relationships.
Unhealthy gender stereotypes
In many violent video games, the heroes are male, and the victims are female. Female victims may need to be rescued, or may be the target of physical or even sexual violence. Boys are naturally interested in learning how to be powerful, and violent video games give our sons the harmful message that violence can provide them with this power. Not exactly the healthiest foundation for building respectful relationships with the opposite sex.
5 things parents can do
- Say no, and know what you’re saying no to
The simplest way to reduce your son’s exposure to violent video games is to limit the time he spends playing games and, most importantly, to monitor what your son is playing. If you’re not sure about a game’s content, play it yourself and then decide. Being a stickler for the rules won’t make you popular but, as all parents know, that’s not what you signed up for.
- Check out the classification
Still not sure if a game is OK for your son? Check the classification. With online downloads, carefully read the app store’s classification of the game as they use their own classification system. The Australian Council on Children and Media (ACCM) is a great resource. It provides an app review by age suitability and also offers a fight-free list.
A few violent (but extremely popular) games to avoid: Battleborn, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Dark Souls and Halo.
- Talk to your son, and listen to his views
Talk to your son about the violent behaviour contained in video games, sharing your view and, importantly, listening to what he thinks. Reassure your son that he’s not in trouble and you won’t judge him – this will help ensure he doesn’t simply shut down. By making your gaming chat a two-way discussion, you may find out that your son is intimidated, frightened or confused by what he’s been consuming, so offer him comfort and support.
- Be his greatest role model
Modify your own consumption of violent games, or any other types of violent media (if you must watch The Walking Dead, make sure your kids are in bed). Encourage supportive and caring behaviour and discourage aggressive behaviour at all times.
- Offer fun alternatives
Don’t simply shut down your son’s gaming obsession. This could backfire and make him more determined to access violent video games.
Instead, buy your son one of these popular non-violent games: Animals Crossing, Don Bradman Cricket, Super Mario Bros, Dirt Rally, Gran Turismo, Just Dance, SimCity (but be careful, The Sims 4 is M rated whereas SimCity is G so check the label carefully).
Violence in media, especially through violent video games, is just one contributor to aggressive behaviour in our society, but it is one that we can all do something about.Meg Adem is a science and psychology teacher, writer and athletics coach at Brighton Grammar, an all-boys school in Melbourne. This article is about Parenting
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