It’s really all about considered choice when it comes to video games. Matching ages, abiliites, and the types of values that help to build amazing future global citizens.
Even games that seem quite harmless can be promoting stereotypes, misogyny, gambling and the like. These are often found in Phone and tablet games where there is heavy gamification using “casino” style rewards, or where there are constant Ads being shown which also promote this or constant low level violence in order to progress through a game.
Where we have organisations churning out games on an almost daily basis, with no real standards in place nor any form of checks and balances as to what message is being shared through the game play, it becomes important for us to play with our children and teens and discuss aspects of each game. Privacy of information becomes another important consideration. Check privacy statements provided.
It is important to try and examine the situation without inherent bias/stereotyping. For example, according to one study, many boys would like to have a female heroine and many girls are playing first person shooter games.
There is much debate as to whether gaming violence affects behaviour, and of course, individual traits and experience may also influence each participant in a game differently; along with the degree of realism in the game. Age and maturity of each individual needs to be taken into consideration, along with any existing health or mental health issues, other challenges within the individuals life, exposure to violence in real life as well as things such as balance of time spent gaming against what is being missed or displaced from their life (things such as sport, real life social interaction, family time, meal times and quiet/no tech time). According to a 2020 resolution by the AmercialPsychoogical Associations, “there is insufficient scientific evidence to support a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior”.
A recent study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research (Feb 2020) explored “Differences in associations between problematic video-gaming, video-gaming duration, and weapon-related and physically violent behaviors in adolescents “. The study indicated that at risk adolescents (demonstrating problematic gaming) tended to carry weapons, and feel less safe. The report concluded that “Associations between gaming quantity and problem-gaming severity and measures of weapon-carrying and physical violence in adolescents suggest that understanding further their mechanistic relationships may be important in promoting safer developmental trajectories for youth”.
A study on stereotypical gender recognition in gaming in 2009 found that amount of game play did seem to affect the ability to recognise stereotypes with results stronge when it came to male players.
Another issue which can arise from constant violent game play is that of “schadenfreud” – this is when a person derives pleasure from another persons misfortune or pain.
There are many studies around prosocial games vs violent games and the results vary widely. I suggest using your own observation. When a child finishes playing a game, observe whether they have increased irritation or anger or in the case of a prosocial game, do they demonstrate more empathy or caring behaviours? Every child is different.
Avoiding younger siblings playing adult rated games is important for their development. Make sure that teens and young adults do not play the games in front of younger children.
Games can also promote healthy attitudes, behaviour and allow for escapism which can be vital for mental health.
Games can have a positive influence on the player, depending on design. Where the game has been designed to embrace diversity, encourages problem solving and critical thinking it can become a fabulous and enriching learning experience.
Gaming can also give players a sense of belonging (finding their tribe), allow them to explore freedom of expression, work in teams and learn to balance their needs with a sense of responsibility for other players.
Role play, interactive stories and games can help to instil empathy in a child. Game play can allow children to experience the need for compromise and conflict resolution in order to meet a common goal.
During CoVid-19 restrictions, allowing socially distanced gaming between friends can really help kids developmentally. Always look at parental controls or play alongside where there is a risk of contact with strangers.
What to look for in games:
- Problem solving over violence
- Team playing (with friends)
- Promote empathy
- Ability to turn off ads and payment portal
- Embeded pro social games (role play, helping behaviours)
One older game to explore is Portal 2 (billed as ” a hilariously mind-bending adventure that challenges you to use wits over weaponry in a funhouse of diabolical science”). It does have elements of dark humour so probably 11+ age group. Also be aware there is the ability for cooperative game play with mic, recommend that parents be present if this aspect is to be used.
Animal crossing is a role playing game where players work to build a community on a deserted island. suitable for ages 7 and up.
What to avoid:
- Violence, be aware of excessive violence in some games
- Games which reinforce males as dominant, aggressive and violent and females as submissive, and in sexually exploited roles.
- Sterotypes and sexualisation of characters
- Games which encourage the use of derogatory terms (ie: ho’s, bitch)
- Games with racial profiling
- Games which easily allow young people to be exposed to open forums or play against strangers (Playing against others should ideally be introduced as responsiblity and maturity dictate)
Each child is individual and developmentally they may not be able to make a good decision, especially when facing peer pressure or adolescent growth stages. A younger child may feel uncomfortable and recognise this, whilst an older adolescent tends to be more concerned with self and making their own decisions, therefore resisting any parental guidance.
A further consideration is that of games which encourage the purchase of upgrades. It is possible for young people (and adults) to find themselves with financial stress where purchases are made for game play (virtual coins, upgrades etc). This is a real issue for app style games accessed via mobile devices.
Working with your child to set boundaries around game play and balance with other aspects of life is important. This can help to avoid “screamtime” when it’s time to stop.
The eSafety commission has a great post about setting up safe spaces for gaming. You can read it here
So what about values?
Our research indicates that many variables are at play and that the best way to instil desired values in your children, such as empathy, acceptance of others, resilience and care over anger/violence is to ensure these behaviours are constantly modelled around them. Balance the types of games played with non violent games and problem solving. Most of all, keep having conversations and play the games with your child.
Get access to quality reviews and have the ability to sort recommended games by age, content and more by joining Commonsense Plus (around $30USD annually). https://www.commonsensemedia.org/plus
Differences in associations between problematic video-gaming, video-gaming duration, and weapon-related and physically violent behaviors in adolescents. Zhai, Hoff, Howell, Wampler, Krishnan-Sarin & Potenza accessed 6 September 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022395619309896
Do Stereotypic Images in Video Games Affect Attitudes and Behavior? Adolescents’ Perspectives. Henning, Brennick et al
accessed 6 September 2020
Interesting articles re prosocial behaviour https://www.science.gov/topicpages/p/prosocial+video+games.html
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