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Video Games: How Bad Are They?

We've always had our introverted activities. Maybe you were an avid reader as a child, played the Nintendo or Gameboy, or hung out in your treehouse listening to Madonna on your headset. Making friends has challenged all generations, and more than we are willing to admit, many of us enjoyed quiet, solo games similar to the #videogames our children enjoy today.

There are a number of positions on video games and their alleged impact on children. One thought is that because we were unfamiliar with #autism and its various presentations in generations previously, that potentially those who struggled with social skills found themselves more often in front of an electronic game by default and not because of exposure.

Another argument, and potentially the predominant position or concern with today's growing obsession to video games, is the apparent aggression or change in behavior electronic games seem to cultivate in children, adolescents, and young adults. One of my own boys was very impacted by video games in only a short amount of time, becoming very aggressive and admittedly, it could take more than twenty-four hours for him to recover. This caused me to pull them completely from our home.

It does seem they impact each of my children differently, although there is little question that each can be completely consumed by the games, lose complete tract of time, and even become disrespectful and disobedient when asked to return to reality and their responsibilities. As a clinician, many children who are prescribed mood altering drugs do admit to hours upon hours of exposure to electronic games, although parents will often give a different story. Maybe they too lose track of time, grateful for the reprieve. Either way, what has surprised me more recently is the endorsement these games have received from mental health specialists, even elementary school teachers as a reward for completing school work.

What does the literature say about electronics and children's behavior? I've written about the impact of games on the developing mind, and even electromagnetic exposure previously as well. What about violence and aggression?

While it may seem that the more violent videos and games are the greatest threat, this doesn't seem to prove true in the data. Rather, competitive video game play is the more important key. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that highly competitive games produce more #aggressive behavior than those which are less competitive no matter than amount of violence.

While there are a number of short-term studies, only one long term study has evaluated behavioral change caused by video games. Their results support previous findings that sports and racing video games which are competitive are more associated with aggression than those which are violent, such as action and fighting games.

More specifically, anger and hostility seem more prevalent when an individual's goal is threatened, particularly if they believe the goal blocking was deliberate rather than inadvertent. This frustration-aggression helps explain the link between competition and aggression. Aggression though, is apparent even when the end goal of winning is achieved, if a player perceives another to be blocking their identified goal.

The available long term study seems to demonstrate that repeated exposure to competition leads to more frequent and more intense anger and hostility when faced with a potential competitive situation. Over time, these competitors have more difficulty inhibiting this expression. More exposure does lead to worsening behavior. Games that cause the player to move through levels and put them at threat of having their goal blocked, deliberately, is perceived has been found to be perceived a personal attack.

Researchers have also looked at gender, parental education, age and even alcohol as variables in aggression related to playing video games. They've also evaluated whether playing real sports, not just sports video games, is a predictor for aggression. Research has consistently demonstrated that gender does not play a role, nor does parental education play a significant role. Alcohol however, certainly does seem to worsen behavior in young adults who also play electronic games, yet in itself, with or without alcohol, competitive games seem to be the culprit for aggression.

Adachi, P. J. C. & Willoughby, T. (2016). The longitudinal association between competitive video game play and aggression among adolescents and young adults. Child Development, 87(6), 1877-1892.

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