2000 – Informe ante el Senado de EEUU s/videojuegos y violencia

Testimony Submitted to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation – United States Senate

March 21, 2000

Submitted by David Walsh, Ph.D.  President, National Institute on Media and the Family
“Interactive Violence and Children”

Background

     Concern about video game violence is not new. There were calls to ban violent games as early as 1976 when Death Race, often acknowledged as the first violent video game, appeared on the market. Of course, the violence in Death Race seems tame in comparison with today’s “first person shooters.” As technology advances, each generation of violent games became more graphic and extreme. The processing power of video game platforms has increased an astonishing 188 fold in the past seven months. The goal of creating virtual experiences draws ever closer. The addition of sexual material and crude language raises additional worries.

As the annual report cards issued by the National Institute on Media and the Family have shown, the most violent games still find their way into the hands of millions of children and teens. Since these games have become implicated in the string of recent school shootings, concern has reached new heights. This testimony brings together some of the findings from research to determine if these concerns are justified. In addition it provides findings from ongoing research being conducted at the National Institute on Media and the Family.

Review of Research Literature

The first thing we learn from the research is that it is the younger children who spend the most time playing games. According to one study, the time spent playing video and computer games peaks between the ages of eight and thirteen (Roberts, 1999). A study we completed at the National Institute on Media and the Family found a similar pattern with game playing time peaking between eight and fifteen (Gentile and Walsh, 1999). We also know that youth, especially boys, gravitate to the “action games,” which include the “first person shooters.” In one study 50% of boys listed violent games as their favorites (Buchman and Funk, 1996). A growing number of children and teens now have the technological skills to customize the computer games. A recent development is putting “skins” on the characters in the games. This means that the player can insert the images of real people and places thereby making the games even more realistic.

Many pre-teens and young teenagers therefore spend a significant amount of time playing electronic games, with a preference for the violent ones. We also know that they have easy and frequent access to increasingly violent and realistic games. The next important question is, of course, “What are the effects of this?” Because the ultra-violent games are relatively new, the research literature is just beginning to accumulate. Research findings appearing in the 1980s and early 1990s are irrelevant because those studies did not include the types of violent games that have proliferated in the past six or seven years. For the last few years most experts have pointed to the vast body of research on television violence. That research clearly shows that a heavy exposure causes negative effects on children (Walsh, Brown, and Goldman, 1996).

Because there has been so little relevant research specifically focusing on electronic games, some state that there is no demonstration of harm to children. That, of course, was the same argument used to defend television violence for more than three decades. It was only after many years of research that that argument was abandoned. That argument, however, will become harder to maintain with regard to electronic games, because some important research findings are starting to appear that support the contention that the violence in computer and video games may indeed have a harmful effect.

I would like to highlight the findings of two research projects that found similar results independently. The first project was done by our collaborator Paul Lynch at the University of Oklahoma Medical School. Lynch has been studying the physiological reactions of teenagers to video games for ten years. He found that violent video games caused much greater physiological changes than non-violent games. The changes were found for heart rate and blood pressure as well as the aggression-related hormones, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and testosterone. A very important finding in Lynch’s research is that the effect was much greater for males who pretested high on measures of anger and hostility. In other words, the violent games do not seem to affect everyone the same. Angry youth react much more strongly to violent video games than do more easy-going kids (Lynch, 1999).     This finding was confirmed in a sophisticated research project completed by Craig Anderson of Iowa State University and Karen Dill of Lenoir-Rhyne College. In my judgement, Anderson and Dill have executed the best study of video game violence to date. It will be published in its entirety in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. They conducted two separate studies, one of which was an experiment.

In the first study they found a positive correlation between real-life aggressive behavior and violent video game play. In addition, they discovered that violent video game play was correlated with delinquency. Like Lynch, they also found that the correlation was much stronger for individuals who are characteristically aggressive. It is also noteworthy that Anderson and Dill found that the college students who spent the most time playing video games had the lowest grade point averages.

Correlational studies are important but do not establish a causal link. It could be that aggressive people who get into more trouble prefer violent video games. To begin to address the causal question, the two researchers designed an experiment. They used games of the same difficulty thereby ruling out frustration as a reason for aggression that might result from playing a violent game. Those students randomly assigned to play a violent game showed increases in aggressive thoughts and aggressive behavior. The students assigned to a non-violent game did not.

National Institute on Media and the Family Study on Computer and Video Games-Preliminary Results

Douglas Gentile, Ph.D., Director of Research at the National Institute on Media and the Family in collaboration with Paul Lynch of the University of Oklahoma and myself have designed a program of research to determine the effects of video and computer games on children and teens. While the program of research will take a number of years and sufficient funding to complete, I am able to report preliminary findings in this testimony.

These results are based on responses to a survey administered to 137 teens in grades 8-12 in a large suburban school district near a large midwestern city. 94 were students in general classes. 43 were students in a special program for “at risk students.”

Electronic Game Habits

  • 84% of teens overall play electronic games. 92% of boys play games.
  • The average teen plays video games for 1 hour at a sitting (does not include teens who don’t play)
    Among boys only, the average length of game play at one sitting is 84 minutes (almost 1 ½ hours)
  • 25% of teens who play games say they understand all of the ESRB ratings, with an additional 29% saying they understand some of them.
  • Only 15% of teens say that their parents understand the ESRB ratings.
  • 90% of teens say their parents “never” check the ratings before allowing them to buy or rent video games (another 8 percent say their parents “rarely” check the ratings).
  • Only 1 percent of teens who play games say their parents have ever kept them from getting a game because of its rating.
  • Only 56% of teens who own their own games say that their parents know all of the games they own. Only 46% of boys who own their own games say that their parents know all of the games they own.
  • 14% of teens (18% of boys) who own their own games say they have games their parents wouldn’t approve of if they knew what was in them.
  • 32% of boys who play video games download video games from the Internet.
  • 25% of teens (41% of boys) say they have played so much that it interferes with their homework.
  • 13% of teens (21% of boys) say they have done poorly on a school assignment or test because they spent too much time playing video games.
  • 89% of teens (91% of boys) say that their parents “never” put limits on how much time they are allowed to play video games.
  • 42% of teens (52% of boys) say that they sometimes try to limit their own playing, but only 70% of them (67% of boys) are successful in limiting their own playing.
  • The average teen likes a moderate amount of violence in their video games (median = 5 on a scale of 1 to 10). Among boys only, the average teen likes a fair amount of violence in their games (median = 7 on a scale of 1 to 10).
  • Over three-quarters (77%) of boys who play video games at least “sometimes” customize the video games they play.
  • 41% of boys at least “sometimes” visit game sites on the Internet, and 32% of boys at least “sometimes” play video games over the Internet.
  • 15% of teens (29% of boys) say they have felt like they were addicted to video games.
  • Among boys only, teens spend an average of 19 hours/week watching TV, 10 hours/week playing video games (includes teens who play zero hours), 18 hours/week listening to music, and 1 hour/week reading for pleasure. (When teens who never play are removed, the average time/week playing video games is 11 hours.)
  • Among at-risk boys only, teens spend an average of 25 hours/week watching TV, 16 hours/week playing video games (includes teens who play zero hours), 19 hours/week listening to music, and slightly more than 2 hours/week reading for pleasure (138 minutes). (When teens who never play are removed, the average time/week playing video games is 16 ¼ hours.)
  • Boys expose themselves to more video game violence than girls, and at-risk teens expose themselves to more video game violence than general students (defined from violence levels of 3 favorite games and frequency of playing each–based on Anderson & Dill approach)

Effects: School Performance

  • Amount of time playing video games has a negative impact on school performance, by many different measures: Teens who play more each week, play more yearly, and have played more over their lifetimes perform more poorly in school (as self-reported) than teens who play less.
  • Teens who say they like to have more violence in their games perform more poorly in school than teens who like less violence.
  • Teens who named more violent games as their favorite three games perform more poorly in school than teens who named less violent games as their favorites.
  • Teens who expose themselves to more violence in video games perform more poorly in school than teens who expose themselves to less violence in video games.

Effects: Arguments with Teachers

  • Teens who prefer more violence in their video games get into arguments with their teachers more frequently than teens who prefer less violence in their video games.
  • Teens who expose themselves to more violence in video games argue more frequently with their teachers than teens who expose themselves to less violence in video games.

Effects: Physical Fights

  • Amount of time playing video games is positively correlated with getting into physical fights, by many different measures: Teens who play more each week, play more yearly, and have played more over their lifetimes are more likely to have gotten into a fight in the past year than teens who play less.
  • Similarly, teens who say they are more familiar with video games are more likely to have gotten into a fight in the past year than teens who are less familiar with video games.
  • Teens who prefer more violence in their video games are more likely to have gotten into a physical fight in the past year than teens who prefer less violence in their video games.
  • Teens who named more violent games as their favorite three games are more likely to have gotten into a physical fight in the past year than teens who named less violent games as their favorites.
  • Teens who expose themselves to more violence in video games are more likely to have gotten into a physical fight in the past year than teens who expose themselves to less violence in video games.

Significant Differences between General and At-Risk Teens

  • At-risk teens perform more poorly in school.
  • At-risk teens name more violent games as their three favorite video games
  • At-risk teens get into arguments with parents, peers, and teachers more frequently than general teens.
  • Among boys only, at-risk boys are less likely to say they usually feel “positive” after playing video games.

Some Significant Differences between Boys and Girls

  • Boys are more familiar with video games than girls.
  • Boys play more frequently than girls.
  • Boys are more likely to own their own games than girls.
  • Boys play longer at each sitting than girls (means = 84 and 40 minutes, respectively).
  • Boys like more violence in their video games than girls.
  • Boys play more each week than girls (means = 10 and 3 hours, respectively).
  • Boys name more violent games as their three favorite games than girls.
  • Boys expose themselves to more video game violence than girls.

These sample sizes provide data accurate to ±10% when generalizing to general populations of teens, and to ±17% when generalizing to at-risk populations of teens.

Additional studies will need to be completed before we can claim that there is a demonstrated cause effect relationship between video game violence and real life aggression. However, the recent research developments show that the concern about the impact of violent video games is justified. It should act as a spur for both more research and for greater vigilance over the video and computer game diet of children and youth.

II

Statement to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
United States Senate
March 21, 2000

Submitted by David Walsh, Ph.D.
President, National Institute on Media and the Family

“Whoever Tells the Stories Defines the Culture”

Computer and video games are the fastest growing form of media in the lives of America’s children, especially boys. They are also the fastest changing. The processing power of video game platforms has increased an astonishing 188-fold in the past seven months alone. The goal of a virtual reality experience draws ever closer.

Most producers of games are using this technological power positively to bring games to market that engage, challenge, and entertain. There is a sizable segment of the gaming industry, however, that produces games that feature and glorify violence and anti-social behavior. It is this segment, the “kill-for-fun murder simulators,” that is the focus of concern.

My comments are about these violent electronic games. I will share new data from ongoing research we are conducting at the National Institute on Media and the Family. I will also put the impact of these “murder simulators” in a broader cultural context.

We are releasing extensive data to you today in written form. Let me highlight some of the findings.

  • Many millions of teens are playing games-84% overall and 92% of boys now play.
  • They’re also spending more time playing games. Boys now average 10 hours a week.
  • At-risk teen boys spend 60% more time playing games and they prefer more violent games than other teens.
  • The knowledge gap between youth and parents about games is enormous. Only 15% of teens think their parents know about ratings. Only 2% say their parents routinely check ratings. Only 1% report their parents have ever prevented them from buying games because of the ratings. 18% of boys report their parents would be upset if they knew what games they were playing.
  • The more time spent playing electronic games the lower the school performance.
  • Teens who play violent games do worse in school than teens who don’t.
  • Youth who prefer violent video games are more likely to get into arguments with their teachers and are more likely to get into physical fights, no matter whether they are boys or girls.

The research on the effects of violent electronic games is in its early stages. The rapid change in technology makes the research task difficult because violent games are a “moving target,” if you will excuse the pun. Research that is only four or five years old is only marginally relevant today because the games and the technologies are so different. We are seeing research results that justify the concern that brings us together this morning. I would, however, like to place research findings within a larger context.

Next month we will observe the anniversary of the tragic murders at Columbine High School. We will once again confront the question, “How could this have happened?” As we try to sort this out, we have to address the major role media plays in shaping the culture today’s youth are growing up in. I am not suggesting that video and computer games directly caused Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s murderous rampage. I do not believe that it was their favorite game Doom that led them to load up their guns. I do believe, however, that media shape the norms and that influences the extremes.

No one will argue against the statement that what happened at Columbine High School last April 20 was extreme. Unfortunately there have always been and there always will be youth drawn to extreme behavior. But what qualifies as extreme depends on what’s normal. If the norm is respect, then the extreme might be a verbal outburst, a kick or a punch. But if putdowns and “in your face” behavior is already the norm, then the extreme behavior is going to go farther over the edge. As our culture becomes more violent, then extreme expressions of violence will inevitably be more grotesque.

That’s where the media come in. Whoever tells the stories defines the culture. That isn’t new. It’s been true for thousands of years. What is new is that during the 20th century we have delegated more and more of the story telling function to mass media. Computer and video games have become influential storytellers for this generation. As I said earlier some game producers take the storytelling art to new heights. Others, however, do not. They specialize in dishing out heaping servings of violence, mayhem, and degradation.

Today the average American child will see over 200,000 violent acts on TV alone by the time high school graduation rolls around. Who knows how many simulated murders they will have participated in if they’re “playing” video games like Duke Nukem, Doom, or Unreal?

While the research linking violent electronic games with attitudes and behavior is in its early stages the research on other forms of violent media is so overwhelming that few researchers even bother to dispute that screen bloodshed has an effect on the kids watching it. What do we think the effect of a steady diet of video games like Soldier of Fortune could be? A fifteen year old boy sent me an ad for this game last week. It reads, “Each gore zone gets a different reaction to keep you from getting bored.” In my judgement the most insidious effect of a diet of this kind of media is not so much the violent behavior but rather the culture of disrespect it creates and nourishes. For every Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, or Michael Carneal there are millions of other kids who aren’t murdering their classmates. But they’re putting each other down, pushing, shoving, and hitting with increasing frequency all the time.

Games like these are redefining how we are supposed to treat one another–from “Have a nice day” to “Make my day.” Too many of our kids are picking up the kinds of messages contained in the final line of the Soldier of Fortune ad: “Now the only question is where your next target gets it first.”

A Cree Indian elder said many years ago, “Children are the purpose of life. We were once children and someone took care of us. Now it is our turn to care.” We all-media leaders, game producers, and parents-can do a lot better job of caring.


David Walsh, Ph.D. is the founder and president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, Minneapolis, MN. The Institute is an independent, non-sectarian, non-profit organization dedicated to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the harm of media on children and families through research and education. Among other activities the Institute publishes the annual computer and video game report card each fall.

Click here for a copy of the full report Dr. David Walsh submitted to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee March 21, 2000.

Click here for a copy of the full report Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University submitted to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee March 21, 2000.