Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Playing with violence

A US District Court in Minnesota recently lost its case against violent video game purchasing by minors. The state law attempted to fine underage buyers for obtaining videos that were rated as mature. The idea was that violent video games harm children.

The judge found that "there is no showing whatsoever that video games, in the absence of other violent media, cause even the [slightest] injury to children." So, it's worth taking a look at how violent media might cause harm to minors. Often the debate around dangerous media in the US is one waged in the political sphere divided by party lines with no real reference to concrete developmental theory within child psychology.

Traditionally, Piagetian theory presents stages that a person passes through from infancy to adulthood, gaining crucial cognitive skill sets along the way. Most notably, children over 7 gain the ability to understand other points of view. It could be argued that prior to that a child playing a video game may have a difficult time separating themselves from the action on screen. Could being killed or killing in a video game bring on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) the anxiety disorder that can follow the survival of a traumatic event? Unlikely. Particularly since in the magical world of the video realm, violence occurs but there is always a replay.

Most of the attacks on violent video games come from behaviorism (people are what they do, and they do what they do for expected incentives). A game that rewards children for fighting virtually, might inspire them fight in reality. However the theory's main tenets are also part of the argument's downfall. Behaviorism notoriously ignores cognition and asks psychologists to analyze only the measurable behavior of a subject, making it important to have concrete examples of violent acts from video game players.

Social psychology and psychoanalytical each suggest that children get their moral beliefs from their society's infrastructure and the authority figures present in their early childhood. These theories could be applied to suggest that violent media plays the role of authority figure or social model in the minds of children and then reinforces violence as an excepted model of behavior. The idea that something like Grand Theft Auto 4 could replace a parent in the formation of the superego is a scary one and would require a very young child to spend a very long time playing the game.

I think the conclusion to draw is that virtual violence for the very young, who are unable to have varying points of view, would still need to spend a lot of time playing and translate their experience into reality in order to be significantly effected by the game.

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