Many American parents worry that their children are too glassy-eyed before their video game consoles and can't even find the door to play outside even as the weather gets terrific. Johnny comes home from a blase day at school and runs up the stairs to his room to the best part of his day: mowing down cops or drug dealers in his virtual world.
Psychologist Douglas Gentile of the National Institute for Media and the Family has found that children learn well from repeated violent video-game play, but the lessons aren't good ones. Instead, children have more aggressive thoughts and then behaviors after the desensitization of digitized butchery. His latest research on students -- in grades 3 to 5, grades 8 and 9, and the early college years -- found that those who play multiple violent games are more aggressive than those who play a mix of different video games. He also found that those who play these games constantly, every day, even in small doses, are more aggressive than those who play in fewer, larger chunks of time.
Dr. Gentile's conclusion about what violent video games can do to children is chilling: "Excellent teachers provide multiple approaches to a concept which helps children transfer knowledge to the real world. They help children practice a little each day rather than cramming, and they get children excited and hooked on learning. Violent video games use all of these techniques, and our children are learning from them."
These trends have caused great concern in state legislatures. Recently, there has been a resurgence in bills to ban the sale of violent games to minors. Lawmakers in California, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Michigan have proposed fines for retailers selling games rated "M" to those under 18. Sales of video games overall climbed to record highs last year, reaching $7.3 billion. The NPD Group, a research firm, found that even though game sales are rising, the share of "M" games (for "mature" audiences) sold is rising at a faster pace: 16 percent of all games sold in 2004 were rated "M," compared to 12 percent in 2003 and 13 percent in 2002.
In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich is pushing for passage of the Safe Games Illinois Act, citing a new game released in March called "NARC" as the worst of the violent breed. "I've gotten to know quite a few video games over the last few months, but this may be the worst I've seen," he said. "When kids play 'NARC,' they spend their free time pretending to be drug addicts and learning how to hurt people. Right now, children can easily get their hands on 'NARC,' and other games just like it."