Video Game Study Reinforces Negative Impact on Youth

Violent video game play leads young men to believe it’s acceptable to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol, according to the latest study on the digital entertainment medium.

Dr. Sonya Brady at the University of California, San Francisco and Professor Karen Matthews at the University of Pittsburgh set out to test the effects of media violence exposure on young men ages 18 to 21. Their results indicate that violent video games may play a role in the development of negative attitudes and behaviors related to health.

The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, was released the same week a Michigan judge threw out a bill which sought to ban video game sales to minors, ruling that the bill is unconstitutional and cannot be implemented.

At Risk Youth

Unconstitutional or not, Brady and Matthews offer what they consider proof positive that violent video games negatively affect a players’ blood pressure and lead to uncooperative behavior, permissive attitudes toward violence, alcohol and marijuana use, sexual activity without condom use and hostile social information processing.

Specifically, men randomly assigned to play “Grand Theft Auto III ” exhibited greater increases in these reactions and behaviors in comparison with men randomly assigned to play “The Simpsons.”

Although youth growing up in violent homes and communities may become more physiologically aroused by media violence exposure, all youth appear to be at risk for potentially negative outcomes, according to the researchers.

An Appetite for Violence

Despite the negative outcomes of this and other studies, U.S. computer and video game software sales grew four percent in 2005 to US$7 billion — a more than doubling of industry software sales since 1996, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

While 85 percent of all games sold in 2005 were rated “E” for Everyone, “T” for Teen, or “E10+” for Everyone 10+, M-rated games are among the best sellers in the industry.

“I find some of the games out there personally shocking. If you’ve ever seen ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ there’s adult-oriented material on there and a lot of violence. I don’t know what psychological affect it has on kids, but there certainly are more adult-themed games out there,” Brian O’Rourke, a senior analyst at In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.

Legal Maneuvers

O’Rourke pointed to states like California, Illinois and Washington that have tried to implement laws to bar retailers from selling or renting video games to minors. He also noted that such laws are getting thrown out of court.

In the most recent court ruling on a Michigan case, Judge George Caram Steeh firmly dismissed the state’s claim that the interactive nature of video games makes them less entitled to First Amendment protection.

“It would be impossible to separate the functional aspects of a video game from the expressive, inasmuch as they are so closely intertwined and dependent on each other in creating the virtual experience,” Judge Steeh wrote.

It may be equally as impossible to separate video games from youth, though the ESA reports the average age of a player is 30. In other ESA data, 87 percent of game players under the age of 18 report that they get their parents’ permission when renting or buying games, and 92 percent say their parents are present when they buy games.

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