Appleton: Key lesson from study on violent video games: Teens need social interaction

The Fresno BeeFebruary 14, 2014 

Do violent video games have an effect on children?

A recent examination of this well-documented question is starting to gain some attention from news outlets across the country.

"Violent Video Gaming and Moral Reasoning in Adolescents: Is There an Association?," a study conducted by Mirjana Bajovic at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, can be viewed for free on the Brock University website. It states that teenagers who play violent video games for three hours a day or more are likely to have increased difficulties empathizing with other people.

I think this is a pretty credible statement. I am an avid gamer and firm believer that video games don't cause violent behavior, but three hours of violent gaming a day does seems like a bit much for a 14-year-old.

The study is careful to avoid using absolutes, which is usually the sign of a good study. If it had said something like "violent video games cause a lack of empathy in children," then I would have disregarded it completely. Bajovic does note that some kids who did play violent video games for more than three hours a day experienced no adverse effects, which is a very important point to make.

However, the most important part of Bajovic's work was that it stressed the value of parental guidance and interaction when it comes to teenagers: Know what your kids are doing and talk to them about it.

If a parent found out his or her child was reading for three hours a day, that parent probably wouldn't be worried.

Now, if the child was reading serial killers' autobiographies for three hours a day, is that a cause for concern? It could be. Maybe your son or daughter wants to be a forensic psychiatrist or a detective, and he or she is just interested in the mind of a killer. Or, maybe there is a problem here.

The point is that a parent can put any potentially dangerous subject matter into context.

As a kid, I played violent games often. My mother knew about this, and we talked about them. My console was in the living room for much of my young life, which allowed my parents to both see what I was playing and interact with me while I played it. The violence certainly didn't turn me into a criminal. I have never even had a speeding ticket.

The study pays careful attention to the amount of violence in the immensely popular shooter series "Call of Duty." These games do feature a lot of graphic content, so parents should definitely exercise some caution in allowing their children to play them.

That being said, I have four friends who played those games regularly, if not exclusively, and all went on to thrive in the military. It isn't necessarily the violence or killing in these types of games that enthralls young people. Sometimes, they are just fascinated with the military.

The other important point I took from the study was the value of healthy social interaction for young gamers.

When I was in high school, I probably played video games more than 99% of my classmates. I also went to the winter formal and prom, had relationships and different groups of friends, went to sporting events, got into to trouble, and so on. There was a balance between the interactions from multiplayer gaming/social media/Internet use and typical face-to-face social gatherings.

I feel like this balance is starting to crumble away for today's teenagers.

Video games are almost universally accepted by younger generations. Whether you are a jock, a theater kid or a nerd, you play video games. Gender doesn't even matter that much now, as more and more girls are playing video games, and the industry itself is moving (although very slowly) away from the misogyny that has plagued it for decades.

But, with the increased level of face-to-face digital interactions available through apps like Snapchat and the increased webcam and voice features on the next-gen consoles, gamers are starting to lose some valuable social skills.

We nerds were never going to win any popularity contests in school, but we used to hang out and play games at someone's house or the arcade. We had LAN (local area network) parties, which is now almost as dated as saying we used to meet at the roller-disco.

With the boon in online gaming, friends can just play together online and don't want or need to meet up. This allows people to make all sorts of new friends from different countries and walks of life, which is certainly a good thing, but I can't help but feel that social skills are on the decline.

I think the most important lesson to take from studies and stories on this subject matter is that young people should keep doing what they enjoy, but they shouldn't forsake the important social skills that we all must learn in adolescence.

Play your games, read your books and watch your movies — just make sure that you include your friends and family in the journey.


Rory E.H. Appleton is the associate editor for and a journalism student at Fresno State. You can reach him at or @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

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