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Violence and Video Games: Is Lego Wii the Gateway to Grand Theft Auto?

Posted Dec 20 2010 11:58am
My five-year old son became besotted with Indiana Jones Lego on the Wii in like two weeks. 

My fault entirely since I gave it to him for his birthday recently after several recommendations and online reviews.  When the Lego Indiana Jones cracks his whip the bad block guys "crumble," falling apart.  Had to rein it in as I was amazed by how quickly the game grabbed hold of my little guy's imagination.  He is obsessed with getting to the next level. The temptation of unlocking the next  whatever holds quite an attraction for little minds. It's like kiddie crack.  That's worse than the whip and all in many ways if only because it becomes a constant battle.  When can I play Wii? Can I play? Basketball, no thanks.  Drawing, no thanks.  Real-life Legos, nope.  Real life has lost some of its appeal. 

Do I think playing Lego Wii will lead to chronic aggression?  Not really.  Nor do I believe Lego Wii is the gateway to Grand Theft Auto. 

But I don't like it and am already worried about rumors of excessively violent video games as part of the middle school social experience - and all the peer pressure that entails.  I'm well aware of the many correlational findings surrounding violent media fare and aggressive behavior.  Watched this literature for a while now. It's a tangle of results made messier by methodological limitations.  Like the whole chicken and egg problem.  What came first, the real-life aggression or the fictional exposure via games, tv, and video games?  Probably some of both is my guess.

A new study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found media violence had no effect on future criminally violent behavior (e.g., pushing, stealing).  Researchers looked at over 300 mostly Hispanic youths aged 10 to 14 as part of a larger study on violent behavior.  Meaning, they got all kinds of aggression-related data.  Interviewed the kids at the start of the study and the end and also assessed their behavior and media fare at these two times.  Here's what they found: 
One year later, 7 percent reported engaging in at least one criminally violent act during the previous 12 months, the most common being physical assaults on other students or using physical force to take an object or money from another person. Nineteen percent reported engaging in at least one nonviolent crime during the same period, with shoplifting and thefts on school property at the top of the list. In addition, (the researcher) found that depressive symptoms were a strong predictor for youth aggression and rule breaking, and their influence was particularly severe for those who had preexisting antisocial personality traits. However, neither exposure to violence from video games or television at the start of the study predicted aggressive behavior in young people or rule-breaking at 12 months. From Science Daily.
Depression strikes again! The strongest predictor of later aggression.  One more reason why children's mental health should be given an extra dose of attention.   Children's mental health should matter as much as their physical health.  And still we wonder why kids grow into violent adults. 

Let me also point out another obvious point
Plenty of teens and tweens play video games and don't get suspended or locked up.

How many? A lot.  According to this study 75% of kids played video games in the past month, 40% of the crowd played violent ones.  Boys more than girls, by the way.  And only 7% reported a serious act of aggression.  Yes, it was self-report.  I know, not great.  Would love some collaboration, independent verification. 

Nonetheless the testosterone-packed games don't make every kid more violent.  There are some kids who may seek them out, like those dealing with depression or other stressors and yes, might in turn be more influenced by the body blows and such. I should also caution that violent exposure might cause more immediate less intense reactions.  This study didn't assess behavior immediately following each viewing or gaming session.  There's quite a pile of experimental results showing immediate aggressive behavior following exposure.  But no, it doesn't generally measure mental health, as in depression.   

Still, I don't enjoy seeing Indy cracking his whip at block figures nor the power the Lego land holds over my young son.  I still let him play it but not as much.  Gotta channel that physical energy elsewhere. 

So Santa, please, no more video games with the pushing and punching! I've had almost all I can take regardless of the scientific evidence.  Whether of not violent media content begets more violence I  don't appreciate it.   
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