In recent years, video games have become a topic in parenting and development often coming under fire for their potentially harmful influence they have over child and adolescent behavior. With up to 91% of children aged 2-17 having played or playing video games, is understandable that researchers and parents alike, want to investigate potential harmful affects (****). However, most of the research done thus far has fixated on potential negative influences that have been outlined in recent years and has largely failed to identify or account for the definitive, positive influences that video games can have on adolescent development. There are numerous studies showing increased aggression after playing violent video games, and links between behaviors like aggress and other harmful behaviors like bullying are well known. Despite proven outcomes after playing violent video games, many fail to recognize the wide variety of video games on the market most of which are non-violent and often ignore any positive benefits that those games and even violent video games may be able to offer.
Prescott et. al (2018) conducted a metaanalysis of existing research studies linking exposure to video game violence (VGV) and overt physical aggression. The metaanalysis consisted of over 20 studies totaling 17,000 participants. The most recent and largest of it’s kind, this metaanalysis expanded upon a set of metaanalyses (2010 and 2014) that examined far fewer than 24 studies. Despite expanding upon previous metaanalysis, Prescott et al. (2018) found consistent data to support the previous research done linking VGV and aggression. More specifically, Prescott et al (2018) sought to delineate between minor aggressive behaviors and physically aggressive behavior or actions. This is an important differentiation because it credits the proposition that aggression and exposure in video games can actually be transferred to real world serious acts of aggression, often a problem when generalizing about video game violence (Ferguson, 2008). Across the board, Prescott et al. (2018) found evidence in these 24 studies to support the notion that violent video games are linked to increase aggression when controlling for covariates and accounting for baseline levels of aggression. This evidence is widely accepted, and relatively hard to dispute due to the collective trends across such a large number of participants. However, there were some variables recognized and accounted for through analysis that showed there might be difference in the way that VGV affects children and adolescents of different races. Prescott et al. (2018) found evidence that sample ethnicity has an impact on the effect on VGV on aggression “with White participants showing the strongest effect and Hispanic participants showing no significant effects” (p. 9886). This evidence found by Prescott et al (2018) sheds light on concerns about generalizing video game violence to real world violence in the example of school shooters. Prescott et al (2018) observed that white participants show higher levels of aggression than levels shown from Hispanic and Asian participants—a trend that is consistent with the race/ethnicity of school shooters where more than half of mass shootings since 1982 have been committed by white men (***https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/). Evidence like this in conjunction with the racial/ethnic differences found through the metaanalysis could actually shift focus away from general impact of VGV on adolescents but point to the need for more research done pertaining to ‘at risk’ groups for real world serious act of aggression, such as school shootings, and perhaps their susceptibility to influences of violence, such as violent video games rather than placing blame on violent video games for these real world situations. This is especially relevant when school shootings are analyzed as many of the school shooters, such as Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was found to have little to no previous exposure to any video games, violent or otherwise. Along with Cho, the Utah Mall shooter in 2007, Talovic had no previous experience playing violent video games, despite mass shootings being an example of one of the most extremes of physical violence. These examples vary in comparison to earlier examples of school shootings—such as the Columbine shooters, Harris and Klebold who were known to frequently play violent video games. (**Ferguson, 2008). ********
The Prescott et al. (2018) metaanalysis is also slightly flawed in it’s methodology of determining which studies were eligible for analysis by included self-reported levels of aggression and observational reports of aggression from parents and teacher. When considering incessant/obsessive behavior towards violent video games has been used to try to identify those at risk for VGV related aggressive behaviors, Ferguson (2008) discussed the inherent disconnect that often exists between teachers, parents, educators and those who are not younger and existing within the same social/cultural sphere as students are (p. 34). There is also something inherently unreliable about asking children and adolescents of any age to self-report anything about themselves, as their development of self is very much still fluid and forming at this time in their life (***).
Moving on from evidence found linking VGV and aggression, along with it’s potential flaws and shortcomings, the category of ‘video games’ is often reduced to the category of ‘violent video games’ when in reality, there are an endless amount of non-violent video games. Granic, Lobel & Engels (2014) conducted an analysis of the benefits that video games have to offer, largely focused on the tangible benefits from playing violent video games, but the analysis as a whole includes non-violent and even medical video games. Granic, Lobel & Engels (2014) outline benefits of video games and their impacts of cognitive functioning, motivational habits and emotional management.
While there is common perception is that video games are for ‘lazy’ and ‘uninterested’ adolescents, Granic, Lobel and Engels (2014) present arguments that participation in video games, particularly single shooter video games, improve cognitive functioning regardless of their violent nature. Green and Bavelier (2007) conducted research to determine whether or not action video games alter the spatial resolution of vision. To do this, Green and Bavelier (2007) not only compared non-players with video-game players, they also compared non-players with non-players who were trained on an action video game (therefore becoming ‘players’). Green and Bavelier (2007) sought to understand the phenomenon known as ‘crowding’ where “visual processing is hindered as distractors are brought close to the target” (p. 1). Crowding is particularly prevalent in action video games, but is an everyday occurrence when it comes to identification of letters, faces and other objects that may become overwhelming and ‘crowd’ the visual field. It affects our ability to identify objects on the periphery of our ‘target’ or what we are focused on. Green and Bavelier (2007) demonstrated that action video game players, compared to non-players, could tolerate smaller target-distractor distances; meaning that the distance between objects in the periphery of their target were smaller, and therefore harder to distinguish from the target or identify due to their proximity to the target. Performance on visual processing tasks like crowding are indicators for an individuals’ ability to identify letters or words embedded in text. This increase in visual processing has potential impacts on school work, and eventually, influence in academic performance. Green and Bavelier (2012) do future research as an era of ‘brain training’ is emerging, and they focus on video games as a method of ‘learning to learn’ as a wide variety of skills that enable people to adapt more quickly to new environments or learn new skills, are learned through natural gameplay. Action games are distinguished from other genres, such as strategy or role-playing simply due to the speed maintained and required of the game. Many items within action games pop in and out of the visual field at a high speed resulting in high perceptual, cognitive and motor loads. For example, a game may require played monitor multiple characters at one, and ask them to make multiple predictive and contingency plans that must be decided upon within split seconds. These games also facilitate divided attention activities, often asking players to focus on or view multiple sections of the screen(s) to effectively or successfully complete the game. Perhaps the most defining characteristic of action games is the amount of feedback given to player decisions during the game. Players are immediately aware of the outcomes of their decisions. Engaging in this type of immediate reward system is vital to the learning process and facilitates a players ability to take this ‘learning to learn’ attitude and experience to real life situations. Ultimately, Green & Bavelier (2012) found that first person shooter games (categorized as action games) have the ability to augment attention control while adolescents are at the prime of their capacity. Those in the single shooter condition of experimentation show, “faster and more accurate attention allocation, higher spatial resolution in visual processing and enhanced mental rotation abilities” (****).
Other longitudinal studies have revealed that the establishment and continued use of spatial skills, like those developed when playing shooter video games, are predictors of achievement in STEM related studies, which is further linked to long-term career success.