Dr. I. Arul Aram*
The media is a means of communication to the public as well as a source of entertainment. The media and entertainment sector has evolved into an industry in recent years. People seek gratification from various sources of entertainment. Video games have not only evolved but sustained and grown at an amazing rate over the past 40 years with the expansion of internet culture, particularly among the youth. The last two decades have witnessed greater proliferation of video games, paving the way to a genre of entertainment called gaming.
A video game is an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device. A person who plays electronic games is called a gamer. The term “gaming” originated as a synonym for “gambling”. Sophisticated multimedia integration provides a seamless indulgence to a gamer. Technological advances in video gaming software have created a rapid evolution from the 1970s Arcade game technology to today’s role playing games, featuring realism including graphic violence and gender portrayal.
According to the Entertainment Software Association (2010), forty percent of all game players were women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represented a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (34 percent) than boys aged 17 or younger (18 percent).
Video games are an excellent example of what theory of motivation predicts to be the highly motivating tasks (Dill and Dill, 1998). Gentile and Gentile (2013) call video games “exemplary teachers,” with seven dimensions:
- clear objectives with adaptable difficulty levels
- active learning with practice and feedback
- over-learning to gain mastery
- extrinsic and intrinsic motivation
- increasing difficulty across levels where past learning can be applied
- close-to-optimal combination of massed versus distributed practice
- learning that can be applied to different problems and contexts.
Malone (1981) generated three main elements that make video games fun: challenge, fantasy, curiosity.
Thus, technology advancement brings promise of new skills and greater youth participation.
Video Game Platforms
Various gaming platforms are available these days bringing about possibilities to the extent of league tournaments, and thus, networking among youth. This evolution started with the early Arcade video games around the 1970s. Other popular games include ‘Computer Space’, ‘Pong’, ‘Tank’, ‘Anti-Aircraft’, ‘Breakout’, ‘Death Race’, ‘Space Invaders’, ‘Galaxian’, ‘Lunar Lander’, and ‘Asteroids’. The inventions made during the 1970s paved the way for the “golden age of video games” that spanned the early 1980s. The electronic systems used to play video games are the platforms which include Arcade video games, personal computers/laptops, smart phones, game consoles, tablet, e-book reader, media player, netbook, SatNav, and digital camera.
Video Games Sales
According to the U.S.’s Entertainment Software Association (2010), U.S. computer and video game software sales grew 22.9 percent in 2008 to $11.7 billion – more than quadrupling industry software sales since 1996.
According to IDC (International Data Corporation) data, China game market’s actual sales of RMB 60.28 billion in 2012 was up by 35.1% over 2011. The game market included PC online games, PC console game and mobile online game.IDC believes that the China online game industry will be increasingly involved in pan-entertainment, another content-derivative industry, because of the following factors:
- The rapid growth of the culture industry is a driving force for a continued revenue increase of online game
- Online game is facing complicated competitions and challenges
- The monetization of existing user resources is diversified.
Social gaming is growing rapidly and it has generated huge revenue for Facebook. In 2011 gaming represented 17 percent of Facebook revenues. Most importantly, the associated gaming gross profit represented about one-third of Facebook’s pre-tax income (Garriott, 2012).
Video Game Controversies
Video games have revolutionized the concept of indoor games. While gaming could be obsessive, controversial content of the games provides scope for negative impact on attitude and behaviour. Since the early 1980s, there have been discourses from supporters campaigning video games as communicative and animated while critics seek strong legislation citing the societal harm these games can cause. Many studies have been conducted to address the issue. These studies show a correlation between obsessive gaming, social behaviour and perception.
The results of these studies have been conflicting. Within the realm of aggression studies, some analysts have found that exposure to violent video games correlates with at least a temporary increase in aggression and a decrease in pro-social behaviour (caring about the welfare and rights of others) (Anderson and Bushman, 2001), whereas others using similar analytical methods have concluded that video game violence is not related to engaging in aggressive behaviour (Sherry, 2001; Ferguson and Kilburn, 2009).Violent video games may even promote pro-social behaviour in certain contexts (Ferguson and Garza, 2011). Thus, there are risks and opportunities in video gaming.
Crime and Violence
A common criticism of video games is that it leads to increased tendencies for aggression in youth. Many studies have found a correlation between these two.
The commercial possibilities of ‘Pong’ encouraged game developers to push the creative and technological envelopes to gain greater profits and market share. Further experimentation with violent content made ‘Pony’, making it addictive among gamers.
Another example was by developer Exidy’s 1976 title ‘Death Race’, in which players controlled cars that ran over pixelated representations of “gremlins”. The negative impact of the game was detrimental to the extent that it was stopped at once.
David Grossman(1999), a former psychology professor, in his book Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, used the term “murder simulator” to describe first-person shooter games. He argues that video game publishers unethically train children in the use of weapons and, more importantly, harden them emotionally to the act of murder by simulating the killing of hundreds or thousands of opponents in a single typical video game.
Most of the video games are rewarded for getting violent. For example, Carnagey and Anderson (2005) found that when a car racing game rewarded players for violent acts, those players were more likely to attack an opponent than when the same game punished players for aggression.
David Grossman (2013), a former military psychologist, argues that video games, even if they do not directly result in increased crime statistics, create youth desensitized to violent behaviour.
Another example was about Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis who turned into a mass murderer. His friends believe playing violent video games including ‘Call of Duty’ for up to 16 hours at a time could have pushed him towards being so. It also increases bullying and violence in society.
It is believed that mass killers often share obsession with violent video games. Evan Ramsey sneaked a 12-gauge shotgun into his Alaska high schoolin 1997, where he gunned down a fellow student and the principal and wounded two others.Several mass killers, including Anders Breivik, Jared Lee Loughner and Adam Lanza, were active players of violent video games such as ‘Call of Duty’.Harris and Klebold, who killed 12 fellow students and a teacher in 1999, were reportedly obsessed with ‘Doom’. Seung-Hui Cho, 23-year-old who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007, was, according to the Washington Post, a big fan of violent video games, specifically ‘Counterstrike’.
The United States President Barack Obama called for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to renew scientific inquiry into the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.”We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.” he said (Lejacq, 2013).
Researchers in the British journal Nature (1998) report that the brain releases dopamine, a pleasure chemical, during video game play.
Walsh (2004, 2006) explains that youth exposure to video game violence results in long-lasting effects due to the nature of the teen aged brain. For example, the adolescent brain is actively learning impulse control and how to deal with sexual and violent urges and is particularly vulnerable to the violent and sexual imagery prevalent in video games.
When a car racing game rewarded players for violent acts, those players were more likely to attack an opponent than when the same game punished players for aggression.
A neuroscience study published in Nature shows that playing video games increases visual ability at the edge of the computer screen. Other studies reveal that video games can help an adult differentiate between different shades of gray (known as contrast sensitivity) which is required for activities such as driving at night (quoted by Ghosh, 2015).
General Aggression Model (GAM)
The General Aggression Model (2010) argues:
- Games as having an influence on people, proposing that a participant’s thoughts, feelings and physical arousal can be affected by simulated violence.
- This creates an effect on an individual’s interpretation of an aggressive or violent act.
- Video games have both short- and long-term effects. In the short-term the aggressive cognition’s affects and arousal are posited to increase while long-term effects are asserted to be possible, but not yet accurately determined
- Violent video games promote violent behaviour, attitudes and beliefs by desensitizing an individual to aggression.
Not all people take to violence on playing video games. A person who is biologically predisposed to aggression will be more strongly influenced by violent scenes and thus will have a greater risk for carrying out destructive actions. A person with anti-social personality disorder has a greater risk of going out and shooting someone after playing hours of a game like ‘Grand Theft Auto’.
On November 22, 1997, thirteen-year-old Noah Wilson died when his friend Yancy stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife. The mother of Noah, Andrea Wilson, alleged that her son was stabbed to death because of an obsession with the Midway game ‘Mortal Kombat’. She alleged that Yancy was so obsessed with the game that he believed himself to be the character Cyrax. This character uses a finishing move which involves getting the opponent in a headlock and stabbing them in the chest.
On June 25, 2003, two American step brothers, Joshua and William Buckner, aged 14 and 16, used a rifle to fire at vehicles on Interstate 40 in Tennessee, killing a 45-year-old man and wounding a 19-year-old woman. The two shooters told police they had been inspired by ‘Grand Theft Auto III’.
Sexual theme in video games are incorporated by designing the video game character in sexually revealing clothing, by its sexual behaviour, portraying nudity or the use of sex as a reward for game play. Thus even the rating system and the reviews depend on these factors.
Video games portray graphic sexual images and content. Children begin to develop attitudes toward body types between the ages of six and seven years. As children get older, these attitudes become stronger (Spitzer, Henderson andZivian, 1999). A game that sparked controversy because of its sexual content was RapeLay, a Japanese eroge with a story line centering around the player’s character stalking and raping a mother and her two daughters. Playing such games is capable of increasing such incidents in real life as well.
There is a positive association between violent video game play and anti-women attitudes including attitudes supporting violence against women.
The gap between the sexes in online participation has largely closed.Gaming is no more a masculine pastime.Girls and women are playing games, though the game genres of choice are often different.
The stereotypes in gaming include:
- Dominance of textual and content analysis over approaches to gender and video gaming:
- Opposed (“evil or as obstacles to the goal of the game”)
- Trivial (“females depicted in fairly non-significant roles”)
- There is a racial diversity in avatar design in video gaming.
- Portrayal of male in gaming: hyper-sexualized; hyper-masculinized; large shoulders; slim waists; slim hips; overly large muscles; exposed body parts; typical role as soldier, tyrant, saviour; aggressive, violent, strong; and likely to use a weapon.
- Portrayal of female in gaming: highly sexualized; large breasts, lots of cleavage; slim waists; round buttocks; long, thick hair; exposed body parts; damsel in distress, hostage, bystander; and submissive, weak and likely to use verbal ridicule.
- Females are usually constructed as visual objects in need of protection who wait for male rescue, emphasizing the theme of masculinity and male dominance.
- While women are portrayed as sex objects, men represented as heroes and villains are represented as violent objects.
Video game addiction is the excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games that interferes with daily life. Over-obsession with gaming is compulsive and has dire consequences on the individual and family. Poor performance in school, social isolation and health abuse reports were more among pathological gamers than non-pathological gamers.
Gamers who are addicted to gaming become preoccupied with gaming, lie about their gaming use, lose interest in other activities just to game, withdrawal from family and friends to game, and use gaming as a means of psychological escape (Leung, 2004).
The Western origin of gaming has huge influence on gaming content. Most games are dominated by western content. In such a context, Western values are transmitted to pan-global gamers, leading to conflicting ideas and substituting cultural practices.
According to a TOI report (2011), games like ‘NBA’, ‘FIFA’ and ‘Rally’used to dominate the Indian gaming industry till about 2009. The industry is witnessing a sea change where game developers are looking forward to sweeping the market with Indian-flavoured games.’AmarchitraKatha’, ‘KaradiTales’ and ‘ChhotaBheem’ have found a new avatar in the form of video games. These cartoon strips appealed to Indian audience for the indigenous knowledge and values that were embedded in the stories. Gaming using these Indian flavours not only bring about a local connect with gamers but also help to transmit Indian values.Thus, games suiting the Indian context should be created, promoting de-Westernizing of gaming.
Games Breaking Stereotypes
The protagonist Lara Croft in the ‘Tomb Raider’ video game series is an out-of-the-box breakthrough in portrayal of women in gaming. She is presented as a beautiful, clever, athletic, and brave English archaeologist-adventurer. She represents “a positive role model for young girls” or a “combination of eye and thumb candy for the boys”, making her popular across genders. In 2004, game developer Eidosremodelled the character for ‘Tomb Raider: Legend’. The character was modified to have a more believable figure with less revealing clothing to avoid offending female gamers.
Advantages of Gaming
While video games are frequently associated with negative impact, gaming can definitely be used for self-development: resolve conflict and discord; develop intellectual skill; provide situational context for learning; develop psychomotor skill; help formation of attitude; overcome problem of lack of interest; give a feeling of self-esteem; and enhance short- and long-term memory.
Here are some of the lessons learnt:
- Regulations and monitoring will help playing games with moderation.
- Youth are aware of difference between fantasy and fact and hence minimal harm is done in most cases. Gaming affects only a few youth who have poormental health. Improving mental health of youth is needed rather than blaming it on gaming.
- Intervention should be made to bring out gender sensitive, aggression sensitive gaming, and oriental (de-Western) sensitive gaming.
- There is a need to study mobile gaming too as with the increase in the use of smart phones, mobile gaming has caught on with a large section of people worldwide.
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- Carnagey, N.L., & Anderson, C.A. (2005).”The effects of reward and punishment in violent video games on aggressive affect, cognition and behaviour.”Psychological Science, 16, 882-889.
- Dill, K.E., and Dill, J.C. (1998).Video game violence: A review of the empirical literature,Aggressive and Violent Behaviour, 3, 407-428.
- Entertainment Software Association.(2010). “Video game statistics by the Entertainment Software Association”,
- https://depts.washington.edu/critgame/wordpress/2010/04/fyi-video-game-statistics-by-the-entertainment-software-association/Posted on April 6,2010.
- Ferguson, C., and Garza, A. (2011). “Call of (civic) duty: Action games and civic behavior in a large sample of youth”. Computers in Human Behaviour 27 (2): 770-775. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.10.026. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
- Ferguson. C. J., and Kilburn, J. (2009). “The public health risks of media violence: A meta-analytic review.”Journal of Pediatrics, 154, 759-763.
- Garriott, L. (2012). “Gaming: aboon or bane for Facebook?” Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/techonomy/2012/05/23/gaming-a-boon-or-bane-for-facebook/
- General Aggression Model (GAM). (2010). Chapter to appear in M. Mikulincer and P. Shaver (Eds.) Understanding and Reducing Aggression, Violence, and their Consequences. Washington, DC: APA. 1-33.
- Gentile, D.A., and Gentile, J.R. (2013).”Violent video games as exemplary teachers: A conceptual analysis.”Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
- Ghosh, A. (2015). Quoted in a blog “Video games: a boon or a bane” Blog for Digital Humanities gen-ed students at Presidency University, Kolkata. http://dhgenedpresi.blogspot.in/2015/03/video-games-boon-or-bane.html
- Grossman, D. (1999). Executive Intelligence Review. “Violent video games reward children for killing people”.LaRouchePublications.
- Grossman, D. (2013). Quoted in article by James Schmid,” Negative Effects of Video Games on Youth”.http://www.ehow.com/list_6321054_negative-effects-video-games-youth.html Accessed on November 5, 2013.
- IDC. (2013). “IDC: Chinese online game enterprises play for keeps in the pan-entertainment industry”,
- http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prCN24102413May 8,2013.
- Lejacq, Y. (2013). “Obama urges $10 million to study video games and violence”. Speakeasy. http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/01/16/obama-urges-10-million-to-study-video-games-and-violence/
- Leung, L.(2004).”Net-generation attributes and seductive properties of the internet aspredictors of online activities and internet addiction”, CyberPsychology&Behaviour. 7(3), 333-348.
- Malone, T.W. (1981). “Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction”. Cognitive Science, (4), 333-369.
- Sherry, John. (2001). “The effects of violent video games on aggression: A meta-analysis.” Human Communication Research, 27, 409-431.
- Spitzer, B.L., Henderson, K.A., andZivian, M.T. (1999).”Gender differences in population versus media body sizes: A comparison over four decades.”Sex Roles, 40, 545-565.
- TOI report. (2011). “India’s gaming industry is set to grow from Rs. 4 billion in 2007 to a projected Rs. 14 billion in 2011.”August 16, 2011.
- Walsh, D.A. (2004). Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen. New York: Free Press.
- Walsh, D.A. (2006, June) Violent and Explicit Video Games: Informing Parents and Protecting Children, Testimony given before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection.