Video games are electronic, interactive games known for their vibrant colors, sound effects, and complex graphics.
First mass-marketed in the 1970s, video games are played by installing cartridges into a game box connected by wire to a television set. The child then manipulates a joystick or controller to control the actions of a character or series of characters as the characters face obstacles displayed on the screen. Video games, designed chiefly to appeal to children and adolescents, can also be played in arcades, on computers, and on small, hand-held screens.
As of 2004 nearly every home in the United States with children had one or more of the most popular game systems, for example, Nintendo GameCube, Sony Playstation2, or Microsoft Xbox. Few children have not been exposed to some form of video game, and access to the games is readily available to children from all walks of life.
Video games for home use proved popular from the start. Children are particularly attracted to them for a variety of reasons. Fantasy characters and situations appeal to young imaginations and provide an escape from everyday routine and the stresses presented by parents, friends, and school. In addition, the games give children a level of control that they do not experience in real life, as the characters on the screen respond to the children's commands. Players also receive immediate rewards for making the right moves. Most games can be played at a variety of skill levels so that every player can be challenged.
The popularity of video games has been matched by the controversy they have sparked among parents, psychologists, and educators. The most prevalent objection results from the violent themes and characters that dominate in most video games. A 1989 study by the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV) found that, of the 95 most popular home video games, 58 percent were war games and 83 percent featured violent themes. As technology has improved to allow the games to show situations and characters that are more realistic, debate has escalated about the potential effects of video games on children's behavior. One NCTV study that monitored the playground behavior of eight- to ten-year-olds immediately after playing a laser-weapon game found an 80 percent increase in fighting. There is also added concern that repeated exposure to violence desensitizes children to its effects. Other experts and video game manufacturers contend that negative effects have not been proven adequately, and, in fact, playing such games gives players an avenue for the harmless release of stress and aggression.
Public pressure prompted some video game manufacturers in the early 1990s to begin labeling games with warnings about violent or sexually explicit content. In 1994, in response to considerable political pressure and the possibility of a federal rating agency, the industry created its own rating system, overseen by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Ratings are assigned based on the games' suitability for various age groups. An "Early Childhood" designation on a game box indicates that the game is suitable for players ages three and older, and there is no violence, sexual content, or profanity. The designation "Everyone" indicates the game is for players ages six and older and may contain minimal violence or crude language. A "Teen" game for ages 13 and up may contain violence, profanity, and mild sexual themes. A "Mature" rating is considered suitable only for ages 17 and older and may include more intense violence, profanity, and mature sexual themes. "Adults Only" games are not intended for people under 18 and may include graphic depictions of sex and violence. The ratings system, however, is just a guide, and parents still need to oversee which video games their children buy and play .
In the past, the issue of gender bias in video games was another area of considerable debate. Not only were most video games male-oriented sports and combat games, female characters in the games were portrayed as victims to be rescued by the male hero or objects of violence or sexual desire. In the early 2000s, however, an increasing number of games had girl-oriented themes and an increasing number of gender neutral games became available.
Besides the socialization concerns presented by video games, medical concerns were also raised in the early 1990s, when video games were linked to epileptic seizures experienced by some 50 children. About one third of the children had experienced previous seizures, and there were questions about whether the seizures they experienced were related to playing or watching a video game. Two large studies later reported that the children who experienced video game-related seizures (VGRS) were particularly sensitive to light and that video games with flashing lights merely precipitated, rather than caused, the seizures. Sitting too close to the screen could exacerbate the effects of the light sensitivity, as could the increasingly complex graphic technology featured in games. Individuals with epilepsy are not thought to be particularly susceptible to VGRS, and no lasting neurological damage had as of 2004 been linked to these seizures.
Despite the controversy surrounding video games, benefits have also been noted: development of hand-eye coordination , increases in concentration, logical thinking skills, and healthy competition among children, as well as socialization skills gained from sharing strategies and the heightened self-esteem resulting from successful performances. One research study even found that doctors who had played more video games had better surgical skills.
There are a number of specialized video and computer games that are designed to be educational for toddlers. Many use familiar characters to teach basic things such as shape matching, the alphabet, and counting.
Children in preschool can be exposed to video and computer games that reinforce the basic skills that they are learning, such as phonetics, shapes, colors, and basic addition.
School-age children can be encouraged to play educational games that reinforce what they are learning in the classroom. Parents should research the games that their children want to buy to ensure appropriate content for the child's age group. In the early 2000s marketers have developed increasing numbers of educational games that are also adventurous and exciting. Children, especially young ones, should be encouraged to play these instead of more violent games.
Middle and high school
The effect of violent games on behavior and social development is an especially important concern for older children. These children often spend much of their time playing video games when their parents are not present to supervise the content. Also, many teens buy video games with money earned from allowances or part time jobs, making it harder for parents to control which titles are purchased.
Studies have begun to find significant correlations between violence in video games and violence in real life. One study done on eighth and ninth graders compared teens who generally had personalities considered non-aggressive but who played violent games to those teens who had aggressive personalities but did not play violent games. The researchers found that the non-aggressive, video game playing teens were actually more likely to get in physical fights than the teens considered aggressive but who did not play video games.
Some states are trying to pass laws that would make it illegal to sell video games with certain ratings to people under the age for which the games are intended. Even if laws are created to try to prevent underage sale of very violent video games, parents should still be alert to what their teen is playing. Making the teen play video games in a common area and not in his or her bedroom with the door closed can be an important first step in regulating game play and facilitating discussion.
Children often become very involved in video games and do not want to stop playing them. Setting concrete limits about the amount of time that can be spent playing games and then enforcing these limits is essential. Even educational games should not be played to excess, because playing video games is not a substitute for positive social interaction or traditional learning. Children can also be encouraged to play the games with other children, because discussing strategies and problem solving in a group is a positive social activity.
The amount and degree of violence in video games is an important concern for parents. Monitoring the games that a child buys or rents and plays is an important way to help deal with this problem. If a child plays a violent video game at an arcade or another child's house, it can be helpful to discuss the difference between games and reality and to discuss what the real life repercussions of the actions taken in the game would be.
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) —The industry board that rates video games.
Video game related seizures (VGRS) —Seizures thought to be brought on by the flashing lights and complex graphics of a video game.
When to seek help
If a child has violent or aggressive behavior or a tendency to mimic the negative actions taken by characters in a video game it may be helpful to consult a mental health professional to discuss possible solutions.
See also Television habits.
Calvert, Sandra L., Amy B. Jordan, and Rodney R. Cocking, eds. Children in the Digital Age: Influences of Electronic Media on Development. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.
Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Eisenman, Russell. "Video Games: Technology and Social Issues." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 25 (August 2004): 170–75.
Levermore, Monique A. "Violent Media and Videogames, and Their Role in Creating Violent Youth." The Forensic Examiner 13 (Fall 2004): 38–42.
"Video Game Play May Increase Laparoscopic Proficiency." AORN Journal 80 (August 2004): 290.
Tish Davidson, A.M. Mary Anne Klasen
"Video Games." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/video-games
"Video Games." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Retrieved April 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/video-games
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The very mention of video games conjures a myriad of different thoughts, emotions, and concerns. Originally, video games were released for the Atari gaming system in 1973, and for the Apple 2c (1984) and Apple 2gs (1986). Coin-operated gaming machines surfaced in shopping malls and in various stores during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Nintendo debuted video games as early as 1976. Although games have appeared on computer systems in the past and continue to flourish today, the two major gaming systems that paved the way for today’s famous systems were the original Sega and the Nintendo gaming system. Nintendo is the oldest of the game systems companies and is currently the leader in handheld console sales. Sega offered the GameGear handheld during the 1990s. Nintendo’s first offering had been Game Boy, and as of 2007 the graphically intense DS was for sale at retail outlets. The original Nintendo saw games in production from 1983 to 1994, Super Nintendo remained in production from 1990 to 2000, Nintendo 64 from 1996 to 2002, and GameCube from 2001 to 2007.
The games released may seem primitive relative to those on the market in 2007, but for the players they represented something prodigious. Games such as Pac-Man, Galaga, Pong, Budokan, Ultima, Might and Magic, Zillion, Rocky, The Adventures of Zelda, Donkey Kong, and the cult favorite, Super Mario Brothers, have entertained and delighted millions around the world. Donkey Kong was released exclusively for the Nintendo system in 1981, and the prototype for future Super Mario Brothers games appeared on the market in 1983. The Legend of Zelda became another instant classic after its arrival in early 1986.
The cult favorite game Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out arrived to much fanfare in 1987. Even family restaurants welcomed the coin-machine version of the game into their establishments. The very mention of Mike Tyson in association with a video game proved to be a brilliant advertising mechanism. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers games, a smash hit when they arrived in 1985, have been criticized because they contain violent images. The objective is to slay the evil serpentine “end-guys” at the end of each level and jump on the mushroom men. To achieve this goal a player searches for special character upgrades such as the chance to wield fireballs, to be able to fly, and the like. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s competitor Sega flooded the market with games as early as 1981. Developed originally as a prototype for U.S. servicemen stationed overseas, it too achieved popularity. Although many of the games offered for the Sega system did not receive as much acclaim as those invented by Nintendo, many gamers have heralded its superior game play and controllers. Sega’s smash video game hits included Rocky (1987), Zillion (1987), Phantasy Star II (1989), and the ultimate game of strategy and surprise, Herzog Zwei (1990).
Nintendo’s second smash hit system, Super Nintendo, was even more successful. Super Nintendo offered Super Mario Land, an adaptation and graphically superior version of its prototype. Recently, Nintendo has capitalized on the success of these games by introducing Super Mario Brothers for their handheld system, the Nintendo DS. Additionally, Nintendo’s third hit system, the Nintendo 64, offered a variety of Mario Brothers games in 3-D.
The inundation of the market with video consoles has not come without scrutiny from various sectors of society. One area of concern is that young males favor video game play more than females do. Critics and watchdog groups believe this leads to aggression and violent impulses in men. As early as the late 1980s studies showed that male characters vastly outnumbered female protagonists or heroines. Conversely, scholars have recently argued that those who grew up playing video games may actually fare better in the workplace, having gained valuable knowledge and insight into cognitive behavior and how to socialize with coworkers. As technology has advanced, so have the messages propounded in the games themselves. With the ability to command ostensibly real-life armies and to dictate bombing campaigns and infantry showdowns, skilled game players may act as mock generals. Although this may lead to an artificially enhanced sense of self-power, it can also serve as a lesson about the viciousness of warfare, the consequences of failure, and the large number of casualties experienced during a heated battle. Sports games such as NBA Live, Madden NFL, Smackdown! vs. RAW, and NHL are interactive and promote athletes as supermen and role models, and game players often aspire to become professional entertainers as a result.
As early as 2000, video games had finally become mainstreamed in society. Teenage boys are not the only group interested in acquiring and playing the big three: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 3, or Nintendo’s newest console, the Wii. The competition is on for these companies to produce high-definition-ready systems and games to correspond with this capability. Regardless, the popularity of these systems has been a cause for concern for social and civil rights groups. The most infamous game in the market has continued to be the series Grand Theft Auto, a lucrative series developed by Rockstar Games. A player may purchase prostitutes, destroy private property, wreck other people’s automobiles, and essentially wreak havoc on the streets of a major city. This has captured the attention of city councils, Congress, and any number of outraged advocacy groups. As portrayed in the game, mimicking and glorifying gang behavior is disruptive and dangerous. Two staff writers for the Washington Post, Eric M. Weiss and Jose Antonio Vargas, have pointed out that these games are often sold or rented to children (2005). Although the revenue for game sales may be extraordinary, the social consequences are regarded by some as dire. Psychologist Craig Anderson has published findings asserting that adolescents playing violent video games experience accelerated heart rates and adrenaline rushes that may translate into violent behavior in real life.
Many of the most educational games are offered as PC games and are frequently priced lower than those created exclusively for one of the big three systems. Games such as Battle Chess or Chessmaster offer tutorials in how to improve one’s chess skills. Colonization and Civilization are examples of intellectually stimulating games that have been offered in the past. Players of these games learn about world history, world leaders, inventions, architecture, the development of civilizations, and how to defeat an opponent by exercising the mind.
Clearly, video games raise awareness of the level of violence and crude sexuality that exist in contemporary society. However, it must not be ignored that these games serve several important purposes. Video games display images that brighten the imaginations of children, many are educational, and the old cliché about hand and eye coordination being sharpened through repeated game play is scientifically valid. When examining and engaging in discourse about societal problems, video games deserve to be discussed in a balanced manner and with the full spectrum of perspectives in order to recognize their positive impact on society as a whole.
SEE ALSO Adolescent Psychology; Cultural Studies; Entertainment Industry; Leisure; Microelectronics Industry; Popular Culture; Sexuality; Sports; Sports Industry; Violence
Beck, John, and Mitchell Wade. 2006. The Kids Are Alright: How the Gamer Generation Is Changing the Workplace. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Provenzo, Eugene. 1991. Video Kids: Making Sense of Nintendo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sohn, Emily. 2004. The Violent Side of Video Games. Science News For Kids. January 14. http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20040114/Feature1.asp.
Weiss, Eric M., and Jose Antonio Vargas. 2005. Video Games’ Chaos Echoed in Streets, D.C. Leaders Say. Washington Post. February 4, 2005: A–1.
"Video Games." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/video-games
"Video Games." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/video-games
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VIDEO GAMES encompass a range of electronic games, including coin-operated arcade games, console and cartridge games, various handheld electronics, and games on diskette and CD-ROM ranging in sophistication from simple geometric shapes to virtual reality programs with movielike qualities.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Steve Russell developed the first computer game, Spacewar, in 1962. Ralph Baer, an engineer at defense contractors Sanders and Associates, developed the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey. The Odyssey connected to a regular television antenna terminal and was hardwired with twelve games, all variations of Ping-Pong. There was no sound or color, and each of the games required a different plastic overlay for the television screen, but 100,000 were sold by 1972. At the same time, another young entrepreneur, Nolan Bushnell, developed Pong and formed Atari. By 1974, 150,000 versions of home Pong had sold, and two years later there were over seventy companies making clones. The development of the game cartridge made hardwired consoles and tabletop games obsolete. Instead of buying a piece of hardware with a permanent set of games, consumer could buy one piece of hardware, the console, and as many games, or software, as companies could manufacture. By 1980 third-party companies such as Activision began producing games for other companies' consoles.
As PC technology advanced, so did gaming technology. In the early 1980s the market was dominated by Atari, Intellivision, and Coleco Vision, then in 1985 Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), using an eight-bit processor. By the 1990s, Nintendo released the sixteen-bit Super Nintendo and was joined by Sega. With the proliferation of video games in the 1980s, arcades became standard in American malls. Teenagers dropped 20 billion quarters into games by 1981. The video game industry also benefited from the increasing power and decreasing cost of home computers and the Internet. The Internet provides a virtual arcade where players can challenge opponents from all over the world
using the vast array of data transmission methods. A 2000 survey found that 61 percent of players are over age eighteen, with an average age of twenty-eight. The home console market, dominated by Nintendo, Sony, and Sega, has taken advantage of advances in computer technology to increase processor speed to sixty-four-bit and enable consoles to connect to the Internet.
As the popularity of video games grew, controversy developed over the addictiveness of the games and related health problems stemming from hours of stationary play. The violent nature of many games has also become an issue, as graphics technology allowed for increasingly realistic images. In 1993 a rating system, much like the system for rating movies, was put in place.
Herz, J. C. Joystick Nation. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997.
Kent, Steven L. The Ultimate History of Video Games. Roseville, Calif.: Prima, 2001.
"Video Games." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/video-games
"Video Games." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved April 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/video-games