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Arlene Green

Arlene Green
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Geek girl, mother of more children than human beings should be allowed, owner of a snake named Plissken, several dogs, a plethora of cats, easily annoyed, easily overjoyed, will work for books.

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AUGUST 12, 2008 12:57AM

In Defense of Video Games

Rate: 10 Flag

About every other week I read something that suggests that video games are a bad, bad thing. That too much exposure to them will rot childish brains. Parents and the people that like to tell parents what they should be doing seem to consider video games the crack cocaine of recreational entertainment. As far as I am concerned they are all like Henny Penny running around like doofuses proclaiming the sky is falling when what is really going on is they are clueless about gaming.

I once had someone suggest to me that it was okay for me to play video games because they weren't around until I was a literate adult. I had to point out to her that the Magnavox Odyssey came out in 1972. Atari, Coleco and others were also part of the first generation of game consoles. There were at least 5 different ones made and sold from '72 to '77. The second generation gave us more and that lasted from '77 to '82.

We are in the 7th generation now and anyone born after 1954 was not old enough to vote when it all started. They may not have played them but they could have.

Me, I played them. When arcades happened I spent all my pocket money in them. There weren't too many girls back then that hung out in arcades but I didn't care. I was in love with video games. I've never lost that love, either.

Strangely, my brains have yet to run out of my ears. I managed to obtain a degree, have many children, raise some of them to adulthood, buy a house, read about 5 books a week, make a decent living...and still play video games.

When I was a child growing up in a religious household the adults in my life felt the same way about television that people seem to feel about video games now. Better not to watch it at all but if you must then only watch carefully reviewed shows in small doses. The very box that housed the electronics was given an evil pall in their minds. As a result I did not grow up with a television. When I could finally get one of my own I was a glutton with it for about 10 years. I watched until my eyeballs bled. I had a hard time pulling myself away even if the show was appallingly bad.

That never would have happened if my parents hadn't been Henny Pennys about TV. If I had grown up being allowed to watch reasonable amounts then it wouldn't have taken me a decade to learn to balance my watching habits.

Video games are an entertainment just like everything else. They are no better or worse than TV, books, radio, sports, board games etc...

Since it has been 36 years since the advent of the first console system it is time that parents, educators and pundits get a grip and quit blaming all the world's ills on video games. Here are some facts on why:

Video games are not responsible for a rise in youth violence. In fact, youth violence has gone down since the advent of video games.

Video games are not inherently anti-social. My children play them together and with me. We socialize, bond and generally have a wonderful time as a family playing video games. Additionally, my children have made friends all over the world since the advent of online multi-player games. Australia, Japan, Germany. One of my kids has begun to study German because of a friendship he made. Of his own volition. They are learning about other cultures through video games.

Video games are sedentary but then again so is reading or any number of other entertainments. And not all video games mean sitting on your behind. Ever played Dance Dance Revolution? I suggest you get a note from your doctor first. The activity level in that is enough to make even a reasonably in shape person get a good aerobic heart rate going.

Video games do not take the place of other entertainment. Not if you don't let them. I guarantee you that even if your kids whine about not being allowed console or computer access for gaming during certain periods of the day they will find other ways to entertain themselves. They will read or go outside or play with each other. Video games are not responsible for kids that do nothing but play video games. Doormat, ineffective parenting is.

Not all video games are about blowing stuff up and other mindless violence. There are many, many games that teach things like basic problem solving skills, logic and how to implement strategy or time management. I'm not talking about lame educational games, either. I'm talking about real video games.

Video games, specifically an mmorpg (massively multi-player online role playing game), is what finally inspired my severely dyslexic son to read at all. The social nature of that game finally gave him the motivation to put into practice all the strategies his teachers and I had been trying to get him to use in vain for years. He wanted to be able to talk to the people he was playing with. In the two years since then his abilities have soared. He is still a year behind but before the video game lit a fire under him he was functionally illiterate. So instead of causing brain rot, a video game is responsible for my child being able to read and write.

So, there you have it. It is time to find a new evil to blame everything on. Video games are not, nor were they ever, a bad thing. They can be a pretty wonderful thing and they are great fun besides. I have to go cook dinner now and later I am going to fire up my Playstation2 and spend a couple of hours on my second run through Final Fantasy XII.

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One time I heard that kids build up their hand/eye coordination so well with some video games that it helps them to become pilots in the military if they happen to choose that career path. I would think that the administration would be pushing video games in a big way as a result.
That doesn't surprise me at all. Hand/eye coordination and reaction time are essential to a lot of games that I call "button mashers". If you aren't quick enough or agile enough on the controls it is game over. And some of them have some pretty complicated button combination that you have to memorize and hit in order within a certain time frame. Like : →← ○▲↓ ▪○↑→↓↑. Which may be greek to you but anyone with a playstation will know what it means. I can see how that could be ideal training for something like military jets.
Certainly most video games are harmless. With violent video games, especially the FPS (first-person shooter) games, the situation is different.

In his book "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" author Lt. Col. Dave Grossman notes that some of the violent video games, and even some movies, are very similar to training used by the military to desensitize soldiers to killing.

I read Col. Grossman's book some years ago when it came out, so I'm not capable of doing the book justice. But if you have time and inclination I highly recommend it to you. It's well-written, well-researched, and very interesting.

Grossman has another book that I have not read, "Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill : A Call to Action Against TV, Movie and Video Game Violence." In an excerpt from the book Grossman presents this sad and disturbing incident:

" Michael Carneal, the 14-year-old killer in the Paducah, Kentucky school shootings, had never fired a real pistol in his life. He stole a .22 pistol, fired a few practice shots, and took it to school. He fired eight shots at a high school prayer group, hitting eight kids, five of them head shots and the other three upper torso.

"I train numerous elite military and law enforcement organizations around the world. When I tell them of this "achievement" they are stunned. Nowhere in the annals of military or law enforcement history can we find an equivalent "achievement.

"Where does a 14-year-old boy who never fired a gun before get the skill and the will to kill? Video games and media violence."

This is an important topic, and should be discussed more. But with today's tsunami of new members, your post of two hours ago has disappeared from the "activity list," and is the 16th "most recent." I fear in the new situation that there will be many important posts that will not get the attention they deserve.
I am fascinated to watch by bf's 6 year old - she takes to video games very naturally, and it seems to have made her very mechanically curious about how ALL electronic things work. We supervise her while she plays "Paradise City" which is a car driving game - and holy cow! She was utterly hopeless at first, but is now driving so well, it's as if she's practicing on a simulator.

sitting in front a a monitor can be sort of addictive - it's hard to wrest yourself away, your eye keeps looking for something new to settle on and most things displayed on a monitor oblige with lots of new things per second, be it an old movie marathon on TNT, Friends running for 5 hours straight in syndication, Salon Letters, Open Salon, video games. You have to set limits and enforce them - it's not that hard.

Re: Mishima's commnet - that's pretty disturbing. It's one thing to get the idea to shoot 'em up after playing shoot 'em up games, quite another to extremely skilled at it due to the video game you are playing. What if video games did not have realistic bloody deaths? I often wonder if that's part of the draw of the kill in video games - the realism of the victim's demise and the adrenalized response of the player being the survivor. What if you took that away?

Myself, I play Ms. Pac Man.
Here's another story I just found about video gamers: "Video game playing surgeons score higher on skills test"
http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/02/19/surgery-gaming.html

Next time you're in the O.R. strike up a conversation with the surgeon about the PS3 or X-BOX 360.
Mishima-

Yes, but what I can't quite figure out is where people like this Lt. Col. get the idea that video games (or TV or movies) spawn violence in youth. Because the numbers don't bear that out. Youth violence, specifically homicide, by 14-17 year olds is at pretty much the lowest recorded levels it has ever been. This is according to DoJ statistics.

Generation Playstation seems to be a pretty pacifistic bunch. Compared to the Boomers and the GenXers. Tragedies like the Paducah shooting, aside. The general trend is towards less violence.

If FPSers were so influential and turned kids towards violence wouldn't the opposite be true?

That being said, there are reasons that games are rated. Bloody FPS ers have an "M" rating. They are not intended for children. If children are playing them some, if not all of the blame, goes to parents who aren't doing their jobs. It is just like internet use or anything else where kids might run into adult content. The parents need to take responsibility for keeping their own children from being exposed to it as much as possible. Buying into a culture of fear does not do that.

Also, when an obviously disturbed 14 year old turns out to be a crack shot...video games are not what caused the real problem. That was a boy that was relentlessly teased and bullied for years about his possible homosexual orientation who was mentally ill and finally snapped. Also, what you quoted as to how it went down isn't exactly how it went down. He fired into a crowd of about 35 students in a small space 10 or 11 times. This does not make him a marksman. Those conditions made it like shooting fish in a barrel.

Regardless, again, if he was playing "M" rated games and was trained that way whose fault is that? The games did not cause his breakdown or what I suspect is mental illness...but even if they had, why was a 14 year old playing a game that was rated above his age level?

Truthfully, I don't think those kinds of games or movies are good for anyone. I do believe that if you fill your mind with violence and garbage it does have an effect because as much as our entertainments are a product of our culture at large, our culture at large is influenced to some degree by our entertainments. But I would still argue that people who want to blame video games for violence or a host of other things are barking up the wrong tree. Most of the violence we see in school shootings etc... is brought on by kids who are marginalized either by their peers or by society. We should focus on fixing that problem.
This is an ongoing and evolving cultural conversation. I'm grateful for the ways discussions in the blogosphere have begun to bring some nuance and clear thinking to the debates, this post and follow up comments being part of that.

Two resources that have helped me navigate the fog are Steven Berlin Johnson's book, Everything Bad is Good For You [video games make us smarter]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everything_Bad_Is_Good_For_You
and the recent Harvard study [ finding no link between video games and violent actions]
http://www.grandtheftchildhood.com/GTC/Home.html

These by no means offer the final word on this, but show that the situation is more complex than knee-jerk reactions and defensive posturing will tolerate. Thanks again for writing about this.
When Nintendo's Mario Brothers first came out, I used to play for hours, it was just plain fun. And I already had hand-eye coordination from tennis, squash, volleyball, archery and well, none of your business, come to think of it.
Thanks for the links, Dave. And the compliment. This particular topic is an ongoing bugbutt of mine. It does need to be discussed more and by people who aren't trying to sell papers.

Sally-

I have a fondness for the Mario franchise. Super Mario 3 is the game that my 17 year old beat his first game level on. He was 4 at the time.

Sandra-

Yeah, anything can be a time suck but then entertainment is pretty much designed to suck you in and hold you there. But too much of a good things becomes a bad thing.
Whether playing some video games results in increased aggression is a tricky issue. There's a well-cited article by Anderson and Bushman [PDF] that describes a meta-analysis of experimental and non-experimental research up to 2001 suggesting a link, but then there's the work that dave huth points to, suggesting the opposite. I don't know this area, but I think the jury is still out. One of the difficulties (I think) is that experimental results do seem to show effects, but how these results translate to the real world isn't clear. I'm still a little bit skeptical of claims on both sides.

(What video games have I played lately? Not many. I have had my butt kicked playing Guitar Hero against my six-year-old nephew, though.)
Arlene writes: "Youth violence, specifically homicide, by 14-17 year olds is at pretty much the lowest recorded levels it has ever been. This is according to DoJ statistics."

Grossman looks at murder and aggravated assault rates starting back in the 1950s, back when video games didn't exist and movies and TV programs were relatively tame. Since that time the murder rate has doubled and the aggravated assault rate has increase by more than seven-fold.

Arlene: "He fired into a crowd of about 35 students in a small space 10 or 11 times. This does not make him a marksman. Those conditions made it like shooting fish in a barrel."

Not quite. Grossman puts it this way:

"FBI data shows that trained law enforcement officers average around 20% hits in real world situations at an average distance of 21 feet. In the 1998 Amadu Dialo shooting, four NYPD officers fired 41 shots at an unarmed African immigrant, at point blank range
and hit him 19 times. This is about the level of accuracy you will find from trained marksmen in real world situations. In Los Angeles, in 1999, a neo-Nazi walked into a Jewish daycare center and fired over 70 shots, wounding five helpless children. This is the norm from untrained shooters."

So for an untrained kid to fire eight shots and get eight hits, all head and torso, really is exceptional shooting.

You can read a more complete version of Grossman's argument here:
http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/RB6201.pdf
In the right hands (minds?), even the violent video games are a great release. Though I would never dream of loading up the guns and going on a rampage of any sort, I do find that some quality time playing GTA takes the edge off when I come home seething at the morons of Los Angeles who were able to collect enough box tops to redeem for their drivers licenses.

As Arlene wrote, it comes down to good parenting. Abdicate that responsibility to any electronic babysitter - TV, internet, video games, Dalek - and you have no right to be surprised when the neighbors are describing your kid as "such a nice boy . . . quiet, kept to himself . . . " on the 11 o'clock news.

Of course, it's not like Norman Bates was lacking in parental involvement (maternal, anyway).

Find the happy medium and odds are you'll raise a happy child. If not happy, at least a well balanced one.
Hmph. I absolutely agree about your comment about crap parenting (and school class management) being more problematic than video games. At the same time, I can't claim that I think they are particularly valuable for younger children. My kids (6 and 3 1/2) don't use a computer nor do they play video games (they are allowed to watch some television, though). Below a certain age, video games and television present the same challenge to cognitive development - they create a context for play rather than allowing children to develop their own games, rules, etc.

Once you get past that point, though, it's just a question of how you choose to let your children spend their time when they are in your orbit.

One other thing - from a logical standpoint, while you can absolutely argue about the sources of motivation for behavior, one can't accept the claim that video games are a potential benefit for would-be pilots and not for would-be shooters. Either you can learn relevant skills for both, or neither. As Mishima says, first-person-shooter games mimic techniques that the US Army put in place (after Korea, I think) to train draftees to shoot without thinking - because if you start thinking about the fact that you're shooting at someone, you might not.

Plainly teenage murderers are motivated to shoot people and don't need the conditioning at that level, but their capacity to aim accurately and select moving targets is honed by practice.

That's not to say that those kinds of games should be banned, just to recognize that they are only value-neutral when no-one's using them. And I write that as someone who used to blow off steam in grad school by playing both pistols of a shoot-em-up game at the same time in the student bar. (It really did make people nervous, oddly enough.)
Since some of the discussion here has touched upon violence and video games I wanted to throw an article I read months ago into the mix that talked about violence and violent movies: "Economists Say Movie Violence Might Temper the Real Thing"

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/07/business/media/07violence.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin
Arlene, when my grandson gets home from visiting his dad for the summer, I'll have to show him this post of yours. He'll be pleased to see an adult making his case for him.

Sometime during the spring, he was citing a research study to me (I don't know which one, or where he read about it) that showed that kids who played video games got into less trouble, not more.

He's very aware of the criticism that gaming gets, and it's not the first time he's had something to say about it. One of his writing projects for school dealt with it, too.

As for reading, he had a bad first grade experience, but by 3rd grade was reading pretty much on grade level. It was only this past year, though (12-13 yrs) that he really learned to "love" reading. To the point that it was the only thing he wanted to do. Even before that, though, he was capable of deep thought, and his teachers have always commented on how appropriate his comments/answers are in class.

So, I have to agree. No brain rot. And parenting does make a difference. My daughter has no problem limiting his gaming when she thinks it's necessary. Not that he cares anymore, if there's a book around...
Given the huge numbers of youth who are playing the first person shooters, well, let’s just say if FPS caused violence, every high school in America would look like Georgia right now.

But they don’t.

I would agree that if a person is already unbalanced, FPS isn’t the best choice of recreation. But no game is ever going to cause a sane person to go nuts and start blowing away the football squad. Read Jon Katz’s “Stories from the Hellmouth” if you ever want to enjoy a good paranoia fest, and see where this kind of thinking can lead. You will not enjoy it.
Mishima-

All I can suggest to you is that you look at the DoJ Statistics for yourself. I didn't form that opinion based on pulleditoutmyass.com . It is statistical fact. I only went back as far as 1973 but the trend is still obvious.

As far as the kid in Paducah...what made him so accurate, even according to your Lt. Col. this is likely the case, was not some sort of accuracy training provided by playing an FPSer but the willingness to kill. He wanted to kill people. There was no hesitation. I have to seriously question the claim that this willingness came from a video game.

If we are going to use anecdotes...let's talk about my childhood friend Tina Wood. Her husband, who didn't own a TV much less a video game system, managed to shoot and kill her and 4 of their six children. He shot them all, the youngest two survived. Ray didn't manage to kill all of them because of media desensitization etc... he was able to because he is batshit whackaloon nuts. And had been for years. This was a huge tragedy on many fronts. Personally to me because Tina was one of my best friends from about 2nd grade on. It was also a failure of society and policy because he should have been in treatment. A failure of religion because the church they belonged to exacerbated his illness and in fact discouraged the help he needed.

At any rate, I'm not incredibly impressed by the military's training where it comes to marksmanship. As a military wife many years ago I made a bunch of young soldiers question their manhood when we all went to a firing range and I kicked their butts. This was because while the training they received was fine, I grew up in Alaska where I had been handling guns since I was about 6. I could even hipshoot accurately. Neither the military nor the police tend to train for that kind of efficiency. The police especially train in the hopes that they never have to use the gun. I don't own a gun currently and haven't for years but I'll bet I could still give any cop or private a run for their money.

Which brings me to Haggis.

Haggis, sure I can accept that it is good training for a pilot and not that it trains for murder, death and mayhem with a gun. For a couple of reasons. The first being that while they are good for developing hand/eye coordination and reaction times which are beneficial to both pilots and gun users the two things are very different animals.

I really wish I could embed graphics here because I have this overwhelming urge to post a picture of an instrument panel, a game controller and a gun and play the which one of these things is not like the other game. God, I've been raising kids for toooo long. Sesame street has invaded my brain. Where was I?

Oh yeah, the difference between the two activities is that the skills learned on a controller translate much more directly to an instrument panel. But even so you are going to need further training to familiarize the controls. A gun is a whole different ballgame. Plus using it efficiently require a different sort of skillset. The hand/eye coordination is likely beneficial but you will still need to do more than shoot a gun a few times for it to be transferred over in any meaningful way. And then there is the whole willingness to kill thing.
Where did that come from in the Paducah case or in the case of Ray and my friend Tina? I'm willing to concede that a video game may have exacerbated the situation in the case of the boy in Paducah, but I don't think it caused it. He was already willing to kill is my guess because he was mentally ill and just like Ray...didn't need a video game to push him over the edge.

Man...this is long. I probably should have made another post instead of commenting to article length.
Haggis-

I meant to comment as well on your comment about the age of the children and whether they are beneficial or problematic for younger children.

Everything you say is true. That the benefit is questionable at best for the preschool set. Also that it is directed play and thus does not encourage imaginative play.

On the other hand...and I may make another post on this topic...why does something have to be beneficial? Why can't it just be fun? For the sake of fun?

We seem to do this to our children more and more...insist that all the activities they engage in have some sort of benefit. Even those things that are for entertainment. We don't require that of ourselves, but kids? Kids must constantly be improving and learning with no room for mindless enjoyment.

Also, young children's games, real life ones not video, are often times directed. Everything from ring around the rosy to duck, duck, goose to red light/greenlight to simon says. They have set rules. So video games are not the only games that operate within that context.

Pretend games, which is what I call them, can exist side by side with video games. I know this because they have for 20+ years in my house. My kids do not utter things to each other like "Because you are prey! Prey can't negotiate with the pedator!" or debate whether killing my clone would be the same as killing me because they lack imagination. Quite to the contrary. They've got more than they need at times.

Again, it comes down to balance. Young children essentially learn through play so it isn't a good idea to let them play video games to the exclusion of all else or even frequently. However, as a once in a blue moon thing? There is no real harm that I can see. It is fun. Fun can exist on its own merits. We don't eat cake because it is good for us, after all, but because it tastes good. It only becomes problematic when we eat crap all the time every day out loud. Entertainment that has zero nutritional value for the brain operates on the same principle. A little is not a problem. A lot is.
Arlene writes: "All I can suggest to you is that you look at the DoJ Statistics for yourself. I didn't form that opinion based on pulleditoutmyass.com . It is statistical fact. I only went back as far as 1973 but the trend is still obvious."

Here's what Grossman is looking at:
http://www.jrsa.org/programs/Historical.pdf

Note on the 7th page the rise in homicide rate beginning around 1957. Grossman notes that the rise would be even greater but for two factors:

1) the longer prison sentences that kept offenders behind bars longer, and

2) advances in trauma care that saved many people who in earlier years would have died.

Again, I can't do Grossman's argument justice. I recommend his book, or the essay, the link to which is in my first post.
Mishima-

Ummm...from the site you just cited:

"The rate then decreased until 1960, followed by a sharp increase until the mid-1970s. The murder rate fluctuated over the last 25 years at a historically high level, as did the overall index crime rate, but has declined rapidly during the 1990s. The murder rate in 1998, the last full year of available data, hit a 30-year low of 6.9 murders per 100,000 population. Preliminary FBI statistics show this downward trend continuing into 1999."

So, that bolsters the video games and media violence argument how? Exactly? Those numbers say the same thing that my DoJ link does. That if we are to correlate video games with violence trends, violent crime has actually gone down since home video game consoles became ubiquitous.

Plus, the data is a little musty on that one. We have a full dataset up to 2003 at this point which shows a continued drop. Preliminary findings for 2004 marked a 40 year low in murder rates. The top selling game for that year? GTA: San Andreas. I'm just saying.

I may have to read the book because I just don't see how the numbers support the argument where it comes to video games. Elsewhere, I'm not as informed about, but for video games it just doesn't seem to hold up.
Arlene - I take your point about the difference between the relationship of controller : cockpit versus plastic gun : real thing. Physically very different experiences; I've found that accounting for recoil I tend to aim the same way whether for pretend or for real, which is why, based on my limited experience of the real deal, I prefer sporting clays or skeet shooting - not so much precision required.

As for games, I will say that there's a big difference between the way that you and I are using the word "context." I'm not talking about games with rules - more on that below - but instead having "let's pretend" be a re-enactment of The Little Mermaid as opposed to whatever they come up with. It's like mental sandpaper when I hear the 3 year old pretending to play Berenstain Bears (which got into the house thanks to their grandmother) - although she does refer to them as the Bernstein Bears, which is appropriate for the street we live on.

In the area of fun, please don't take the idea that our kids are in some kind of yuppie education camp environment. Unlike a lot of their friends, they don't have multiple "activities" per week because we're more interested in their having some unstructured time in the day rather than driving around town to ensure that they never have to work out how to occupy themselves.

In truth, we don't actually play structured games around the house either, they get plenty of that in school / nursery school. Free time is for dress-up, books, drawing, running around in the yard, meeting friends in the park... you know better than me: kid stuff.

As for video games being a part of that fun... well, that would require that we actually have a game console or buy games for the computer. I'm pretty sure that I got rid of my first generation Playstation when we moved last year because much as I enjoyed Gran Turismo, it's just not that compelling for me. Equally, the computer is for the adults - the kids'll have plenty of time to be parked in front of one later.
This is a great article. I did an interview earlier this year with author of "Grand Theft Childhood: The Suprising Truth About Violent Video Games," Cheryl K. Olson, and her research indicates that historically, parental concerns are raised with every new technology and media.

Video Games are misunderstood. There are people in their 30s now who played them all their lives, and they don't seem to exhibit any Jack the Ripper patterns. That means that the establishment raising fears of parents is overreaching.

You can find the interview with Olson on Mininova: http://www.mininova.org/tor/1349097
or on hiscifi.com: http://www.hiscifi.com/audio/hiscifi_grand_theft_childhood_deadworld_allison_lillia
We are of like mind on this Arlene. Excellent piece. Gun violence goes much, much deeper. Video games are nothing but scape-goating for the lazy-minded. R