“Mommy, I Think It Would Be Fun to Kill People”:
Do Video Games Affect Us?

A faithful LDS mother told me recently about an experience with her seven-year-old son. They were out shopping when the young boy looked up and said, “Mommy, when I grow up I think it would be fun to be a soldier and go around killing people.” This came after he had what she felt was only “mild” exposure to some typical video games.

Is it possible that what we spend hours watching, doing, and rehearsing might somehow affect our attitudes? Is it possible that video images might even have some affect on our behavior? Since we all know the answer is “no,” would somebody please tell the sponsors of the Superbowl that the millions they are going to spend in a couple weeks to expose us to a few seconds of their imagery are a complete waste of money? Come on, I’m no more likely to go out and hurt somebody after six hours of Mortal Combat or Halo than I am to go out and buy a BMW Z4 after being exposed to their slick ads. I can’t be manipulated like that, and I’ll fight to prove it. (But when I grow up, I do think it would be fun to have a Z4 and drive around town shooting at visiting people and showing off my cool wheels. I don’t know why – it’s just a notion that popped into my head one day.)

For those few people who are concerned about video games, one useful resource is the MediaWise Video Game Report Card. In addition to providing a report card on video games, this resource offers a few general warnings that I’d like you to know about:

Why Do They Act That Way?

Advances in brain science show that children’s experiences during their brain’s growth spurts have a greater impact on their brain’s wiring than at any other time of their lives. The groundbreaking discoveries about the teenage brain reveal that the growth spurts continue throughout adolescence, making teens more impressionable than we thought. Teenagers are wiring the circuits for self control, responsibility and relationships they will carry with them into adulthood. The latest brain research shows that violent games activate the anger center of the teenage brain while dampening the brain’s “conscience.”

It’s not that every teen who plays an ultra violent game is going to go out and pick up an Uzi. The real impact is more subtle. The worst effect of M-rated games is the culture of disrespect they create. Whoever tells the stories defines the culture. What do we think the effect is when our kids’ storytellers are violence simulators that glorify gang culture, celebrate brutality, lionize crudeness, and trivialize violence toward women.

The U.S. Army now uses video games as recruiting tools because the games capture the interest of teens, shape their attitudes and influence their behavior. Evidence grows that games teach skills and affect behavior. The important thing to remember, therefore, is that video and computer games are powerful-for good and for bad.

Video Game Violence and Youth

For the past eight years, we have consistently expressed concern about a subset of ultra-violent games that are very popular with preteen and teenage boys. 87% of boys play M-rated games and 78% list an M-rated game among their favorites. Parents report they are now being barraged with requests from their kids for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. We know there will be more “killographic” and sexually explicit games each year. Therefore our focus has always been on restricting youth access to these games. That is why we have called for more accurate ratings, more responsible marketing and advertising, greater accountability at the retail level, and greater education for parents about the games and their impact on youth.

Video Games, the Obesity Epidemic, and Babies

Content aside, the amount of time kids spend playing games, even the good ones, is contributing to the obesity epidemic among American youth. For too many kids, the only parts of their body they are exercising are their thumbs. We are particularly concerned, therefore, about the launch of games this year aimed at children as young as two. We know that the industry wants to expand its customer base and that it is in their economic interest to hook babies on games. This trend, however, raises serious implications for our children’s health.

What would your kids be like if the time they spent learning the ways of electronic violence were spent reading, serving others, learning a foreign language, exercising, or working on some other worthwhile goal? (A question I ask myself when I think about the time it takes to answer e-mail, update Web pages, and write an occasional blog entry.)

For more family-friendly and Latter-day Saint-friendly games, consider the great selection of games at Deseret Book.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

4 thoughts on ““Mommy, I Think It Would Be Fun to Kill People”:
Do Video Games Affect Us?

  1. My kids, after learning about Ammon, thought it might be fun to chop people’s arms off. In fact, that’s one of their preferred games – pretending to be Ammon, and pretending to chop each other’s arms off.

  2. Great post. Back in Thanksgiving when visiting family I had a similar discussion with my wife’s uncle. I posted about it Back on December 1st and offered the same link.

    I’m glad more and more people are thinking about what this is doing to the next generation.

  3. Kaimi, I’m sure neither of us are too worried about your kids. Playing cops and robbers, soldiers, Ammon, etc. can be a pretty normal part of play. But I might be worried if they were spending five hours a day watching graphic depictions of arms being severed in a video game based on the idea that chopping off arms was how real men dealt with typical problems in life.

  4. Jeff, great post. I recently read an excellent suggestion on dealing with modern kids who spend far too much time in front of the TV watching shows and playing video games. This mother wrote that they started a new system whereby the kids had to “earn” TV time and computer time. For example, for every 30 minutes that her kids would play outside they would earn 30 minutes of TV/computer time. In our own home, we limit video games to one day per week, usually Tuesday. Also, Wednesday is “no TV day” which means no TV watching and no gaming, either.

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