Do Violent Video Games Desensitize Our Sons to Actual Violence?

As the shootings in schools, malls, and other public places seem to be happening more and more frequently these days, parents are once again wondering if violent video games, especially the “first person shooter” games which allow the player to travel armed throughout the game and “kill” everyone in sight, contribute to actual gun violence. In the aftermath of these shootings we have often heard the profile of the shooter as a young man who spent a great deal of time holed up in his room playing these games. Are these games, which our children can play for hours, encouraging them to look for violent solutions?

For every study that suggests that there is some causal connection between video games and gun violence there is another which assures us there is none. And considering the millions of games like these sold annually in the US alone, if the connection was absolute the violence would be much more staggering than it is. But as a recent New York Times article found here notes, two new studies strongly suggest that when children play these games regularly over time they become less horrified by violent scenes and have less empathy for people who are affected by violence. A study conducted by Dr. Jeanne Brockmyer of the University of Toledo has determined that teens exposure to violent images over long periods of time can mute the areas of the brain responsible for empathy. And a study recently released by Canada’s Brock University has determined that long term exposure to images in violent video games can stunt a child’s “moral maturity” and take away a child’s ability to feel empathy for people who have been in violent situations in real life.

The natural question for parents of boys who play these games is: how much exposure to these games is too much? Is once a week for two hours a day ok, but three times a week too much? Even though none of the studies have been able to determine this, parents should keep a watchful eye over how much time their children are spending with these games. Common Sense Media (commonsense media.org) has a ratings system for video games that breaks down what will be found in the videos (e.g., violence, sex, language, etc.) and suggests an appropriate age for the players. They also have kids reviews and parents reviews of the game side by side, so that you can read what each generation thinks about it.

GCP readers, what rules do you have in your house about violent video games? Does hearing that continued playing of these games might reduce your sons’ capacity to empathize affect your interest in letting him play as much? If you play these games, how does that impact your feelings about your children playing them? Let us know.

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