The most successful aspect of video games is that they provide a huge amount of human interaction through imagery and audio, thus encouraging the player to think and act quickly(Wolf, 2001, p15). This aspect makes video games different from any other forms of non-interactive media like television or radio. Video games give clear instructions about actions to be performed to reach particular levels in the game and instils a level of confidence and spirit of victory in its players. They also serve academic purposes and can be utilised as a powerful medium for educating children and youth in a very interesting and powerful manner. For example, video games involving driving can be used as a medium to teach players the traffic rules and penalties imposed if the rules are violated. Puzzle based video games give valuable practice lessons of time management, helps to sharpen specific skills needed to succeed in the game, encourages critical analysis and thought and improves cognitive abilities (Wolf, 2001, p17; Seller, 2006, p20).
Video games have a part in influencing the social behaviour of young players especially children. The interactive gaming gives a virtual environment involving the player and his opponent which is essentially the computer system. In addition to promoting a level of healthy competition among players, the penalties imposed help to give due respect to fellow participants and encourages sportsman spirit to a great extent. Games which involve military contents can help to inculcate patriotism in youngsters as they are made to believe that they are protecting their country from rival attacks. Though there has been criticisms regarding the effect of video games in sparking criminal behaviour among youth, Jenkins (n.d.) observes that the hostile factors contributing to these acts are coming from unsound minds and disrupted families rather than interactive media. In fact, James Gee’s work highlights the benefits of using video games as effective media for logical problem solving and continuous improvement, thus improving the qualitative skills (Gee, 2001).
Apart from providing relaxation and enjoyment, video games boost the player’s confidence level and raises curiosity as in most games, each level is exciting and cannot be seen unless the players pass all the previous stages. In children, the level of psychological development obtained leads to sharpening of memory and logical skills, increased mental development and simulation, making them tougher to face the challenges of the real world.
Contrary to the popular belief that video game players are just youngsters, Entertainment Software Association(ESA) has shown that 49% of game players are in the age range of 18-49 while the demographic statistics give 52% male and 48% female players (ESA, 2009, p3). The revenue obtained by video game sales in US was $11M in 2008 with Wii console games at the top according to NPD statistics (ESA, 2009, p10).
Though the video game industry has flourished and sales figures have been accelerating over the last few decades, a lot of negative publicity has affected the popularity of interactive games to a large extent. Though there are many pros, the bad effects are so obvious and derogatory that they outweigh the advantages to a large extent.
The increasing popularity of video games is making more and more youngsters spend considerable amount of time and money in front of the gaming console or computer which has harmful medical effects arising due to addiction (Gunter, 1998, p31). The addiction can lead to childhood obesity as children will find no time for outdoor games which are healthy and provides relaxation and exercise to brain, mind and body. The strain caused by continuous exposure to harmful radiation from television affects a significant number of youngsters by ending up having problems with their eyes. The adult players are even more in danger as the addiction causes a change in lifestyle which trigger a variety of fatal illnesses from high cholesterol to heart attacks in addition to causing spinal alignment problems due to wrong posture.
Most of the video games depict violence and the motto is to kill and succeed. Young minds are particularly interested in games involving violent attacks, abusive language and homicide. Different researches have been conducted in psychological aspects due to violent video games. Anderson et al. (2007, p12-39, p40-60) has described about the different kinds of aggressive behaviour exhibited by children based on which an aggression model is created. The effects of violence can arise from thefts for buying video games to thrills obtained from imitation of the shootings and attacks on innocent subjects. Continuous exposure to violent media has a profound influence on the mental balance of the young player, giving a very wrong impression that ‘killing is winning’.
Recent reports have shown that an average time spent by a child playing console, arcade or home video games is almost 11-13 hours/week (Gentile, 2004, p1; Olson et al.,2007, p1). It means that they get little time for social interactions, academic reading and outdoor games. Decrease in peer association hinders development of social etiquettes, family ties and character. The social and emotional commitments are disrupted by over indulgence in interactive media leading to a set of humans devoid of emotions, respect or self-esteem. The increasing amount of violence and destruction involved in most games and the lonely atmosphere provided acts as detrimental to good social conduct. Stromberg (n.d.) has shown that almost 50% of popular games depict either fantasy or human violence to the extent that they encourage players to become less caring and friendly. According to Gentile & Anderson (2003, p131-152), the tendency of aggressive behaviour is affected by repeated game play which often reward the players for violence.
Wirth et al. (2003) has given that the virtual environment created by video games is essential to establish a spatial presence. But the impression of world as given by games has very little relation with the original real circumstances or actions. The violence and plan of action depicted in these scenarios, if practised in actual circumstances give horrendous repercussions for both the doer and the society. Some researches show video game learning as better to classroom learning in terms of memory retention (Moreno & Meyer, 2000, p724) but it does not in any way substitute the knowledge obtained from books, classrooms or other interactive learning techniques but just complements them.
The reason for success of video games has been described as the level of “active control” involved (Greenfield, 1984, p102). Active control often enables the player to decide on the course of action to be taken to fight the circumstances which gives them an uneven control and pseudo confidence that may urge them to enact similarly in a real situation. Moreover, the points gained during shooting or killing tends to glorify the violence depicted in games. The addiction to video games often leads to fits of anger and rows between the children and parents. The first rehabilitation centre for teenagers addicted to video games has been set up in London following the urge of parents (Taylor, 2010, p9).
Parents have expressed concerns on the influence on video games on the psychological and social behaviour of children (Gunter, 1998, p35). Most video games have parental control through which the type, intensity and mode of play can be controlled by parents. But recent research has shown that only one-fifth of the parents are exercising their control over purchase of video games, with 55% of stores educating them on ratings (Walsh et al. 2003).
Lee et al. (2009, p562) have put forward that the technological aspect has an influence on violent psychological behaviour in a way that a game played using less sophisticated graphics and audio do less harm. But here also, time is the deciding factor as continuous exposure to the virtual world even in low resolution graphics can cause psychological imbalance and health problems.
Even though clear correlation between violent shooting attacks by teenagers and interactive gaming has not been established in all cases, the increase in vocal abuse and insensitiveness towards crime itself are appalling. American Health Association’s research has given results stating that time spend by teenagers belonging to lower socio-economic status playing games was almost five fold than those of their educated and rich counterparts (ScienceDaily, 2008). This shows that education, and not money is the judging factor for use of technology.