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Effects of Games Goes Beyond Teen Years


There are sacred cows in our society that are getting tired of being herded into a particular category. Video gamers are definitely "mooing" loudly lately because they can't get through a month without being hit with a new report telling them why games are bad for them. Here is the January 2009 reason...


Alex Jensen, an undergrad student at Brigham Young University in Provo Utah, loves his video games, but he also observed some of the downsides the captivating diversion can cause. In the January 27, 2009 Salt Lake Tribune, Alex says, "I had a roommate who lost his job because all he wanted to do was sit around and play video games."


It's hardly an uncommon story -- many of us know gamers who don't know when to put down the joystick. But Alex decided to take a step further and took an opportunity to research the subject further as part of his Family Science major. In doing so, he has struck a sensitive nerve because instead of the usual, "How do games affect children" model, he instead looked at young adults -- other university students -- and how games were impacting their socializing skills.


His results are very interesting, but not too surprising. After interviewing 813 students (500 women, 313 men, averaging 20 years old and all unmarried) attending six universities, he discovered (quoting the official abstract of the study) "video game use was linked to negative outcomes for men and women." He also saw that gender played a big role in these outcomes.


How big? Well, we all probably would assume men like games more then women, but in this demographic the vast majority of men (about 75%) reported weekly or more frequent game use while most women claimed they hadn't played a single video game in the past year (only 17% of females were monthly players). In the study's news release , Alex states, "The gender imbalance begs the question of whether chasing a new high score beasts spending quality time with a girlfriend or wife."


The other issues uncovered by the research were that risky behaviors like drinking and drug abuse correlated with video game time. Daily gamers also reported smoking pot nearly twice as often as occasional players, and three times more often than those that never play.


Of course, like any study, there are cautions to remember. First, it could be that frequent users of pot simply like to play video games (perhaps we should be happy they aren't on the freeway) and these findings only indicate outcomes for a small segment of the population, which the researchers admit in the LA Times article, were "made up primarily of middle-class white college students."


Professor Laura Walker, Alex's mentor and the lead author of the study, is also quick to caution, "This does not mean that every person who plays video games has low self-worth, or that playing video games will lead to drug use."


For those of us who have been following the video game versus society controversy for years, there are probably few things here that are big news. However, the reaction to the report is probably even more concerning to me than the report itself.


By making his observations of twenty-somethings, Alex crossed a fine line between kids and adults. It's one thing to say doing something is bad for "kids" -- it isn't difficult to find adults who will tell you those darn kids these days are always a problem. However, when you begin implying that a magic fairy doesn't come and convert your brain to an impenetrable mental fortress on your 18th birthday, that's when hard-core gamers get their controller cords in a knot. A quick search on Google returns a bevy of game and tech websites that are taking issue with having their cow kicked yet again.


My bias is obvious: I think games do have an effect on what an individual does with his or her life if they are played even moderately, and definitely if a person is an obsessive gamer. Just looking at the math, time spent in front of a video game displaces other social relationships, exercise, etc. and that's not considering the effects of violence, sex role portrayals and other hot potato issues.


Gamers also wonder why television isn't being picked on (have they looked at the rest of the PTC website?), but the reason is video games are quickly overtaking television as the choice of electronic pastime for young people. And, of course, television has been and is being researched constantly.


We live in a strange world. We pull water bottles from shelves after very preliminary research indicates a chemical known as BPA may be leeching from some of the plastics. But, sadly, when it comes to things we consume with our minds, we tolerate a much higher degree of risk in the name of freedom of speech. These are society's most sacred cows, and any attempt to round them up usually risks an intellectual stampede.


Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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