Research: Parents Can’t Rely Solely on a Game’s Rating

A new study out of Iowa State University, seemingly the nexus of anti-video game research, has found that children who play prosocial games are more inclined to be helpful while those who play violent games demonstrate more hurtful behaviors.

In what is being billed as the first experimental study on children, 191 youngsters (ages 9-14) were assigned to play certain scenes from a randomly assigned children’s game with either prosocial, non-violent content (Chibi Robo, Super Mario Sunshine), violent content (Ty2, Crash Twinsanity), or non-violent, nonsocial content (Pure Pinball, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe).

Later, the children were given the opportunity to either “help or hurt another child’s chances of winning a gift certificate.”  Those who played scenes from the prosocial games were “significantly more helpful” than the other two groups.

“Video games are wonderful teachers and motivators, but content matters,” said Craig Anderson (pictured, red shirt), psychology professor and researcher of the behavioral effects of video games on children.  “In the children’s study these were are all very cartoonish games—they were all rated appropriate for everyone—and yet we still show the violent harm aspect, as well as the prosocial, good aspect of some E-rated games.  That just goes to show you that you can’t, as a parent, just rely on the rating because the rating system doesn’t really capture the potential harmfulness or helpfulness of a game.”

While hurting another child’s chances of winning a gift certificate doesn’t seem to demonstrate “violent harm” at all, Anderson, fellow professor and researcher Douglas Gentile (the other guy in the picture) collaborated with a couple ISU graduate students to offer the following common sense advice for parents:

  • Ask about games and other media use at well-child checkups. Pediatricians and general practitioners are in the unique role of helping parents to understand that they need to take their children's media use seriously.
  • Do not rely solely on ratings. Even games rated E for Everyone often contain depictions of violence. Instead, try playing the game yourself, ask someone to demonstrate it for you, or look for descriptions or video clips of the game on the Internet.
  • Choose well. Select nonviolent games that have been shown to have positive effects, such as educational games, prosocial games and exergames.
  • Set limits on both the amount and content of the games. Create clear rules about the amount of time and the kind of content that is allowed.
  • Keep game devices in public space. When gaming devices are in private space (child's bedroom), it is very difficult to control either content or time.
  • Stay involved. Explain to your children why playing violent games for an excessive amount of time may be harmful to them.
  • Spread the word. Help educate others in your community (parents, youth, public officials).

Source: Futurity, Handbook of Children and Media

-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Contributing Editor Andrew Eisen wonders if the researchers noticed the content descriptors on the back of the box

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  1. 0
    DanHoyt says:

    I'm not arguing that the science behind this is completely solid, but I think the concept actually makes sense and deserves more research. What kids are seeing is certain behavior and kids do emulate. I used to teach kindergarten and after a while my kids would definitely emulate my own behavior. Ultimately, the game is modeling behavior and kids respond to that. I could see this and I think a good developer could utilize these concepts to make children's games that teach cooperation.

    I also think they should've found a few games that were both violent and social. Maybe something with multiplayer that required teamwork. Does anybody still have Chip N' Dale's Rescue Rangers for the NES? Somebody send Anderson that game.

  2. 0
    Sleaker says:

    191 kids isn't that many.  In addition, it only states that the kids who played social/nonviolent games were 'significantly more helpful'  not that the other category didn't want to help, just that they weren't as helpful? How is this characterized?  I'm sure I could run the same test and magically come up with opposite results.

  3. 0
    Bennett Beeny says:

    My daughter, at age 5, played Grand Theft Auto IV. She walked around the neighborhoods being careful not to commit any crimes and when she got in a car, she always drove carefully. The point is, it's not the type of game – it's how you raise your kids. A well-raised kid will try to act nicely in games until they're old enough to know the difference between a game and reality. At that point, they will relax their real life ethics and play violent games violently, because it's fun to do so. It doesn't mean they will act out violently in real life.

    Young kids do emulate behavior they see, but only if their parents have not given them an ethical compass.

  4. 0
    GrimCW says:

    what about violent games where the purpose is to aid others in their time of need, though often through rough means?

    such as the original Rainbow Six titles (the "vegas" ones need not apply), or Swat games, where the purpose is to take down terrorist/criminal groups and rescue civilian hostages.

    swat teams exist for a reason, and sadly combating violence with violence is sometimes a requirement in society when talks fail with irrational people.

    one thing i liked about Swat 3 and 4 though (never played the first ones sadly) was you could shout out to the criminals and try to get them to just surrender before having to fire a shot. As well as you could merely incapacitate them and take them in alive at times.

    can't imagine a world without them Police/swat teams and anti terrorism units… that'd be a rough day all round.

  5. 0
    Mr.Tastix says:

    Blah, blah, blah. More idiotic tests that are done by "researchers" with subjective opinions.

    The whole "can't rely solely on ratings" applies to pretty much anything, and any smart parent should know this. Thing is, many people don't give a crap or bother to look at ratings at all. They'd rather buy something and then bitch about it and blame others for the decision they based on ignorance.

  6. 0
    SimonBob says:

    The trick is that they've categorized "social" as "beneficial to society", like helping to clean up the pollution in Mario Sunshine.  I'm hard pressed to think of an example where violence meets a useful societal message — violence is inherently disruptive, and by that definition it's not "social" at all.

    Now, if they'd meant "social" as in multiplayer games, that'd be a whole different story.

  7. 0
    miamiandy says:

    In reading the test I already see the inherent flaw. The used 3 categories when they needed a fourth.

    They have:

    • Violent, Non-social
    • Non-Violent, Non-social
    • Non-Violent, Social


    What is missing is a "Violent, Social" category. Without having a category as such than such a test is a bit meaningless because they are failing to attempting to group a violent games as Non-social when that is simply not the case.

  8. 0
    GoodRobotUs says:

    Ahh. soft sciences, whenever I need a good laugh I read the latest round of psychological studies on a whole plethora of subjects. They're hilarious.

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