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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