Video Games: Technology and Social Issues
Eisenman, Russell, Journal of Evolutionary Psychology
Video games are a major part of the culture of the United States and of many other countries throughout the world. Play is a natural human phenomenon, that leads the person or animal to develop skills to be used later in life, as well as often being enjoyable at the time. Games would seem to involve play plus the addition of more formal rules than is involved in play per Se (Frasca, 2003; Southern, 2003; Kampmann, 2003). Video games help people sharpen their perceptual and/or motor skills, as well as enjoy themselves. The United States military uses things much like video games to improve accuracy of shooting weapons. Thus, video games provide improved human performance. If they take away from people engaging in physical activity, then the perceptual and motor performance is purchased at the price of needed physical exercise ("Education," 2003). But, they are not inherently inconsistent. One could play video games and also get needed exercise when not playing video games.
Video games seem to appeal to the biological reality of human beings. That is, whatever we are, we seem to enjoy playing certain games, and having our skills challenged by certain kinds of play or games. Human beings have evolved to have certain brain and perceptual/motor abilities which respond well to stimuli that challenge people and often help people learn to perform even better (Darwin, 1872; Eisenman, 2003; Buss, 1999). The effects are no doubt due to a large variety of reasons, but one thing we know: motion has powerful physiological effects on people, and holds attention to the image (Simons, Detenber, Roedema, & Reiss, 1999).
Video games are a major pan of entertainment. Entering the terms "video games" into MSN Search engine gave 2626 results. And, there are now electronic journals devoted to scholarly study of video games; two prominent ones are Game Studies and Game Research. Many enjoy video games, even if they have no understanding of technological development, or of social issues such as violent games possibly causing violence in real life.
I have obtained information from Electronic Arts (2003) about video games that they have published titles for. The following gives the name of the manufacturer; the video game console/platform name; the date introduced in North America; the medium/product base; and the technology (bit indicates how complex the information presented is):
Sega, Genesis, 1989, cartridge, 16-bit
Nintendo, Super NES, 1991, cartridge, 16-bit
Matsushita, 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, 1993, compact disk, 32-bit
Sega, Saturn, 1995, compact disk, 32-bit
Sony, PlayStation, 1995, compact disk, 32-bit
Nintendo, Nintendo 64, 1996, cartridge, 64-bit
Sony, PlayStation2, 2000, digital versatile disk, 128-bit
Nintendo, Nintendo GameCube, 2001, proprietary optical format, 128-bit
Microsoft, Xbox, 2001, digital versatile disk, 128-bit
According to Electronic Arts (2003), Sony, with PlayStation and PlayStation2 has been the clear market leader, although facing stiff competition from Microsoft and Nintendo. It seems clear that video games have evolved to be more technologically complex, starting out as cartridges with 16-bit, and now including a variety of formats, with 128-bit.
Many of the games were introduced to different parts of the world at different times, but roughly at more or less the same time. For example, Sony released PlayStation in Japan in March 2000, in North America in October 2000, and in Europe in November 2000. Nintendo released the Nintendo GameCube in Japan in September 2001, in North America in November 2001, and in Europe in May 2002. Microsoft first released the Xbox console in North America in November 2001, then in Japan in February 2002, and in Europe in March 2002. So, the video games seem to reach a worldwide market within months of being first introduced. Of course, there are places where they are not introduced or exist in small numbers, such as the rainforest of Brazil, or poor parts of sub-Sahara Africa, etc. But, when companies think they can profit from selling video games, they seem to introduce them to their markets throughout the world, with only a relatively small time between hitting one market in one part of the world, and then being introduced to another market in another part of the world.
The games are likely designed to have worldwide appeal, as opposed to just being popular in one section of the world. However, it does not always work out this way. As Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen (personal communication, August 27, 2003) has mentioned to me, the game Lineage failed in the U. S., but was very successful in Asia. Also, he pointed out that strategy games are played more in Northern Europe than in other places. So, it may be that cultural differences make some games more popular in one part of the world than in other parts.
An important issue is whether or not video games make people more aggressive.An earlier study suggested that teenagers did not become more aggressive due to playing video games (Winkel, Novak, & Hopson, 1987). However, more recent research suggests that video games may cause aggression in some, under some circumstances (Anderson & Dill, 2000; Anderson & Morrow, 1995; Wright, 2000). Why the different results? It seems to be the case that more recent video games are more violent than the one used in the earlier research by Winkel et al (1987).
Anderson and Dill (2000) found that playing aggressive video games was associated with more aggression both in the short run (in the laboratory) and in the long run (delinquency). Men, those who were aggressive, and those who were delinquent were more attracted to violent video games than were women, those who were nonaggressive, or those who were nondelinquent (Anderson & Dill, 2000). These findings are consistent with my speculation, below, based on my working with felony-convicted youths in a prison treatment program for youthful offenders. On the other hand, many thousands of people play video games without, apparently, becoming more aggressive against others--at least not in any way that we have noticed. For example, we do not have information about people playing video games and then attacking another.
Complexity of Results
The results are complex, however. Not all will become violent after playing an aggressive or violent video game. Some will under some circumstances. While we would like to be able to be more definite than that, reality is often complex. We have to take into account the personality of the player, their cultural background, the situational factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of aggression in any given instance, etc.
When we realize the complexity of the matter, no simple conclusion is possible. But, it does seem that aggressive or violent video games cause some increase in aggression. We just do not know when, if at all, for any given person. Having worked in a prison for serious juvenile offenders, I suspect that most of them would find their already quick use of violence increased by doing or witnessing anything involved with violence. However, most youths are not criminals. Will playing violent video games increase their violence? I suspect the answer is "It depends." In some instances they will be no more violent than before, but, in other instances, people copy what they see or do (Bandura, 1986).
Also, aggression can be broken down into two types: proactive and reactive. In proactive aggression there is no provocation, but the aggression is expected to lead one to one's goal. In reactive aggression, a provocation is perceived. Different cognitive processes are associated with the different types of aggression, although habitually aggressive people tend to overperceive others as aggressive toward them, even when that is not the case (Dodge, Price, Bachorowski, & Newman, 1990; Smithmeyer, Hubbard, & Simon, 2000).
In conclusion, video games are a major part of life today in many countries. They provide enjoyment, and probably improved perceptual and motor skills. They might increase violence under some circumstances, although many can play aggressive or violent games with no apparent increase in aggression. We cannot say for sure, in advance, who will or will not be made more aggressive by aggressive games. However, it would seem to be a good guess that those already predisposed toward violence find it easy to become more violent prone when faced with violent images, whether in video games, in the media, or witnessing it in their homes and neighborhood.
I am very grateful to Dr. Mark Winkel, Dr. Grant Behham, and Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen for their insights. And, I am also grateful to Electronic Arts for giving me data about video games. I alone am responsible for the article written and for any errors.
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Electronic Arts (2003). Form 10-K. Report to United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Redwood City, CA: Author.
Frasca. G. (2003, August). Ludology meets narratology: Similarities and differences between (video) games and narrative. Ludology.org. At: http://www.jackaranda.org/frasca/ludology.htm
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Russell Eisenman, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, TX 78541-2999
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Video Games: Technology and Social Issues. Contributors: Eisenman, Russell - Author. Journal title: Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. Volume: 25. Issue: 3-4 Publication date: August 2004. Page number: 170+. © 2006 Institute for Evolutionary Psychology. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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