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Why Do Boys Like to Play Video Games?

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The Center for Mental Health and Media, a division of the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, has done a series of studies to better understand how, when and why middle-school kids play electronic games. In other words, violent video games are a fact of life for the average preteen boy. In focus groups, boys talked about enjoying the skills, costumes, weapons and personalities of favorite video game characters.

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									hospital is having an outbreak of a
particularly aggressive bacterium,
such a precaution may be helpful.
                                       Why Do Boys Like to Play
For normal newborns that stay
with their mother in the mother’s
                                       Video Games?
room, though, such precautions,                                         By Cheryl K. Olson, ScD
while not harmful, are unneces-
sary.                                  Electronic games are a routine        game title “a lot in the past six
                                       part of today’s American child-       months,” with little difference be-
Doctors are taught to practice “ev-    hood. A 2005 survey by the Kaiser     tween 12-year-olds and 14-year-
idence-based medicine,” a fancy        Family Foundation found that on       olds. In other words, violent video
way of saying that our practice        any given day, 65% of 8-to-10-        games are a fact of life for the
should conform to the best knowl-      year-olds and 63% of 11-to-14-        average preteen boy. (To our sur-
edge currently available. However,     year-olds play video or computer      prise, more than a quarter of girls
it is far easier said than done. My    games (or both). Parents often        also played M-rated games—far
partners and I encourage families      wonder and worry about the ef-        more than we expected.)
to ask us if we are doing some-        fects of video game play on their
thing for their baby that they do      kids. Understanding why children      What do boys like about video
not understand or does not seem        are drawn to video and com-           games in general, and violent
quite right; such questions keep       puter games—especially violent        games in particular?
us on our toes.                        games—may help parents make
                                       better decisions about appropriate    Fantasies of power and fame.
Usually, we can provide the sci-       games for their child.                In focus groups, boys talked about
entific rationale behind our rec-                                            enjoying the skills, costumes,
ommendation. Parents are thus          The Center for Mental Health and      weapons and personalities of fa-
comforted that their child’s care      Media, a division of the psychia-     vorite video game characters. For
conforms to the best evidence          try department at Massachusetts       example, “The swords in Mortal
known. When we cannot provide          General Hospital in Boston, has       Kombat are fun to use; they look
the scientific rationale behind our    done a series of studies to better    cool.”
recommendation, it drives us “to       understand how, when and why
                                       middle-school kids play electronic    When asked to imagine what
the books,” and makes us research
                                       games. Our goal was to help par-      they’d do if they could be that
what it is we think we know. When
                                       ents, pediatricians and teachers      character for a day, boys fanta-
we find the scientific rationale to
                                       understand what patterns of game      sized about having more control
support our belief the parents are
                                       play are typical, and which ones      in their everyday lives:
reassured and we are happy that
                                       are less common and might be          • “If I could be powerful like
we were right. When we cannot
                                       linked to problems. The research          Jin, when somebody’s getting
find a scientific rationale to sup-
                                       included a survey of 1,254 chil-          bullied or something, and they
port our belief, we are provided
                                       dren in Pennsylvania and South            can’t defend themselves, I’d
with an opportunity to reassess
                                       Carolina, and focus groups with 42        go help them out.”
our practice and to learn more
                                       boys and 21 parents in the greater    • “If I were Sub-Zero, I would go
about a topic we love, pediatrics.
                                       Boston area. The results of this          to school, I would freeze my
                                       research, as well as other informa-       teacher and the principal, and
Bryan L. Burke, MD, is the Direc-
                                       tion for parents, are described in        all the other teachers. So the
tor of the Term Nursery at the
                                       the recently published book Grand         students could do whatever
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