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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.
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 Un
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