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Violence and Video Games: Do You Know What Your Kids are Up To?

If your kids are thirteen to seventeen, there’s a 1 in 8.33 chance that they’re playing video games, with boys being much more likely to spend their time after school with a video game controller in hand than girls (1 in 5.26 to 1 in 25). One thing you don’t need to worry too much about is how long teens are playing. Most report playing for between one and five hours a week (1 in 2.5), while only 1 in 7.69 says they are playing video games for at least twenty hours in a given week.

The more important question here may be, “Do you know what your children are playing?” While 90 percent of parents say they always or sometimes know what video games their children are playing, 1 in 3.57 parents do not understand how video game ratings work. This means that even though most may know what game a child is playing, there are many parents that don’t know if it is appropriate for their child to be playing it.

Of the top twenty bestselling video games in 2008, 1 in 5 were rated Teen, and 1 in 3.33 were rated Mature. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) recommends that games with Teen ratings be played by audiences thirteen and older, while games rated Mature only be played by audiences seventeen and older. These ratings reflect the game’s overall level of appropriateness, while content descriptors detail what goes on throughout the course of the game.

Games given a Teen or Mature rating typically contain violent, sexually suggestive, or other adult themes and situations. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has generated a significant amount of controversy for the violence depicted in the game. During the course of the game, the player takes control of members of an elite anti-terrorism squad while engaging in realistic combat, and all the gunfire, explosions, blood, and death that come along with it. The game is rated Mature for blood, language, and intense violence.

Although 1 in 8.51 adults will play video games in a year, most parents claim to understand a lot or a little (1 in 4.76 and 1 in 2.27) about video game ratings, many seem to not be heeding the advice of the ESRB. In fact, among high schoolers, 1 in 1.67 (60 percent) has played a video game in the Grand Theft Auto video game series. The most recent game in the series, Grand Theft Auto IV, currently carries a rating of Mature.

There are plenty of other options when it comes to video games. Ten of the twenty top selling games of last year were rated Everyone or Everyone Ten and Up. The three top sellers in 2008 were deemed playable for audiences six and older. That these top three games were all for the Nintendo® Wii™—in fact, a total of seven out of the top twenty games were designed for the Wii—suggests that a new era of video game playing may be coming. Currently, over fifty-eight million units of the Nintendo Wii have been sold, making it one of the most popular video game systems on the market.

A recent study by the Center for the Study of Violence found that people who play violent video games have higher levels of aggressiveness and reduced empathy. A critique of the study claims these findings are not completely accurate and instead points to peer influence and exposure to psychological abuse as more predictive risk factors.

Regardless of which side of this argument you take, it’s up to parents to monitor—and understand—the video games their children are playing. After all, 1 in 2.43 households with a TV have a video game console ... and its unlikely kids’ allowances are big enough to buy that.

By Brandon Hool for The Book of Odds

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