A True Story about TrueCrime

This is a true story about truecrime game I shared with the audience during my presentation on The future of Virtual Worlds and Video Games for Children: Challenges and risks, at the annual summer conference "Children in Virtual Worlds" of Eshnav-People for Wise Use of the Internet in memory of Eran Aderet* which took place this week at the school of business, the Collage of Management in Rison Le-Zion, Israel.
Not long ago my son returned from school and proudly showed me a surprised birthday present he received from his best classmate's friends: the True Crime Streets of L.A computer game. I was happy to see that he have such good friends, but it seemed that he nor his 10 years old friends were aware to the game's level of violence rating. When we go to the movies, we are usually qware if the movie is rated for adults only. I wonder how many parents and children overlook the violent rating of video games before they decide to buy/download and play? How many people are aware of the US ESRB videogame rating system or the Israeli government's legislation adopting the European PEGI rating violent video games system on February 2007?

I faced a dilemma: I did not want to have my 10 years old son play the true crime game on one hand, but I did not want to upset him and be rude to his best friends by boycotting it, on the other hand. Since they usually play computer games together, a boycott might offended my son's best friends too. My main goal was to educate my son and his best fiends, and to raise their level of awareness to the violent videogames rating system in a positive manner.
Now imagine yourself in my place. What would you do in this same situation?

This brings us to the big Q: What do we know about the social & psychological effects of video games in general and about violent videogames in particular?
According to UNESCO's international heath organization 2007 study, Israeli children are positioned first in the amount of time they spend playing video games compare to other nations. 34.6% of Israeli 8th graders spend at least 4 hours a day playing video games!
if this is the case, we have to gain a fuller understanding of the gaming experience. Gaming is a new form of media entertainment and we need to know what users actually experience while they are playing games.

The effect of videogames content and forms
Lee & Peng (2006) argue that the existing game literature usually focuses on the effects of its contents (violent or educational content) and neglects the impacts of its forms. Media forms like size, fidelity, cuts, synchrony and movements are equally important factors for determining psychological impact of media. For example, formal features such as loud nose, unusual camera effects, fast action, of television are at least partly responsible for television's effects on children's aggressive behaviors. Media forms and contents interact with each other. Newer generation of violent games are more realistic due to new forms factors such as high-fidelity video and audio, 3D, life like display size, and seamless interactivity. Lee & Peng (2006) concluded that there is need to study the main effects of computer games form factors and possible interaction effects between the form facets and the contents types (such as violence. Sex, humor, sports, and so on) in order to get a fuller understanding of game effects.

What happens in the Brain during violent videogame play?

Weber, Ritterfeld & Mathiak (2006) studied the association between playing violent video games and aggressive reactions. The researches used a novel, event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study. 13 male research participants were observed playing a latest-generation violent video game Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror

Each participant's game play was recorded and content analyzed on a frame-by-frame basis. On screen activities were coded as either “passive/dead, no interactions”; “active/safe, no imminent danger/no violent interactions”; “active/potential danger occurs, violent interactions expected”; “active/under attack, some violent interactions”; and “active/fighting and killing, many violent interactions.” Previous studies in neuroscience on aggressive thoughts and behaviors suggested that virtual violence would suppress affective areas of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the amygdala subsequent to activity variations at cognitive areas of the ACC. Comparison of game play activities with and without virtual violence in 11 participants confirmed the hypothesis. The rather large observed effects can be considered as caused by the virtual violence.

Does the interactive nature of playing violent video games have grater effect than passive watching violent video games?
Unlike passive observational learning playing violent video games involves thousands aggressive interactions which are instantly rewarded by numerous stimuli, raging from player survival level, additional points, special effects and more. Moreover, in Massively Multiplayer games (MMOGs) or in a Player vs Player game mode, the players know that the avatar that they just virtually killed is their real-life buddy!
Polman et al. (2008) asked 57 5th and 6th grader Netherlands children (average age 10-11 years old) to play either Tekken 3 (violent) or Crash Bandicoot (non-violent) for 15 minutes. The researched administered two questionnaires after the experiment at different times, immediately, 1 hour or more than 1 hour after the video game experiment. One questionnaire addressed their gaming habits and the second addressed aggressive behaviors. The children were asked to name another child in the study who displayed acts of physical, verbal or relational aggression. They were also asked if the intentions were for play or being mean. The results show that boys who played violent video game were significantly rated to be more aggressive than those who watched a violent video game. The results show no significant differences in either violent or non-violent video game nor whether played or watched among girls. In addition, the researchers found that boys who immediately finished the experiment were rated to be more significantly aggressive than those who rated after 1 hour or more than 1 hour of the experiment. However, the researchers also noted that the reported results should be taken with caution due to their small sample sizes.

What are the roles of age, social intelligence and parent-child communication in moderating the association between digital game playing and direct and indirect aggression?
Wallenius et al., (2007) studied the roles of age, social intelligence and parent-child communication in moderating the association between digital game playing and direct and indirect aggression were examined in 478 Finnish 10- and 13-year-old schoolchildren based on self-reports. The results confirmed that digital game violence was directly associated with direct aggression, especially at age 10, but only among boys. The moderating role of social intelligence was substantiated among older boys: game violence was associated with indirect aggression among those with high level of social intelligence. Moreover, digital game playing was associated with direct aggression especially when parent-child communication was poor, but only among boys. The findings emphasize the importance of individual and situational factors as moderators of the link between game violence and aggression. The researchers concluded that regardless of how much time you spend on video games, video game violence is positively associated to direct aggression. In a follow-up report, Wallenius & Punamäki (in press) investigated the roles of sex, age, and parent–child communication in moderating the association between digital game violence and direct aggression in a two-year longitudinal study. Finnish 12- and 15-year-old adolescents (N = 316) participated in the follow-up survey. As hypothesized, digital game violence was linked to direct aggression both longitudinally and synchronously, and the link was moderated by parent–child communication in interaction with sex and age. Results suggest that the moderating role of parent–child communication changes with increasing age. Poor parent–child communication may be one of the factors in an adolescent's development that may strengthen the negative effects of digital game violence, but even good parent–child communication does not necessarily protect the adolescent in the long run. Digital game violence seems to be one of the risk factors of increased aggressive behavior.

This brings us back to the starting point of our journey, the dilemma about the truecrime video game. The solution I found was based on child-parent open dialogue and respect. Moreover, there is no one simple answer to the question about the social & psychological effects of video games on human thought and behavior. Currently, there are more questions than answers. For example: what are the positive effects of playing violent games?

From pure educational perspective, an open dialogue with our children on the theme seems like a good starting point.

= Dedication =
This post is dedicated to "Eshnav-People for Wise Use of the Internet in memory of Eran Aderet" Foundation with deep respect. For info click here
הרשימה מוקדשת לד"ר אבשלום אדרת ולעמותת אשנ"ב -אנשים למען שימוש נבון באינטרנט לזכר ערן אדרת ז"ל
= Bibliography =
Lee, K. M. & Peng, W. (2006). What do we know about social and psychological effects of computer games? A comprehensive review of the current literature. In: Vorderer, P. & Bryant, J. (Eds.) Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (pp. 325-346). Mahwah, NJ: Lwarence Erlbaum.

Polman, H., de Castro, B. O., & van Aken, M. A. G. (2008). Experimental study of the differential effects of playing versus watching violent video games on children’s aggressive behavior. Aggressive Behavior, 34(3), 256-264.

Wallenius, M., Punamäki, R., Rimpelä, A. (2007). Digital game playing and direct and indirect aggression in early adolescence: The roles of age, social intelligence, and parent-child communication. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(3), 325-336.

Wallenius , M., & Punamäki, R. (in press). Digital game violence and direct aggression in adolescence: A longitudinal study of the roles of sex, age, and parent–child communication, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.
[On-line available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2008.04.010 accessed 18.6.08]
Weber, R., Ritterfeld, U., & Mathiak, K. (2006). Does playing violent video games induce aggression? Empirical evidence of a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Media Psychology, 8, 39–60.
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Dr. Hanan "VRider" Gazit serves as the Israeli Games Research Association (DiGRA) Chapter. A researcher, lecturer and entrepreneur. Owner of a start-up company specializing in delivering services for Israeli investors, companies and organizations interested in using virtual worlds and video games for business, marketing & instruction. His research interests include: Analyzing virtual worlds and video games interactions; Designing effective serious games; Skills acquisition and virtual-real world transfer and New Media. He holds a Ph.D. degree in the Learning Sciences and a Magna Cum Laude M.A. degree in Science Education, both from Tel-Aviv University. A former post doctorate fellow researcher at the Virtual Reality Lab, Institute for Interdisciplinary Applications of Computer Science, University of Haifa. Dr. Gazit serves on the Association of Virtual Worlds` Advisory Board and on the Editorial Review Board of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations.