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Essay: Are video games to blame for childhood obesity and mental health issues?

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  • Published: 11 March 2022*
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  • Words: 2,286 (approx)
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  • Tags: Video games essays

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For decades now exposing children to video games has been a very controversial topic, however, I feel cutting off video games from children entirely isn’t the answer to the issue. The younger generation shouldn’t be shut off from that range of technology just because there is a selection of violent and not safe for work games out there, there is a whole platform of video games specifically tailored for children, my argument is that video games shouldn’t be shut off from children entirely it should just be controlled by both developers and parents because stopping a child who wants to play an innocent game isn’t fair when a lot of video games tailored towards children are developed to include diverse storylines, intricate puzzles and extraordinary worlds for children to develop their essential life skills that would be put to use in their adulthood when they come to choosing what they want to study at school/university and what they want to choose for a career.

My Argument is that parents shouldn’t restrict video games from their children but to just merely control what they play until they are of age to chose what they want to play. Controlling what your child plays is very simple with Xbox and PlayStations ‘Kids & Family’ pages on their stores but somehow developers always seem to be the victims of the parents blame for exposing their child to violent content, but shouldn’t the parents be in control in what they play? Cashiers at video game stores don’t hand out Grand Theft Auto to the naïve children, it’s all down to the parents who purchase their children these video games. After doing some research online I found an article written by Roehampton University student where she argues against the unnecessary blame of the developers and the media of parents correlating their violent children to what video games they’re exposed to.

Selda, E (2016), “Video games are easily blamed by parents and media with regards to their negative effects and the impact these can have on children’s behaviour leading to conclusions such as correlating videogaming to young people’s violent behaviours or the commitment of extreme anti-social behaviours.”

Selda makes a great point it is very easy for adults to blame others rather than admitting their bad parenting because not one parent out there would want to be labelled as a bad parent so it’s easy for them to pass the blame onto someone who they aren’t directly associated with even though they’re the one physically allowing their children to play these games even though the developers have a firm stand on following the age rating law.

Selda, E (2016), “In conclusion, the reasons because video games are frowned upon by parents and media can vary from lack of education or information on the pros and cons to a possible excuse on poor parenting style. In order for parents to see more positive effects in using video games, they should be able to rethink their parenting style and be open to developing it if necessary.”

In her conclusion she explains that the parents should “rethink their parenting style”, however, I don’t think a lot of parents would take this criticism so lightly, but she makes a strong point the solution to stopping an epidemic of violent teens is best dealt with at the source, the parents

Video games are a fantastic way of learning key skills in life that can’t be taught in schools when I was growing up I was an avid fan of the Trine series which is an RPG side-scrolling puzzle game which is built up of challenging puzzles but also an amazing storyline one thing about this game that makes it rise above any other puzzle game is that in this story you can choose between three different characters that each have their own individual traits and abilities but also have their own flaws which you as the player have to choose what character is best for each task you face. Another great feature in this game is that it has the option of co-op play so not only will children be developing their problem-solving skills they will also be developing their team working abilities which is a very significant skill to have when it comes to employment in jobs where team working is essential, so developing this skill from a young age will really give children an advantage later on in life.

Although there are strong cases about how children should be exposed to video games there are also strong cases against children being exposed to that kind of technology, for instance it has always been known everything is healthy in moderation and this also applies to video games, if children are playing video games out of moderation they can develop anti-social behaviours which can affect other key parts of their life like getting a healthy amount of time outside interacting with friends and it can also affect children’s performance in school.

Sudipta Jana, a user on the website MomJunction wrote an article going through both the negative and positive aspects of children being exposed to video games she makes very strong points and one thing she specifically states in her points is that the cause always comes down to ‘excessive’ exposure to video games and not just general exposure because if a child is exposed to controlled amount of video games these issues will not be caused.

Jana, S (2018), “Excessive gaming can have an adverse impact on the teen’s health as they spend more time playing virtual games rather than having some physical exercise. This practice increases the risk of childhood obesity. Sometimes, children also skip meals and sleep to play games they are addicted to. The constant glare from the screen can also harm the child’s eyesight in the long run.”

Jana explains that mental health and wellbeing is not the only factor to consider when it comes to excessive video game playing, but physical health is just as important. Video games have been the main culprit in the fight against childhood obesity over the years but only excessive playing has been put to blame, Jennifer Warner the author of ‘Video Games, TV Double Childhood Obesity Risk’ on WebMD.

Warner, J (2004), “Every hour children play video games or watch television may double their risk of obesity, a new study suggests.”

Warner makes a very strong statement here which I don’t particularly think is accurate if a child plays one hour of video games a day and doesn’t play anymore, I firmly believe the obesity rate will not double for that child if the child isn’t exposed to excessive uncontrolled use of video games the child shouldn’t be negatively affected both physically and mentally.

Although facing issues with being blamed for mental and physical illness in the past decade video games have developed in so many ways they have responded to political issues and faced issues with equality with feminism head on and now are incorporating a wide range of genders and ethnicities in the storylines which wasn’t found back in the original Mario Brothers days. Now we’re seeing a diverse range of main characters in storylines which is a huge influence on the children because girls can now play video games and see their favourite characters such as Faith Connors from Mirrors edge,

“Faith is a wonderful anomaly in the landscape of modern gaming. Athletic rather than over-sexualised. Intelligent rather than ruthless. Her entirely human anatomy stands out in a sea of boringly buxom female leads that won’t be making our list. (Flynn 2017)

Female leads in video games have developed from being an over-sexualised marketing technique to powerful storytellers and in Mirrors Edge, Faith’s mission is to use her athletic abilities to spread information as a courier which continues through each instalment of the series. Flynn, T (2017)

Faith is a truly inspiring lead in Mirrors Edge and with her powerful role she is a huge inspiration to younger girls and she is a great example of developers breaking down the barriers of just having cliché male leads. With this I feel like over the past decade with games like Mirrors edge children and teenagers should be exposed to these types of stories because it brings across such a strong message and lets girls know they can do just as much as a male can do. With the release of the second instalment to the series, ‘Mirrors Edge Catalyst’ the developers continue to inspire the younger generation with their powerful message and hopefully, the world will see the third instalment sometime in the future.

“In the last several years, while the amount of female gamers has increased to over 40% since 2010, the video game industry has yet to overcome the barriers to inclusion that female gamers face. Earlier this year, it was reported that there was a 715% wage gap between female and male gamers. For many outside of the gaming community, the industry’s rampant sexism finally achieved mainstream recognition”. (Vincent 2018)

Although barriers have been broken in the past decade there is still a huge gap in female and oppressed leads in video games but I feel like the only solution to this problem the industry is facing is if we introduce video games to girls and children in oppressed groups because once the demographic of females and other groups playing video games rise to the amount white males play video games we will start to see a much more oppressed leads in video games because at the end of the day the developers are feeding a demographics for financial gain so if more oppressed people play video games the developers will start to introduce these leads at a much more rapid rate showing children in oppressed groups that they have just as much potential in life as anyone else.

After looking online through various articles and websites I wanted to see how much of this issue has been put down on paper after searching through Google Scholars search engine I managed to find a book called, ‘Don’t bother me, Mom, I’m learning!’ by Marc Prensky. This book is a guide for concerned parents about their children being exposed to video games whilst I was looking for a book on this topic, I wasn’t expecting to find a book that would be pro video games since the book was published back in February of 2006 and back then the Grand Theft Auto series was just getting started with the release of its huge title, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which was released two years prior to the publishing of ‘Don’t bother me, Mom, I’m learning!’ and this game changed the entire 18 rated genre of games for years to come by coming to an amount of 677,000 sales in the UK just in the first weekend of its release back in October 2004 which amounts to over £24 million from the first weekend of the release in the UK alone.

My point is I found it quite surprising coming across this book when the market for 18+ rated games was skyrocketing, however, from what I’ve read Marc Prensky gives a fair analysis of video games for children and tends to show a consistent sign of encouragement for the use of video games for children, Prensky explains

“Admittedly, the first video games were fairly primitive experiences where kids—mostly boys—shot at each other mindlessly. But today, they’re deep, rich, 30-, 50- and even 100-hour experiences that appeal to boys and girls of all ages, to young adults, to older women, and, in fact, to people of all ages and social groups. But they especially grab our kids.” (Prensky, 2006, p. 3)

When the parents of these children were growing up back in the 1970’s-1980’s with games like Pong, PAC MAN and Missile Command etc there weren’t any rich storylines or in-depth lore in video games like there is today, there were basic pixelated graphics with little to no storyline so seeing their children being entranced by video games like the Elder Scrolls Series and Metal Gear Solid would come as quite a shock but in my opinion from what I have read of this book Prensky has given a very fair and understanding view on the issue which I feel if I was a parent who was either anti-video games or dubious of the technology it would at least alter my judgement on the topic.

To conclude my argument, I feel like the blame for childhood obesity and mental health issues shouldn’t be directed at the video games children and teenagers are consuming, it should be directed at the parents who are allowing their children to play 18 rated games. The developers are just doing their jobs and are creating content for a needful audience they have very little to no control on stopping children playing their games when their parents are buying it for them. Video game developers have easy to use platforms that parents can use to make sure their children are playing suitable games on their consoles, but a lot of parents are just not taking to it and for that, the developers shouldn’t be to blame for their poor parenting. The Video Game Industry has come a long way in terms of equality every year we are seeing huge titles with oppressed protagonist which is a huge influence on the younger generation and it’s just what the industry needs to fix its bad reputation with its younger consumers on mental and physical health.


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