Much has been written about the merits or otherwise of playing video games – particularly those of a violent nature. Critics’ claim that games are addictive and can foster an obsession with killing and death whilst supporters argue that they improve visual, coordination and reasoning skills and can provide a safe outlet for aggression.
Some new research from Canada has recently been published which considers the link between the types of video games teens play, how long they play them, and their levels of moral reasoning; their ability to take the perspective of others into account.
Researchers surveyed 13 and 14 year olds of both genders; they were questioned about their gaming habits and patterns and were assessed to gauge their stage of moral development using an established scale.
Previous studies have suggested that a person's moral judgement goes through four phases as they grow from childhood and enter adulthood. By the age of 13 or 14 young people should be entering the third stage, and be able to empathise with others and take their perspective into account.
However this latest study found that this stage appeared to be delayed in teenagers who regularly played violent video games. Hours spent playing violent games was effectively stunting teenagers’ emotional growth. Interestingly, there was no correlation between the amount of time adolescents reported playing non-violent video games and their moral reasoning levels.
Researcher Mirjana Bajovic said: 'Exposure to violence in video games may influence the development of moral reasoning because violence is not only presented as acceptable but is also justified and rewarded. Spending too much time within the virtual world of violence may prevent [gamers] from getting involved in different positive social experiences in real life, and in developing a positive sense of what is right and wrong.'
Debates on violent video games often get stuck at ‘do they cause violent crime?’ but as this study shows, there are other more subtle outcomes which are also of concern.