I have to start by sharing that I lost an amazing former student in Sandy Hook years ago, Vicki Soto. She was a teacher at the school, and gave her life to protect students. It happened 30 minutes from where I teach. So believe me, I have been impacted by gun violence more than many others. I'm a military veteran, and have seen awful things during war.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, I recently shared an activity that I created related to the mega-popular video game Fortnite. It was a throwing activity, where students threw different types of balls (representing the weapons in the game) at bowling pins (the character or avatar). They worked cooperatively, grabbing different resources (cones, buckets, foam bricks) to build a fort around their pin for protection. They had to grab a bandage if their pin fell to get back in the game, grab a potion if they wanted to fix their fort, and a chug juice potion to be able to do both simultaneously. I needed to create display signs for the game, so I fervently went to work with Google image searches and the Comic Life publisher program. I shared my creation that night and got a lot of push-back from my social media PLN (professional learning network). What caused this you may ask? I mean, the basic “throwing at bowling pins” idea is a classic game system, so what made this so controversial? It was that I put in some pictures of guns, a shotgun, assault rifle, and rocket launcher from Fortnite. Needless to say, it became a 300+ notification, 10+ direct message night for me!
I ended up reflecting on the input and toning it down since I share my creations with the community, and if it was that offensive, then I wanted to make sure more students had a chance to play it. So I took out the gun signs and instead had displays that said “attack item 1, 2, 3, and 4.” This made most folks happy, but there were still quite a few who felt like I was the devil for promoting a violent and disturbing game. Have we become too sensitive? Are violent video games truly evil? Was I wrong by using Fortnite as a theme, regardless of having guns in the game or not? Turns out, most of the available research backs up my beliefs. While there are quite a few psychologists who feel that violent video games are bad for kids, there’s a ton of research showing the opposite. In fact, some actual benefits have been shown!
A lot of research is also starting to show that eliminating toy guns and aggressive play in kids is causing social consequences. Children are not learning how to control real-life impulses, and what appropriate levels of contact are in sports and other areas. Many studies have shown that fathers wrestling with their kids teaches them self-control and restraint.
Here's an article covering why kids should be playing with toy guns: slate.com
Let’s dive into some actual science instead of fear mongering and opinion! One 2014 study carried out by Christopher J. Ferguson, Professor of Psychology at Stetson University, Florida, found video game consumption was in fact associated with a decline in youth violence rates. They actually help reduce stress and anger as opposed to causing it.
In another study, University of Oxford researchers found that poor behavior could be linked to an excess in time spent playing video games, but not the types of games that were being played.
From the article: “We also know that the risks attached to game-playing are small. A range of other factors in a child’s life will have a much heavier influence on their behavior.” In other words, like anything else, too much of a good thing is bad for us. Parents need to set limits, and make sure they are involved in their kids’ lives, and monitor what they’re doing.
A longitudinal study conducted in the Netherlands followed almost 200 kids who were exposed to a violent game at age nine, then tracked their behavior, and concluded that violent video games do not increase aggression in kids.
This article, entitled: “Here's Why Your Kid Won't Stop Playing Fortnite (And How it Could Actually be a Good Thing),” discusses all the benefits that gaming has been shown to give children.
From the article: “According to a study published in the American Journal of Play, action video games are particularly good for learning because they promote perception, attention and cognition. Another published in Molecular Psychiatry found that playing video games increases gray matter in brain areas responsible for spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance. And according to research published in The Journal of Neuroscience, playing a complex 3D video game can stimulate the brain's hippocampus, resulting in improved memory.”
Here’s an interesting title from the NYPost with research conducted by the popular TV show Vice: “Why violent video games are good for kids.”
“According to research cited by Vice, not only do violent games help users skirt violent behavior, but the games can actually have beneficial effects. A study conducted in 2014, at Stetson University in Florida, shows that the playing of death-bloated video-games actually caused real-life violence to decrease. Vice speculates that the pixelated mayhem gives gamers an outlet for their aggression, or [keeps] potentially violent people safely at home.”
This Washington post article of a ten-country comparison suggests there’s little or no link between video games and gun murders.
But isn't violence everywhere!?
If you as your neighbor, they'll probably tell you the world is falling apart and it's not safe to go outside your house anymore. But if we look at the overall statistics for violent crimes in the United States, everything has been on a downward trend for decades. We're safer than we've ever been, despite what the popular show Criminal Minds would have us believe. The issue is that media is lightning quick, and it's easy to create a "doom and gloom" outlook so that folks stay tuned to the news. The news makes billions off terror and paranoia. FBI statistics show that:
So while violent crime has fallen, people feel that our country is going crazy with violence. The news is doing a great job keeping folks glued in to see who will kill who next, right!?
Now, to be fair, mass shootings HAVE increased, but let's get put this into perspective. There are 23 mass shooting deaths per year. That makes this sort of random mass shooting one of the rarest mortality risks imaginable. Falling or the flu are far more dangerous.
So, after quite a bit of research, I am very confident that violent video games have no negative impact on children (and society isn't going as bonkers as the media would have us believe). And while I completely understand and respect the sensitive nature of guns and violence in our culture, I'm pushing back because I know that we're doing more harm than good by making everything so taboo and mysterious for kids. My 'Fort Busters' game was a huge success, with students asking if we could play it again next week, and a record week of almost no behavior issues. I met my students where their motivation lies, and it paid off in huge dividends. Students even reported playing outside at home, creating games like the one I shared with them in class. Think about that...they got home and wanted to play outside instead of the video game itself.
If violent video games cause violence, then the countries with the highest rate of violent games should have higher homicide rates, right? But Asia's use of violent games is much higher than the U.S. by population, and yet they are extremely low in social aggression. I know there are other variables, but it's a point I want to make.
In the end, we all have to do what's right based on our culture and personal beliefs. I took out the name and gun images for the game, but students still knew it was based on Fortnite, and I'm fine with that. They know I play the game, as do most of their parents. It's a non-issue for me.