Video Games Today: What Kids Learn and What it Means for Society

What started out as a fun pass time, playing Pac-Man on PCs back in the 1980s, soon spiralled into an unregulated global tech industry. Donkey Cong, Legend of Zelda, Minecraft, Candy Crush, World of Warcraft (WoW), EverQuest, Mario, Ultima Online…one can go on, and on, and on to list the screen-smashing successes enjoyed by video games. Most of them target young impressionable minds. So, what does that mean for our world?

More than money at stake

According to one source (NewZoo) that makes a living predicting video game trends, the global sales on video games is set to reach the $196 billion mark this year (2020). That’s a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of over 9% since 2018. And many of those games aren’t about polishing skills like reading, math or science.

An international study found there is a definite link between video games and young kids’ propensity for violence:

“…it is clear that violent video gameplay is associated with subsequent increases in physical aggression,"

And that warning comes from a professor of psychology and brain sciences!

Despite there being overwhelming evidence that playing video games isn’t necessarily the best thing a child can do, there seems to be little aptitude to regulate the industry.  Might that be because there are powerful lobby groups pulling the strings?  With nearly $200 billion generated as income, most of them bring lots of money to their makers – and to governments in the form of annual tax revenue.

Plus, the video gaming industry in most developed nations serves to demonstrate the nation’s technological prowess. They are the vanguards of what the future holds. It’s a badge of honour for politicians and bureaucrats to boast about the size (in terms of value to a country’s GDP) of their video gaming market.

But there’s more than money at stake here.

Role-playing with young minds

Sure, the men and women behind the mega gaming empires mean well – but for whom? Typically, the targets of these money-raking operations are young, impressionable minds. For instance, Kim Kardashian is reported to have banked over $20 million from her iPhone hit role-playing video game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The developer of that game, a company called Glu, reportedly raked in millions more than Kim herself since the launch in 2015.

Here’s a sobering thought though: Why would parents and guardians of young kids with suggestible minds allow their wards to role-play as KK?

Unfortunately, the sophistication of today’s video gaming technology is such that adults can’t do much – even if they wanted to – to rein in kids’ video gaming addictions.

Fine…no more access to video games that teach kids to role-play like a prima donna with lots of money and too much time on her hands. You’ll pull the plug and the console, laptop, tablet or smartphone goes dead. But that’s no solution to dealing with the video gaming craze that youngsters face.

Grooming to hate and kill

Video game producers work in a largely unregulated space. As a result, the products they put out there don’t teach skills like dexterity, mental alertness and visual stimulation. To understand what these merchants of opportunity peddle, all you do is look at the list of highly controversial titles available to our kids in the past (and still today, in some instances):

…just to name a few.

These, and scores upon scores of other video games out there, do nothing but teach hatred and the love of killing. They preach bigotry, immorality and lack of respect for authority and institutions. There’s a growing body of evidence – both empirical and anecdotal – that video games do make kids more violent.

Sobering thought #2: What do video game creators (and the dysfunctional regulatory authorities) think will happen when young susceptible minds play those games for eight to ten hours a day?

There’s no denying that kids are a product of the environments they live in. So, when a child lives in a violence-filled digital world, it’s only natural that they’ll mould themselves in the form of the violent characters they encounter (and admire!) in that world.

Then and now

Back in the 1980s, Pac-Man caused a huge ruckus among employers globally. It’s reported that companies were losing productive time because employees used company resources (typically an IBM PC with 120 Kilobytes of RAM!) to play the addictive game. That produced a major backlash against video game makers.

So, how did the cash-churning video gaming industry respond? Well, instead of building those highly addictive games themselves, and risking the wrath of industry watchdogs, they’ve found a novel way to have their cake and eat it too!

Today, if you browse around this site, you’ll notice that it’s all about empowering end-users to construct their own interactive gaming experiences. This site, and many like it that offer tools and products like these, seemingly offer a much sought-after service. However, if you are someone who wishes to integrate your video game with a violence-filled theme, there’s nothing to stop you from doing so. They don’t build the games – they just empower others to do that.

The saving grace back then was the fact that video game production was a business that only a select cadre of companies could venture into. A situation where regulators could have contained or “managed” the quality of games.

Today, with video game production technologies freely available, tweens and teens are churning out violence-laden games for their friends and colleagues to consume. Unfortunately, because of the rapidly changing technology landscape, no sooner do platform hosts take down one violent game, that another – more violent than the previous one – fills the void.

Not all video games are “bad”, but the ones that do fall in that category are enough to pose a systemic threat to the future of society as we know it. It’s our responsibility to do something. But parents, teachers, gaming manufacturers, regulatory bodies, politicians, law enforcers – they don’t bear the responsibility alone. This needs broader awareness and action. 

 It’s high time that we (collectively as a society) sit up, take note and take action before it’s too late.