June 7th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Will money solve the problems of indigenous Australians?

COVER STORY: UK green light for creation of human-animal hybrids

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Rudd Labor Government wobbles for the first time

OVERSEAS TRADE: US farm bill buries talk of free trade in agriculture

TRADE PRACTICES ACT: Will Liberals back Labor or small business?

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Has financial deregulation finally been discredited?

VICTORIA: Vic. court hands gambling decision back to council

CENSORSHIP: Student union bans pro-life activities

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Post-abortive women: from silence to lawsuits

CULTURE: Our topsy-turvy world: on kangaroo culls and child porn

CHILDHOOD: Are violent video games harmless entertainment?

HUMAN RIGHTS: The Olympics and China's organ-harvesting shame

OPINION: Democracy in disconnect: joining the dots

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Urban environments to human scale / War on the family / How we lost the Cold War

Chickens coming home to roost (letter)

Obligation to tackle global warming (letter)

Farmers and carbon tax (letter)

Railway opportunities beckon (letter)


BOOKS: GOD'S CRUCIBLE: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 570-1215, by David Levering Lewis

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Are violent video games harmless entertainment?

by Kevin Donnelly

News Weekly, June 7, 2008
Unlike literature, video games promote a self-centred, egotistical view of the world, argues Kevin Donnelly.

It's obvious that violent video/computer games are popular and widely used — just look at the sales of the recently released updated version of Grand Theft Auto. Six million copies of it have sold worldwide to the value of $530 million.

Along with games like Star Craft, Duke, Doom and War Craft, Grand Theft Auto is played by thousands of Australian children who spend hours blowing things up, killing people and fighting to come out on top.

Are violent video games bad?

Judged by two of the speakers at a recent Melbourne forum organised by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, called "Did I Really Kill Someone?", parents have little to worry about. Video games, so the argument goes, are worthwhile forms of entertainment.

Games teach eye-hand co-ordination; players learn about decision-making, that actions have consequences; and violent games also allow kids to safely vent their frustration.

Works of art?

Such is the importance of computer games that not only are there tertiary courses dedicated to the subject, but supporters argue that games should be treated as works of art.

Critics are told to get with the 21st century — video games are examples of the new technology and, supposedly, in the same way film, television and the internet were first criticised and then accepted, video games will also be embraced.

Academics such as Catherine Beavis, at Deakin University, and groups such as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, go as far as arguing that computer games should be taught in the classroom.

Reading print, so we are told, is obsolete as we now live in the digital age where multi-modal texts — videos, computer games and blogs — reign supreme.

Who needs to read great writers such as Jane Austen, William Wordsworth or David Malouf when Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia are at one's fingertips and only seconds away?

If it were only that simple.

As argued by the American Psychological Association, the reality is that violent video games are dangerous. Research suggests that games promote aggressive behaviour and make violence more acceptable.

Just consider what such games involve. The American Psychological Association says they "reward players for killing innocent bystanders, police and prostitutes, using a wide range of weapons including guns, knives, flame-throwers, swords, baseball bats, cars, hands and feet".

Games such as Duke, Doom and Grand Theft Auto, with their gruesome, violent and bloodthirsty graphics, de-sensitise players. How many headless corpses, blood-soaked rooms and broken limbs do children have to experience before they are affected?

As well as the violence, video games are anti-educational. As teachers well know, children addicted to computer games, based as they are on violent graphics, loud music and immediate satisfaction, lack the concentration and patience needed to study.

Playing games also takes valuable time away from other activities. It's no secret that many children are overweight as physical activity is not a priority. How many calories are burned up sitting for hours in front of a games console? Not many.

Every hour caught up in a virtual world of death and mayhem also takes time away from experiencing the world of literature, especially those classic myths, fables and legends so necessary for a child's development and well-being.

As argued by the American psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, reading to children not only shows a parent's love, but violent stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk teach about resilience and how to overcome grief and adversity.

Literature also shows that not everything can be condensed into a segmented game sequence — reading requires discipline, patience and often postponing immediate satisfaction as you are led through an imaginative world that takes hours to traverse.

Unlike literature, where you are drawn into and empathise with the lives, thoughts and feelings of others, video games promote a self-centred, egotistical view of the world where you dictate what does or does not happen.

Boys, in particular, are drawn to violent video games as they are in control and violence offers an easy and immediate solution. Taking on the persona of the central character, they dictate events, overcome obstacles and solve problems.

Literature is also essentially ethical in nature; readers learn about right and wrong, and the consequences of good and bad actions.

Compare this with video games, where the prime motive is to outsell competitors and to make a profit.

— Dr Kevin Donnelly is an education consultant who spoke at the Melbourne forum on violent video games held on May 15. This article is from the Herald Sun (Melbourne), May 19, 2008.

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