The popularity of the several Nintendo game systems that were released in the 1990s had profound effects on my creative mind. I used to draw pictures of superheroes fighting villains and dinosaurs attacking cities whenever TV seemed unappealing. These ideas I used for my doodles were mostly a result of the amount of Nintendo 64 I played at a young age. Games like Star Fox, Rampage, and Super Smash Brothers, as their titles may suggest, are packed with colorful and unique characters and environments that would captivate any seven-year-old American boy. My relationship with these games was so intimate that I began drawing pictures of my favorite characters at school and eventually in my room while doing homework. Consistently practicing my artwork every day (out of sheer enjoyment, I might add) so that I could draw the characters just right, my skills developed to a point where I could draw Donkey Kong, Star Fox, and Mario better than the the older kids.
As a result of this newly developed talent, doodling became a hobby in which I indulged whenever I was not watching TV or playing video games. I’m still pretty good at drawing Spider-man and Medieval Dragons, and I owe this to Nintendo. Countless hours of flying through space and battling giant turtles inspired me to start drawing and opened my creative mind. In my last two Archives of Childhood, I’ve asserted the importance parents taking the time to observe what electronic media their kids are indulging in and then determining how often they should indulge. Now, I have proved how important it is for parents to think about the positive effects of at least some exposure to video games. Some children may have creativity hidden within them, and video games may help bring them out.
A recent article from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service suggests that environmental aspects like excessive television and video game exposure may have great influence on the impulsivity and attention abilities of children. The article describes a study in which researchers observed the gaming habits of 3,000 children from a dozen schools in Singapore, aging from 8 to 17 . The study revealed that the effects of video games were both positive and negative. Video games may help with visual memory and attention, but they could diminish a child’s potential to complete goal-oriented tasks that require long term commitments. This is because, researchers suggest, the excitement of gaming might make other activities seem more mundane than they actually are. A young boy who has a passion for Mortal Combat or Call of Duty would likely skim through his nightly reading assignments, if he bothers to read them at all, as long as he can lose himself in the wonderful world of gaming at least once before bedtime. The effects of this indulgence, as revealed by the study, increase the likelihood of impulsiveness and attention disorders.
A drawing used in an article about a video game addiction lawsuit. If children are constantly doing this instead of socializing, they are likely to suffer consequences.
This article is not suggesting that children who play video games are automatically impulsive and require medication if they want to make anything close to the grades their parents expect from them. Referring to what was mentioned in one of our class discussions, parents should not destroy the intimate connection between electronic media and modern children because of the social consequences. Sure, too much gaming may be a direct cause of impulsive children, but how would a boy be able to socialize with his friends by discussing the latest Xbox 360 game if his parents stripped gaming from him completely? Believe me, being the middle child of five, television and video games are a huge topic in daily conversations among kids six and up. TV and video games are too engrained in our culture to keep children away from them. Even if a huge portion of the country’s parents succeeded in shutting out their children from electronic media, the social consequences for those children would have drastic effects on their self-esteem and social skills. Parents should make it a top priority to regulate the amount of gaming and TV watching done by children in their household. Before they force medication onto their children, parents must be sure they have attempted to deal with the biological and environmental influences on a child’s impulsivity and attention abilities.
In an article originally appearing on HealthDay, Mary Marcus describes a surprising study on the Nintendo Wii and the effects it has on children being active. Despite the Nintendo Wii commonly being thought of as a healthy alternative to child video gaming, the study conducted by Dr. Tom Baranowski suggests this may not be the case.
Conducted by Dr. Baranowski of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, the study tracked the daily movements of 78 children who were given Nintendo Wiis by having them wear motion detector belts. Half of the children chose an “active” game, one that simulated dancing, boxing, etc., and the other half picked from “inactive” games, like Mario Kart Wii. After six weeks, the children were allowed to select a new game.
Dr. Baranowski expected that there would be an increase in physical activity from the children who were playing the “active” games at the beginning of the study, and then again at the midway point when the children were given a new game to play. But in contrast to his hyptothesis, Dr. Baranowski found, “there was no difference in the level of the activity between the treatment and control groups. What we detected at baseline, before playing active video games, was exactly the same in weeks one, six, seven and 12.” The results led the authors of the study to the conclusion that either the children were not playing the “active” games at the anticipated intensity level, or the children were compensating their expended energy by being less active throughout the day.
I believe that the findings of this study contradict the image of the Wii which Nintendo has created, one of fostering healthy and physically fit video game play for children. This puts the Wii in violation of the self-regulatory guidelines created in 2001 by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus which states that toy advertising must be truthful, as described by Howard Chudacoff in “The Commercialization and Co-optation of Children’s Play” (packet page 179).
Recently an article was written about how some of the most popular video games that we know today need to “take a vacation”. Ben Silverman wrote in Yahoo! Games that game publishers year after year produce new versions of their games to milk out every dollar from their consumers that they can. Games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and The Sims are two of the five franchises that are recommended to take a break and cool it for a while. Each game is praised for its popularity and lovability, but criticized on the fact that all the repetition is dull and overkill. As I read this, I started comparing children today and children that lived less than a hundred years ago. In the article “I’m Bored: The Two Faces of Entertainment”, Stearns (1-29), the author argues that children, over time, started becoming bored more easily and parents increasingly felt the need to entertain their children. It’s pretty crazy to think that pre World War II, children were left to roam their neighborhoods freely and had to rely on themselves to find entertainment. Kids had to use their imaginations to create characters and games. Now, youth in America is shown, from an extremely young age, the possibilities they have with technology. One stereotype of little boys in today’s society is the one who is glued to his video games and doesn’t ever see the light of day, contrasting with how little kids should be out and active all day. Now, not only do kids have access to video games, but there are literally thousands and thousands of options, all with just the slightest changes. This article is supposed to simply criticize certain video games for their overkill, but when you look at it in the context of comparing it to our youth today and the youth we’ve been studying in class, it makes you think about how extreme and sometimes ridiculous entertainment is today.
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.