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Grand Theft Auto IV: The “Violence in Video Games” Debate Continues

April 28, 2008 by

Grand Theft Auto IV is now on store shelves–until it sells out, that is. The wildly popular video game series, which takes the gamer on a rampage of car theft, murder and brutal beatings across a NYC-like landscape, is predicted by many to break all sales records.

Even though GTA is rated “M” for mature, young kids are playing it across the country and around the world. The debut of the GTA:IV is already stirring up controversy–the Chicago Transit Authority pulled down ads for the game last week in response to its violent content.

As a parent, I’ve already started worrying about how video games will affect my five-year-old son. If you Google the topic, you’ll find a million and one opinions, both for and against letting your child play them. I came across a study by the National Institute of Media and the Family that made me sit up and take note, however: their research indicated that “after playing violent video games, people have more aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.” That backs up the work of Dr. Craig Anderson of Iowa State University, one of the foremost authorities on this subject. During an interview he gave to EP last year, he told us that children are particularly prone to being influenced by video games and have been found to exhibit more aggressive tendencies after playing violent video games.

So where does that leave us as parents? Even though you may monitor the games your child plays, dollars to donuts he or she will at some point have access to GTA, Halo and other games at their friends’ houses. (Another problem is that many parents still don’t understand the ratings system for video games and may not have actually played or watched GTA themselves. What that means is that although a lot of people think games like this are harmless, in reality, the M rating indicates that the intended audience is for those 17 and older.)

To get a reading on all of this, I decided to randomly ask parents I know how they handle this in their own homes. There was the “Anything Goes” group, people who let their kids play whatever they want, regardless of ratings. The “Play Responsibly” group said that violent video games are part of the culture, just like movies and music, and that you simply have to be responsible and make sure your child isn’t exposed to them at an inappropriate age. The last group advocated a “No Video Games” policy, and advised me to “Ban video games completely from the home.”

Where do you stand? And if you don’t allow violent video games in your home, how do you monitor your child when they’re at a friend’s house?

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