By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
VERONA – Solomon Dilworth said his teacher’s challenge “made me insane.”
All the 8-year-old was asked to do was to quit playing violent video games during February. He wasn’t the only one who struggled with that request.
Verona Elementary School character education teacher Jessie Gilmore told all of her third- and fourth-grade students to consider giving up violent video games during the month. Yet of about 160 students, only four agreed to try. And none claimed to have an easy time.
“Violent video games are fun,” said fourth-grader Marshad Chandler, 10, who gave up an entire recess period one day to talk with Gilmore about his difficulty.
“I was amazed at the struggle that came out of this,” Gilmore said.
Her experience raises a question of how ingrained such games have become in today’s culture.
“Video games, and violent video games, are a normative part of child development at this point,” said Christopher Ferguson, department chair of psychology and communication at Texas A&M International University and a national expert on the issue of violent media. “Trying to find a boy who doesn’t play violent video games is almost impossible at this point, and that is not a bad thing.”
Kevin Williams, an associate professor in the department of communication at Mississippi State University, has been publishing research on video games since 2005. He said the industry is a huge one. Video games make more money than movies, he said, and are not going away any time soon.
“My impression is of course they love to play video games,” Williams said. “It is the same as drinking Coca-Cola and eating pizzas was to you and me. It is something teenage boys do heavily. It is part of the culture.”
Gilmore said the idea was to build upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and Black History Month. She wanted to bring home King’s lessons on non-violence and to make students reflect upon them in a new way.
“They are very familiar with his teaching on non-violence,” Gilmore said. “I don’t think they connect with it.
“This is where they are. I’d say let’s do a parade, a march or a re-enactment, but that is not where they are when it relates to non-violence and peace. I’m trying to be where they are and show them what a difference it makes.”
The students could still play non-violent video games, but those interviewed said the violent ones are more fun. They said they liked being able to do things on the games like shoot, steal cars, throw grenades and punch people.
“It is fun,” said Jay Melton, 10. “It is something you can do when you’re bored.”
In a lot of cases, violent video games have been the most popular ones, Williams said.
“The story line is probably better and the actions are probably better,” he said.
Plus, he said, there is often an appeal for younger kids to play those games that are meant for older ones.
Solomon said he sometimes tries to release his energy from not playing the video games by jumping up and down. Whenever he travels through his living room, where the games are located, he runs so that he is not tempted to play.
“Not playing them makes me very sad,” he said.
His mother, Reshemuah Dilworth, said her son has also found other activities to occupy him, including reading a book about President Barack Obama.
“I think it was really good, as far as motivating him to want to learn something other than consuming all of his time with video games,” she said.
The parents of all four students said they appreciated Gilmore’s exercise and want their children continue to play fewer such games in the future.
“I really try to keep him off those games because there is so much violence in them,” said Markisha Walker, whose son, Dailin Cooperwood, 8, also agreed to the challenge.
DEBATE ON EFFECTS
There is much debate about the impact of violent games. Ferguson said data does not show they harm children in any way. He compared the fear people have about them to past concerns abut comic books and even rock ’n’ roll music.
“People tend to be afraid of violent video games until they play one,” he said.
Williams said he does not have any concern about short-term effects. His research indicates someone is not likely to go out and hurt someone immediately after playing such a game.
“Where I start having problems is if the industry continues to increase the intensity of that violence, where does that head long term for us,” he said. “Are we becoming more accepting of violence because things keep getting more and more violent?”
Gilmore said she thinks the effect may be from what the game replaces.
“I don’t know if it increases violence or just takes time away from other things,” she said. “If kids are playing games, they are not reading.”
However, Ferguson notes, trying to get children interested in reading is not a new challenge.