THE NEXT LEVEL OF RESEARCH ON ELE...
An Interdisciplinary Journal on Humans in ICT Environments ISSN: 1795-6889 www.humantechnology.jyu.fi Volume 1 (1), April 2005, 5-22 THE NEXT LEVEL OF RESEARCH ON ELECTRONIC PLAY: POTENTIAL BENEFITS AND CONTEXTUAL INFLUENCES FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS Abstract: Most research on electronic play has focused on its possible negative effects for children and adolescents, and contextual factors such as socioeconomic status (SES) and culture are rarely considered. This article considers the potential benefits of electronic play from a psychological perspective, as well as individual and contextual factors that may shape the influence of electronic play for children and adolescents. Demographics of players and the games themselves are presented, and recommendations for research and policy are discussed. Keywords: child development, context, culture, electronic play, video games. INTRODUCTION Electronic games are a relatively new form of media���but they have already established themselves as an everyday phenomenon for the children who play them extensively around the world. Computer and video games have received increasing attention over the past few decades, from players and professionals alike. The first computer and video games were invented in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, and their growing prevalence, first in arcades and then in homes throughout the industrialized world, began in the late 1970s (Kent, 2001). The first game that was considered to be controversial, Death Race, was published as an arcade game by Exidy in 1976 (Gonzalez, 2004). Computer and video games, and their possible effects on players, have been studied in many fields of scientific literature, with areas of focus including whether games with violent content increase aggression or violence (Anderson & Ford, 1986 Cooper & Mackie, 1986 Funk et al., 2002 Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004 Sherry, 2001) whether these games lead to desensitization (Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004), real aggression, or violence the physiological responses to playing computer and video games (van Reekum et al., 2004) addiction (Phillips, Rolls, Rouse, & Griffiths, 1995 Salguero & Moran, 2002) and the use and efficacy of computer and video game ratings (Haninger & Thompson, 2004). �� 2005 Dorothy E. Salonius-Pasternak and the Agora Center, University of Jyv��skyl�� URN:NBN:fi:jyu-2005123 Dorothy E. Salonius-Pasternak Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media,USA
Salonius-Pasternak 6 So far, most of the research on computer and video games has focused on possible negative influences and the evaluation of policy designed to minimize risk to children and adolescents. While computer and video games have been a source of concern, they also have the potential to have positive influences on development. In addition to their recently proven effects on improving aspects of visual attention and perceptual-motor skills (Green & Bavelier, 2003), some researchers have begun to explore the possible influences of computer and video games on cognitive skills and development and the possible therapeutic or prosocial effects of computer and video games (Anderson & Bushman, 2001 Chambers & Ascione, 1987 Griffiths, 2003, 2004 Wiegman & van Schie, 1998). In addition, the importance of studying computer and video games as a form of play (Cassell & Jenkins, 1998 Gelfond & Salonius- Pasternak, in press Goldstein, 2000 Penny Arcade, 2002 Scarlett, Naudeau, Ponte, & Salonius-Pasternak, 2004) and as educational tools (Din & Calao, 2001 Fontana & Beckerman, 2004 Kafai, 1995 Kankaanranta & Nousiainen, 2004 Merchant, 2004 Yelland & Lloyd, 2001) has been raised. Electronic play is the first qualitatively different form of play that has been introduced in at least several hundred years, and because of its differences, it merits an especially careful examination of its role in the lives of children and adolescents. With most forms of play media, the essence of the game exists in the interactions between the players and the physical media���blocks, sticks, dolls, pinecones, paints, and so forth. Unlike most forms of play media, the essence of electronic play exists in the interactions between the players and the distinctly non-tangible potential for a wide range of experiences, in which the physical properties of hardware and software are less the essence of the game and more simply a means of accessing it. Whether we are considering the potential benefits or the possible associated risks of electronic play, we must keep in mind that we are studying a complex phenomenon. This complexity is evidenced by the inconclusive and inconsistent nature of many of the studies that have been conducted so far, as well as by the debates and differing perspectives that exist in this growing field of research. In order to continue our inquiry and expand our understanding, it is important to consider both individual and contextual factors that may play a role in shaping the influences of electronic play on children and adolescents. Almost no computer or video game research to date has considered contextual factors such as socioeconomic status or culture. This article will focus on the possible psychological benefits of electronic play for children and adolescents, as well as individual and contextual factors that may mediate both possible benefits and risks associated with this type of play. The demographics of players and the games themselves are presented, followed by a review of research and theories related to the possible benefits of electronic play. Possible mediating influences of the individual characteristics of contraindication and gender, as well as contextual factors of socioeconomic status and culture, are discussed. Based on this discussion, future directions for research and policy are proposed. DEMOGRAPHICS OF PLAYERS AND GAMES The prevalence and popularity of electronic play provide further reasons for in-depth study. While it is difficult to give exact figures, most studies indicate that the majority of American
Electronic Play 7 school-aged children are playing electronic games���on home computers, console game systems (e.g., Nintendo, PlayStation, X-Box), or both (Annenberg Public Policy Center, 2000 Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002 Walsh, Gentile, Van Overbeke, & Chasco, 2002). This is true for European and Japanese children as well (Beentjes, Koolstra, Marseille, & van der Voort, 2001). A recent study of Finnish children, ages 8- to 10-years-old, showed that their most common use of computers and mobile phones is playing games (Suoranta & Lehtim��ki, 2004). In these industrialized countries, the older a child gets, the more likely the child is to play computer and console games and to play them for longer periods of time. By adolescence, the most common pattern is playing electronic games for half an hour to an hour daily (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002 Phillips et al., 1995). Boys outnumber girls in terms of who is playing computer and console games. This is true throughout the industrialized world. However, the reasons for and implications of this gap are not yet well understood. It may be simply that more games are designed especially for boys (Cassell & Jenkins, 1998). Currently, the most popular types of electronic play are console and hand-held games. Console games are played through a special game console used with a television, for instance, X-box, PlayStation, and the Nintendo Game Cube. Hand-held games are played on Game- Boys, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and mobile phones. However, this division becomes less distinct as the technology supporting each type merges, and as the same games are frequently produced for each type of technology. As for the games themselves, there are several category systems for describing different types of games. No one system has emerged to provide a common language. The following categories are used by game designers, and they incorporate the language often used by the players themselves: Real Time Strategy (RTS), First-Person Shooters (FPS), Empire Builders, Simultations, Role Playing Games (RGP), Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games (MMRPG), Sports, and Puzzles (see Scarlett et al., 2004). Computer and console games played in a stationary setting are what we traditionally think of when we consider electronic play, but electronic play has become increasingly portable��� especially with the advent of Nintendo���s Game Boy, and, more recently, with the inclusion of games that can be played on mobile phones and PDAs. The Nokia N-Gage, a combination mobile phone, FM radio, MP3 player, and game deck with high-resolution graphics, increases the potential even further for mobile game play. Graphics and realism are two elements of computer and video games that make them attractive to players. Sports games not only provide opportunities to play soccer, basketball, or any other sport a player can imagine, they also provide realistic representations of well- known sports arenas, real-life ���color��� commentators (e.g., American football commentator John Madden plays himself in John Madden Football), and all the little gestures that help define a player as being linked to a particular sport (soccer players throwing up their hands when receiving a yellow card, tired-looking basketball players leaning over and gripping the bottoms of their shorts, etc.). This level of detail exists in other types of games as well. Simulation games and RPGs draw children into fantastic worlds that momentarily feel quite real, and they turn children into bona fide city planners, wizards battling evil empires, and a host of other roles that children are eager to try on. It is important to remember that the concept of realism does not refer to the degree to which a game accurately represents real life���in fact, many games that include realism are quite fantastic in their content. Realism describes how real the game feels to its players, how