Teens addicted to violent video games will be stunted emotionally and far less likely to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong in later life, a study has claimed.
The warning is made in detailed research into the impact of the popular entertainment genre, which has grown into a multibillion-euro industry in the past two decades.
The study by Canadian college Brock University, published in peer review journal Educational Media International, found long-term use of general video games has no noticeable effect on a person’s development.
However, games which ask the player to kill, maim, decapitate, torture, and otherwise inflict harm on another “human” player — which are among the most popular with young teens despite most having over-18s certificates — can cause serious damage to how a child grows.
The study team examined the gameplay habits of 109 boys and girls aged 13 and 14.
Of this group, 88% said they regularly play video games, while more than half confirmed they played at least once a day.
The same teens were then asked to fill in a survey which included questions on how important it is to save the life of a friend, to gauge their mental and moral development.
Previous psychological studies suggest a person goes through four stages of development before they reach adulthood, with the third stage — empathy and an ability to see an issue from someone else’s view — taking place by the time they are 14 years old.
However, the study team said that, among the teens who said they play violent computer games every day for three hours or more, this stage had not been reached.
While stopping short of looking for an outright ban on teens playing the games, lead researcher Mirjana Bajovic said the situation must be addressed as it stunts teens’ “moral compass” development, delays their sense of empathy towards other people, and makes it far more difficult for them to trust others in later life.
“Spending too much time within the virtual world of violence may prevent gamers from getting involved in different, positive social experiences in real life, and in developing a positive sense of what is right and wrong,” said Ms Bajovic.
“Exposure to violence in video games may influence the development of moral reasoning because violence is not only presented as acceptable but is also justified and rewarded.”
Ms Bajovic said banning the games “is not realistic”, and instead urged parents and teachers to discuss “what’s right and wrong within the stories depicted in video games” — regardless of whether or not teens are happy to talk about it.
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