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Pendar Vatanian, Co-founder of MindYourFootprint CIC

We all agree with Nelson Mandela’s quote “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

But education has its own challenges. As Benjamin Franklin has quite beautifully said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

So the real challenge is how to engage children properly so they learn what we intend to teach them.

There are number of mediums which can be used in education directly or indirectly. Video game is one of the most popular and engaging ones we know. But the issue is whether video games are ethical or not. Both children and adults learn many things from video games. Some are beneficial while others are believed to be immoral. Some players and developers argue that video games are better at teaching logic and problem solving skills than many school curriculums. While others say that video games teach people to become more violent due to the violence in the game. There are different types of video games and not all of them teach children to become violent. Such as puzzle and problem solving games, adventure games, strategic games. Each game requires different types of skill and improves some skills. For example, adventure games tend to teach logic because players have to discover where to go and what to do at what point in time in order to progress to the next level. A puzzle game will teach problem solving skills to those engaged in it, so playing and solving puzzles is one way to enhance this type of skill. 

Unfortunately currently violence (war) games are one of the most popular categories in video games.

Researches show playing violent video games may increase a player’s aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior not only in virtual world but also in real life. Violence in video games may be even more harmful than violence in films and television due to their interactive nature. For the very same reason, they provide a foundation for learning through aggressive conflict resolutions. In a short-term playing these games may create aggressive thoughts and in the long-term the player may learn and practice new aggressive techniques in real-life conflict situations.

Even some say that violent video games were a major cause of some of the high school shootings in US.

As video games are becoming more and more realistic, the violent video games and their availability have raised concern among many.

But video games can have positive effects as well. Another study shows the learning is much deep. Children can learn problem solving and strategic thinking by playing video games. They learn collaboration and leadership skills. They make ethical and moral decisions throughout the game. Depending on what they decide and act good or bad, they see the result of each of the decisions they make and learn to deal with the consequences.

Ratings and issues:

There are rating systems available for rating video games.

In the United States, the current rating system is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). And in the UK and other European countries Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) system is in place. However the issue is the accuracy of the ratings. In a study, researchers took a random sample of video games and learned not all the games are consistent with the content descriptors assigned to the games. Based on their findings, rating system needs to be improved and more accurate description is required for the content of the games.

The other important issue is that many parents don’t pay enough attention to the ratings and let their children play inappropriate games!

Some examples:

There are games out there that player literally can do anything that he cannot do in real life unless he wants to go to jail. A classic example is Grand Theft Auto (GTA). The player is placed into the role of a drug dealer. There is no restriction on player’s actions in GTA. For example, the player can steal cars, rob stores, run over pedestrians, shoot and kill anyone in the game, pick up prostitutes and even get scores from their services! 

A different example is Peace Maker; a game designed by former Israeli officer and is pitched as "a video game to promote peace". The game challenges you to succeed as a leader where others have failed. It gives you the opportunity to try and see if you can bring peace to the Middle East or continue the war.

Is it Legal?

There have been several attempts to make it illegal to sell violent video games to children but they most failed mainly because the industry is making lots of money.

According to the Supreme Court of the United States ban on selling video games to children is violence of First Amendment right to free speech!

Final Words:

It’s true that children learn when they are properly engaged. Video games are engaging mediums however engaging in video games do raise ethical concerns.

Sensitive content, such as violence, is not suitable for children and should not be available to them. Violent video games teach children concepts that are not intended to be for them. Therefore more strict policies and regulations should be in place to prevent such content being available for children. It’s our responsibility to ask for it where there is a lack of such.

We also need to question the rating systems and ask for more accurate ones so the system becomes mistake proof.

But more importantly we need to change the values and trends in a way that game developers don’t consider educational and ethical games boring.  And we need to develop ethical video games that can compete with current popular violent games.

We of course need to make the education system more interesting and engaging so children learn what they are supposed to learn.

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” - Mahatma Gandhi