Kids hooked to violent video games is a situation that needs to be addressed with utmost sensitivity

Eleven-year-old Vipul Keshwali is a game freak. He is readying himself for a round of counter strike, his favourite video game. He twists and turns in his seat, his eyes hooked to the screen. The game centred on a war zone gives Vipul an adrenaline rush when he ‘shoots' and ‘stabs' the terrorists. Seated next to him is his friend Vibhor, who joins him in the game. Both of them excitedly kill each others' players and give each other a high-five.

A recent survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) revealed that 75 per cent kids of the metropolises between the ages of 5 and 17 years are exposed to violent video games that make them more aggressive and emotionally weak. The survey conducted among 1000 teenagers and parents in the major cities also said that 66 per cent of the kids played alone, 32 per cent play in the presence of other people and less than two per cent play online games at least once a week.

Rajiv Sharma, a child psychologist who runs A Beautiful Mind Clinic at Janakpuri, points out, ““Video games are a hit among the kids as they get to do things that they could not do otherwise in real life. They get reward points when they defeat and kill the enemy players. Children who are generally very impulsive in nature take it as an encouragement and continue to live in the fantasy world created by such games.”

Here the spotlight falls on the role of parents. Sharma, who also does parents' counselling explains, “Parents' role in curbing the mess is crucial. They should understand that quantity and quality, both are important when it comes to spending time with the kids.”

Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry. Games such as Gears of War, Dead Space, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Modern Warfare that have high violence content (rated ‘M' i.e. Mature by ESRB- Entertainment Software Rating Board) are released every day. Though these games carry age restrictions they are rarely adhered to.

Vikas Singal, child psychiatrist at Maharaja Agrasen Hospital in Punjabi Bagh has an interesting point to make. He says, “In metros there are few grounds left for children to go out and play. Urban parents usually prefer their kids to stay inside and the latter are left with no option but to play video games. They fail to inculcate social skills in their kids.”

Sreeprakash Neelakantan, Managing Director, Schogini Systems, aims at providing intelligent gaming experience to kids. Instead of banking on the success of violent games, the Trivandrum-based mobile application developer chooses to be different. Neelakantan got this idea after observing his seven-year-old grandson. He feels that there is a digital divide that exists within the family that needs to be addressed. The company is into creating interactive and educational mobile applications and has re-introduced intelligent games like chess and khet into the sphere.

Another vexed question is do children get more aggressive by watching violent video games or are the children who already have a hot temperament attracted to them? Sharma explains, “There are two categories of children who get lured to such games. First, children who are very aggressive believe that they won't get what they want unless they create tension. The second lot is the kids who are shy, anxious and fearful. They take the help of these games to be violent or assertive which they can't be in their real lives. The environment at home also plays a dominant role in their affiliation towards violence. If a child comes from a broken family, he would want a space to vent his anger.”