OTHERS

Violence to relieve stress

"Looking for some stress relief?"

At last! An executive stress toy that understands your needs.

"Do you want to beat senseless employee or a colleague?"

"Wait. Don't answer ... I know that you are going to say ..."

"Of course but I would go to jail."

"Well what if I were to offer you a Totally Legal Alternative?"

"Here it is ... for your whippin pleasure."

Have Fun."

THE screen zooms onto a tired looking sad face that comes out with excuses like: "I was not sleeping. I was visualising my goal ... Wham, bham, slung, thunk, ouch, ouch ... Or is a raise out of the question? Answer. Bam, thew, slap, thump ..." This is "Whip the Worker" a perfectly "legal" game doing the rounds of executive and home networks on the computer and produced by angel.net. It is being promoted as a stress buster for young executives working in high pressure jobs.

The "Whip" is a human punching bag and can be hit senseless repeatedly to rid you of your frustrations. But hang on. Are you really getting rid of them or adding on to your aggression?

With more and more people, especially children, accessing the Net, computer games have suddenly become a part of life. All are based on virtual reality with most tending to border on violence. Earlier, if parents were apprehensive about the effect violent films had on children, today they are more worried about the effects that such games may have on their children.

Initially, these were just fears, but new research seems to point in the direction of confirming that computer games are directly linked to causing more and more aggression in children and young adults.

Violent computer games - "Doom", "Quake", "Wolfenstien 3D" or "Myst" - have drawn flak. In fact "Doom" is a video game licensed by the American military to train soldiers to kill. Children as young as eight are able to access such games where the aim is to be able to kill your way to your goal. Some of the graphics are so real that some children reported a feeling of nausea after being exposed to the blood and gore on screen. Children exposed to games with violent themes have shown that they become markedly more aggressive.

According to John Colwell of Middlesex University, who has carried out the research, aggression in children, especially boys, increases with continued exposure to violent games.

So what do teachers and parents do?

According to a primary school teacher in Delhi, there is no purpose in having such games, which "teach you nothing about team spirit. It is only killing".

"I do not know about violence, but I do think that children get de-sensitised by the time they grow older. I would rather they grew up on a diet of Harry Potter than computer games."

While a cross-section of teachers in schools would seem to agree with this view, there are a few people who feel that games should not be taken seriously. According to Navin Singh, a young executive, who claims to have "played every single game" including "Whip" and "Worker", "I think too much is being read into all this. I would find a game like "Whip" funny. It is like reading Dilbert - you make it into a farce, seeing the funny side of things. I do not think we should take ourselves too seriously."

Even if violence was a "funny" thing to some, research suggests otherwise. According to Mark Griffiths at Nottingham's Trent University, who specialises in computer abuse and addiction, children between the ages of four and eight, allowed to play games with content that could be violent showed a dramatically higher level of aggression. Yet another study in America, suggests that games with interactive violence raises aggression levels faster than watching violent films on television. The two boys involved in the shoot-out at a high school in Colorado last year, were found to be fans of "Doom".

Colwell's research lends support to the growing suspicion that virtual violence could be a factor behind the surge in crimes of aggression involving young people.

According to Ashima Kadyan, former executive with Star TV and Discovery Channel, "Most computer games are based on killing. They are not soothing games and the attitude of children playing them is very aggressive. I think the games teach you to use force and violence. It is like giving a child a gun and asking him to shoot his way to success. The more you score by killing, the higher your points. What are you teaching the child? Virtual violence. Nothing else."

And if "Whip the Worker", "Doom", "Quake" and "Wolfenstein 3D" are not bad enough, there is a new executive game, which even children can download, and in which you are handed over a stockpile of deadly arsenal. The aim: to blast out at any proposal you do not like. The motive: to help ease stress. The outcome: violence and aggression?

SUCHITRA BEHAL

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