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Are Violent Video Games Harmful to Young People?

It is 1944. You are an American infantry soldier tasked with rescuing two soldiers with the Allied Forces who have been taken captive. What we are describing is a simulation from the Call of Duty, the first video game of the popular Call of Duty series set during World War II.

According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 37% of Canadians defined themselves as gamers (i.e. those who play regularly) in 2016. This can be compared with 65% of American households that are home to individuals who play video games on a regular basis in 2017. Clearly, these games have a huge market in North America, but the question is what kind of effects do they have on those (especially young people) usually playing these games?

While video games such as Call of Duty and Manhunt have become increasingly popular over the past decade, their rise in popularity has been met with growing concerns regarding their content. Many contemporary video games, such as the Call of Duty series, are known as “first-person shooter games” containing significant violence and, in other cases, even sexual content as well as strong language. For parents of young children who are regularly exposed to the gaming industry, this can be cause of real concern. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics study in 2009, violent video games can increase aggressive behaviour, nightmares, fear of being harmed, and desensitization to violence.

On the other hand, there is recent evidence suggesting that playing video games may not be as harmful to human behaviour as previously believed and may even be beneficial in some ways. A recent study in Germany found that long-term use of violent video games does not have an impact on one’s empathy. However, the researchers admitted that more research is required on the long-term effects of violent video games. Another study led by psychologist Simone Kühn in 2013 found that participants who played Super Mario 64 for thirty minutes a day over a period of two months had growth in parts of the brain that control spatial orientation, memory creation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills. It is important to note that the game used in the study is one that is rated “E” (i.e. Everyone) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board and therefore has minimal to no violence in it.

Given the evidence above, it can be quite difficult for parents to determine whether or not it is okay for their children to be playing many of these games. We have a list of suggestions below that can help.

  • Check the ESRB ratings on the video games and learn what each of them mean (types of ratings include Everyone, Teen, Mature, etc.).

  • Talk to your children about why certain games may not be appropriate for them.

  • Encourage games with less or no violence such as the Super Mario series or No Man's Sky, which are more likely to benefit cognition and are less likely to cause harm.

  • Limit the length of time children play video games (e.g. 30 minutes a day) and encourage them to balance their screen time with active recreational activities.

  • Encourage children to think about how they feel during and after playing these video games.

  • If there appear to be signs of a Video Game Addiction (excessive use of video games that begins to disrupt everyday life) or any prolonged emotional, physiological changes in your child, it is important to consult a health care professional or a registered counsellor.


“2017 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry”. Retrieved from

“Essential Facts 2017” (2016). Retrieved from

“How Video Gaming can be Beneficial for the Brain” (2013). Retrieved from

“Media Violence” (2009). American Academy of Pediatrics 124(5). Retrieved from

“Violent Video Games and Young People” (2010). Retrieved from

“Violent Video Games Found Not to Affect Empathy” (2017). Retrieved from

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