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Video Games and TV: Do They Make Kids Smarter?

An author makes a case that popular culture is beneficial for the mind.

A Call for More Imagination Time

In Home Court Advantage, Leman calls for more creativity and downtime over video games and television shows. "This is what is missing -- the time for kids to use their imagination," he says. "Kids today cocoon at age 7 or 8, they sit in front of their computers and they log on and talk to their buddies."

Leman believes that "benign old video like Centipede and Pacman were pretty innocuous and entertaining; we are now blowing people up and shooting semi-automatic and automatic weapons."

"There is a difference between being appropriately entertained with something that's benign and something that is violent," says Leman.

A new study in the Journal of Personality adds some weight to the claim that violent video games can increase aggression. The study of more than 200 college students found that those who had played more violent video games as teenagers reported engaging in more aggressive behavior.

Of Violence and Video Games

Johnson tells WebMD that he believes "there is very little correlation between fictional violence and real-world violence."

According to Johnson, "The television shows and video games have never been more violent -- at least in terms of the specific bloodshed and gore that they show. And yet we've just experienced the single most dramatic drop in violent crime in U.S. history."

Johnson adds, "perhaps we should be wondering if violent games 'reduce' violent crime, by letting people vent their violent feelings in a virtual environment, and not in the real world."

In his book, Johnson points out that ultraviolent games are the exception, not the rule. "If you look at the bestseller lists month after month, you'll find that the great majority of the games are nonviolent, whether they're simulation games like The Sims (the most popular of all time), or sports games, or Dungeons and Dragons-like quest games," he says. "Grand Theft Auto got a huge amount of coverage for its violent content, but it was an anomaly and most parents out there simply aren't aware of that."

Evaluating Video Games for Kids

In Grand Theft Auto, the player takes on the role of criminal and typically rises in the ranks of organized crime over the course of the game. Scenarios may include bank robberies, assassinations, and gang warfare.

Parents should "evaluate the shows and games not just in terms of violence or obscenity, but in terms of the mental engagement that they require," he says.

Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Robert Butterworth, PhD, agrees. "Boys need to slay dragons and play games with action figures of cowboys and Indians," he says. "They need to be in a fantasy where they are conquering heroes; suppressing this may have long-term effects that may not be good."

Butterworth tells WebMD that his 20-year-old son, now a vegetarian and a student at the University of California at Berkley, was an avid video game player. "He is a cool kid, an athlete and doesn't get into trouble." So there!

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