July 27, 2021

Video Games – Risks and Safety Issues for Teens

Gaming is the general term used to describe the interactive use of computers and interactive technologies to solve problems. In its most broad sense, gaming means playing computer or video games (or both) for entertainment, relaxation, or other nonschooling purposes. A computer game or computer gaming is an electronic computer game that entails interaction with an external user interface or input device — for example, a mouse, joystick, keyboard, or infrared motion sensor device — to generate virtual visual feedback. Video games are usually packaged with other computer programs such as internet and application software.

In addition, gaming involves social interaction through group interaction, which is commonly called “matchmaking.” For example, an online multiplayer gaming environment may allow a player to compete with other players who have chosen to participate in the game; the goal is to eliminate all opponents until one team is left. Online “friends” can also help players learn more about game strategies and how to work with other players within a multiplayer environment.

The proliferation of “immersive Gaming Systems” — consoles that offer entirely new digital worlds based on characters seen in a TV program, film, or other medium — has led to serious concerns about the effect gaming may be having on children and young adults. For instance, nearly one in three children (nearly half) play video games that require the active involvement of the operator or user of the system. This means that playing any type of interactive game with anyone else, especially young children, can have significant implications for a young person’s attitudes and values. There have been efforts to address this issue on multiple fronts, including attempts by Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to institute consumer protection laws and time limits on the amount of time that operators of these interactive systems should spend in interacting with players and encouraging parents and guardians to restrict the hours their children spend in gaming platforms.

Unfortunately, the efforts to protect young adults from harm by regulating the amount of time they spend in online gaming platforms and preventing unsupervised, unprotected play have fallen flat. Despite promises by game developers and marketers that all players are protected by proper safety settings and that unsupervised gaming can yield positive benefits for young people (including increased mental stimulation and improved spatial skills), the reality is that thousands of gamers are still being harmed each year. In a paper published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Associations, a group of researchers detailed a disturbing case in which a seven-year-old was badly injured after playing too long at a popular online gaming site. The boy sustained a compound fracture of his left femoral artery, which resulted in paralysis of his leg. The researchers recommended that parents never allow their children to play unsupervised on video gaming sites.

While there is no real way to ensure that children will not be harmed when they are left to their own devices to engage in extended periods of time in an online gaming environment, there are measures parents and guardians can take to reduce the risk of injury. One of the best measures is to ensure that safety settings are set up in games that are intended for children, and that those features are always enabled. Children should also be instructed on how to use safety controls on personal computer machines, and they should be taught how to read the instructions on gaming equipment before playing.

Another area that is fraught with danger for video gamers is excessive noise, as the slightest sound from a game console or from a neighbor’s stereo system can result in headaches, earaches and dizziness in younger users. This problem is particularly common among younger boys and girls who often play together with friends and with the volume turned up very loud. Since the development of surround-sound gaming consoles, manufacturers have tried to limit this risk by designing headsets that produce a lower volume and by providing speakers so that players can hear each other more clearly. Unfortunately, the consequences of this type of headphone were shown again in a recent case in which a young woman died in a Texas nursing home following a 10-hour session of playing her video games, while her family was in a break room to listen to her play.