Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance

Last night I found myself watching Jo Frost: Extreme Parental Guidance. I was with friends who have two little boys; two little boys who had Santa bring them a PlayStation 3 for Christmas so it was actually interesting to see how this was going to go down.

On this occasion Jo just so happened to be using video games to research the effect that they have on a child’s behaviour. Within minutes of hearing the explanation I already knew what the conclusion was going to be – video games create violent monsters that will mug you and piss on your pet hamster.

Okay, so maybe not that drastic but it certainly didn’t sing the praises of video games.

With the assistance of Dr. Gentile from Iowa State University, Jo took 40 boys, divided them into two groups of 20 and sat them down with a video game. One half were playing a “non-violent” football game and the other half played a “violent” first person shooter. Both groups of boys played for the same amount of time – 20 minutes.

Afterwards they were sat down and showed some violent news coverage; by this I mean coverage of violent events, not that the presenters were weilding machetes and shouting the latest story about the MP’s expense scandal! Heart rates were monitored and those who had played the FPS were found to have slower heart rates than those who had played the football game.

Jo watched the monitor displaying these results and after an oscar-worthy performance which fell short of her putting the back of her hand against her forehead and fainting, a voice over cried:

Shockingly, just 20 minutes of violent gameplay was enough to de-sensitise the boys

Really? My statement would have read something like: “Shockingly, we’re supposed to believe this nonsense.” Now I’m not doubting Jo Frost’s expertise in childcare, in fact I think she makes sense most of the time, but I do doubt the nature of these tests and how a conclusion can be found when nothing else was taken into consideration.

Empathy was the subject of Jo’s and Dr. Gentile’s next test and it consisted of a small room, an interview and a tub of pencils. Each child was quizzed by Dr. Gentile and during this session he deliberately knocked pencils off of the desk to see which children reacted empathetically. According to the programme 80% of those who played the football game showed empathy to this rather bizarre situation, compared to only 40% of those who had played the FPS.

I’m not doubting the figures but here’s where some clever editing came in. They showed 1 FPS player having no response, 1 FPS player who showed a delayed response and 1 football-game player who had an immediate response. They didn’t show other FPS players that may have had an immediate reaction and they never showed other football-game players that had no reaction. It seemed too biased for my liking.

But, as mentioned above, apparently nothing else was taken into consideration when conducting these tests. As far as we could see, they didn’t investigate the children’s home lives, the children’s normal behaviour or the children’s hobbies or interests; all of which can have an effect on the individual’s personatility.

20 minutes of gameplay in exam-style conditions aren’t sufficient to conclusively say that violent video games are the cause of a lack of empathy within a child or that violent video games desensitise a child to real-life violence.

A bunch of pencils being knocked off a table is hardly a situation that would incite empathy in anyone. In fact, how many of you would laugh and make a sarcastic comment if you noticed a friend knocking over some pencils? How about seeing the kids’ reactions when faced with a situation whereby someone had been injured, surely that type of scenario would more accurately measure someone’s empathy?

Maybe it’s just me but in my humble opinion the programme smacked of lazy investigation techniques in order to make a bold statement for the first episode of Jo Frost’s new series. Scare mongering tactics are too easy and I’m getting sick of them – a violent FPS will have an age rating and 9/10 physical retailers will uphold those ratings.

Online stores need a payment method which only someone of age would be able to provide and therefore if an underage child is playing a violent FPS it’s because they have managed to get it from someone older. Why doesn’t someone come along and say what, we as gamers, and some as gamers and parents, already know?

Yes there are violent games, scary games and gory games and yes some children will be susceptible to negative effects if exposed to them for prolonged periods of time, however, they aren’t designed for kids, they aren’t sold to kids and therefore it is the responsibility of the parent or guardian to control that exposure.

Violent games are rated for a reason.

This article is an opinion piece and may not represent the opinions of TheSixthAxis.