“…there maybe great value in understanding video games as something children choose to do rather than something done to them.”
This idea, grounded in self-determination theory, is how Chris Ferguson and Cheryl Olsen (co-writer of Grand Theft Childhood) decided to explore why children play video games in general, and why some decide to play violent video games. Their goal, more specifically, was to determine whether the stress of a lack of autonomy (as adults control their lives) and social interactions drive game playing motivations.
The authors surveyed 1254 students in grades 7 and 8 across a number of mid-Atlantic US schools on the games they played, their motivations, who they played them with and their parents’ role. What they found were some enlightening results.
Of the children that played games, 91.5% reported playing games with friends, demonstrating the social nature of gaming. In addition, kids played games to relax and resume control over their lives; factors that adults use when deciding whether to play games. Violent games were played more by boys, and they preferred them under situations requiring greater cathartic release. In general, these data demonstrate that kids are drawn to playing games because of the benefits gaming has to them specifically.
Most interstingly, the children that demonstrated clinically higher levels of mental illnesses (depression or ADHD) did not tend to play violent games more, even though they preferred to play games due to greater stresses.
These data, however, were collected prior to the ubiquity of portable and touch style gaming, as well as social media platforms. As the authors state, it would be interesting to see how attitudes have changed with the addition of new media.
Ferguson, C. J. and Olson, C. K. 2013. Friends, fun, frustration and fantasy: Child motivations for video game play. Motivation & Emotion 37: 154-164.
You can download the pdf here.