My son wants Call of Duty, but how do these video games impact teen boys?

by Boston Children's Hospital staff on January 8, 2010

Michael RichPost update: Dr. Rich responded to the comments on this post, including whether he got some of the facts about the game wrong. Check out his response.

Media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he discussed junk food ads on kids’ websites.

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: I don’t wish for my teen son to have more “first-person shooter” experiences, and yet all he wants in this world is this Modern Warfare game. All of his friends have it already, and he says he’ll be laughed at and left out if he doesn’t get it. He said these games are so much fun…he gets a real rush. How do these games impact teen boys? Are there any positive impacts? What’s a parent to do?
-Wary of Warfare in Glencoe, IL

A: Dear Wary,

I commend you for questioning and challenging your son’s request. The game he is asking for, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, opens with a scene in which the player—an undercover member of a terrorist group—walks through an airline terminal in Russia. The player earns points by shooting as many tourists as possible, including those who are injured and crawling away.

All video games create behavioral scripts, which encourage the player to respond to the virtual environment in certain ways and rehearse those behaviors over and over. If the game is fun, the brain connects those behaviors to positive feelings. This powerful learning experience can be positive or negative, depending on the content and goal of the game. In this case, your son is getting a rush because the video game is fun, but this is concerning because the fun is being linked to the behavior of shooting helpless people. So the question with this, as with any video game, is what skills and behaviors you want your son to learn, and what he himself wants to practice.

Please note that the concern about first-person shooters and other violent video games is not so much that players will immediately increase their aggression level and become physically violent.  Rather, the concern is what the research shows: that playing such games shifts players’ ideas of what’s normal (related studies can be found here, here and here). Those who play violent video games tend to expect the world to be a meaner place, and they become disconnected and less caring people.

Given all the evidence, I personally would never recommend that a parent give this game to a child or teen. It’s certainly true, though, that your son’s argument – that “everyone else has it” and he’ll be left out if he doesn’t – makes it extremely difficult to say no. But as a parent, you can provide the foresight he doesn’t yet have. Take this opportunity to talk with him about how all video games are educational and that you’re saying no to this one because of what it will teach him. Ask him what kind of person he wants to be and whether this game matches those goals. And most importantly, brainstorm with him to find other, healthier ways to get a rush.
>>Additional advice: Learn how to look up reviews and find videos of what game play is like

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

Do you have a question about your child’s media use? Ask it today!

215 comments

  • Pr3dProductionsHD

    Call of Duty is known for causing rage quits and anger management issues. Almost every single friend I’ve seen develops anger issues when they start playing a COD game. Literally all the time when I used to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I would hear other players scream in their mics with rage whenever they got killed. I noticed I would get angry very easily ever since I started playing COD. So after a while I refrained from playing COD games and my anger management issues vanished. I would recommend a game called “Battlefield 3″. It’s much more fun and doesn’t cause it’s players to rage. =)

  • Asianmmy

    Had to just comment on your misunderstanding of what the previous article said. If you read it well, the doctor above says in paragraph 3 that the concern is not that her son’s behavior will become violent, it’s more how playing the game will affect him

    mentally and what he will learn from it. He doesn’t say anywhere what you were accusing him of saying. I don’t know the doctor or agree with him 100% but get your facts straight and know what you’re talking about!

  • Asianmmy

    Just you’re statements alone say you are not mature enough to play M games. Games got you sooo twisted that you see the parents who biologically brought you into this world and provides for you so you can be alive as in the

    way? You’re 14, you haven’t even lived long enough to experience life and how horrible it can be!!! You are blessed to have parents who even care about your ungrateful behind!!!

  • Marleyb

    No I play modernwarfair 3 you don’t get points for killing people it is a fun game to play with all you friends and you dont have to you can look for glitches as well I am 11 years old I am great the game I am 19. Prosteage it is just a shooting game every one needs to calm dome about it ok you will never stop us playing it we will find a way to even if you do and Xbox don’t care or infinaty ward because you pay them ther are about 5 million kids play modernwarfair and gta and other violent games THEY ARE FUN.

  • Declan.

    I play call of duty almost every day. I am a normal person, doing well at school. I have NEVER had any urge to kill… people. Sure it makes you mad when 8 year old children randomly shoot you and scream at you through there microphones. Call of duty does not affect your social life. In my opinion its all a load of bullshit. Infact i think its makes you more aware of how bad it is in real life. The game is not even violent. You shoot bullets, people drop. Pfft.

  • Pastor

    My 17yr. old son cry when I take his Call of Duty for punishment! This can’t be good

  • JASopinion

    This article is a few years old now but I feel i need to say a few things.

    First off I am an avid gamer and have grown up in the current generation of video games. I do not support the COD franchise for creative reasons, but the comment this article starts with is incorrect and invalid. This article should be aimed at the simple fact that this game is rated M for mature (ages 17+). The rating is there for a reason and the sales associates tell the majority of parents buying these kind of games that they contain violence and gore. Based on the COD franchises sales figures verses the majority of players being under the recommended age proves that parents do not listen and disregard this warning. There is a common misconception that video games are for children, but this is not the case at all. hence the ESRB/PEGI rating systems. One important note to “professional” responce is that in the airport terminal mission of COD Modern Warfare 2, you DO NOT earn points for shooting civilians. In fact you could pass the mission without shooting any civilians at all.The game even warns the “Mature” player before the mission that it will feature disturbing images and events before offering the “Mature” player the option to skip the mission. I would suggest to DR.Rich that he, as a professional, not make false claims or false facts to support his opinions on video games. If I was the head of Infinity Ward, I would take this doctors comments as a threat to not just the COD franchise, but the game industry in general. Video Games, like any creative media, is an art form that is capable of creating new world better than any book or movie can because of player interaction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cheeze.master Cheeze Master

    No no no you have got this all wrong
    Tell the parent to give it to her son and let her talk about what is right in life and what is wrong! He should know the difference it games than in real life!

  • hillrocks99

    Good decision. I wish my mom was this cool about it, my mom took ALL of my Rated M games away after all of the shootings and stuff, and its been 6 months now and she still hasnt given them back!

  • ufg

    You can’t have an ‘Epidemic’ of gun crimes. An epidemic is awidespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time

  • ufg

    Maybe one day america will realise its stupidly lax gun laws are the problem…

  • GKGamingMC

    it does not open with the russian scene thats like the third mmission PLUS YOU CAN SKIP IT!

  • http://www.TheOddHerobrine.yolasite.com/ TheOddHerobrine

    Ill kindly state one thing,
    A: Video games do not make you a lawyer
    B: Video games do not make you a president
    C: Video games do not make you a pilot
    D: Video games do not make you a famous historical figure
    E: Video games do not make you a judge
    F: Video games do not make you a professional at anything
    (Acceptation: Maybe a professional at the game)
    So i conclude
    G: VIDEO GAMES DO NOT MAKE YOU ANY OF THE FOLLOWING
    >Terrorist
    >Criminal
    >Psychs Killer
    >Assassin
    >And anything else that could possibly result in organized crime for money.
    (Includes Mercenary Work)

    Who in the right mind would assume this?
    Anyone who was born before the creation of First Person shooters, aka, most people over the age of 18

  • Sarah Marrlett

    I believe that ANY teen should not play violent games that are rated M or A. I’m a teen, too, so I feel that I should input my argument. CoD is generic and mass market. Whenever I heard the boys in my middle school talk about that game, I simply loathed them talking about how many kills they got. It was immoral, not to say I was butt hurt or anything. When I would talk about Sonic, they would laugh in my face, and say that those games were for kids, which I refuted with, “We are kids until we turn 18,” and left. FPS games are ruining our generation’s taste in games.

  • Sarah Marrlett

    I am 14 years of age and firmly believe in the M rating. You’re way too young and should be playing games like Zelda, so you can actually challenge yourself.

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