Are video games influencing our children to run too many errands?

According to a study from Sydney University, children who play video games feel they are unable to decline when a favour is asked of them.

According to a study from Sydney University, children who play video games feel they are unable to decline when a favour is asked of them.

Following the release of Rockstar’s latest installment in the critically-acclaimed Grand Theft Auto series, a familiar controversy is already beginning to heat up over whether it – and video games in general – are negatively influencing our youth by inspiring them to run countless unnecessary errands for people they barely know or have never met.

Phyllis Butow, a psychology professor at Australia’s University of Sydney, spearheaded a study that showed children who spend upwards of fifteen hours a week playing video games were significantly more likely to do laborious and repetitive favours in exchange for meager payments or even just advice on what to do next. These children were found to be unusually satisfied with their rewards, even if the advice offered to them was to run yet another errand.

“It’s a concern that has been expressed by society for a long time now,” said Butow. “It goes back as far as the 1999 Columbine massacre in the United States, and potentially even further than that. For more than a decade, we’ve had to consider, as parents, what we’re exposing our children to, and I don’t think there’s a single parent with a teenage child who has not asked themselves at one point or another ‘If I buy this game for my son or daughter, am I encouraging arbitrary behaviour or acts of inexplicable charity?’”

But some are sceptical of Butow’s findings, with critics pointing out that the errands participants were asked to run were exclusively menial in nature, and confined to tasks performed in and around her workplace. Children analysed by the study were asked to clean Butow’s office, refill her staplers and deliver notes and other important documents to colleagues. These tasks, critics say, are not exactly reflective of those simulated in most mainstream video games.

Other critics have argued that a correlation between children who run too many errands and children who play video games does not necessarily imply causation of the former by the latter. Rather, they say, it could be that children prone to errand-running are simply more attracted to video games, as it offers them a medium through which to live out their fantasy.

“It’s possible,” said Butow, responding to this criticism. “It’s certainly possible, but there is some evidence to suggest that, while the game might not be the sole cause of their errand-running, it might be one of many potential triggers to push the habit that one step too far.”

Butow’s research follows another study from the University of Auckland that suggests those who watch the evening news are more likely to overreact to mundane events in their lives.