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Students See Video Games As Harmless, Study Finds

Anderson said Killen's research confirms his sense that young players consider themselves immune to the mayhem.

"Any of us who do this kind of research certainly face the wrath of the ubiquitous 14-year-old who doesn't believe there's anything harmful in anything that they do," Anderson said.

Professor Melanie Killen, flanked by researchers Alaina Brenick, left, and Alexandra Henning, studies stereotypes and images in video games. Killen's study suggests that many young adults are oblivious to games' impact on players. (Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

Killen and fellow researchers at the University of Maryland's Human Development Department interviewed more than 100 college students, whose average age was 19, for 45 minutes each. They showed them images from a series of imaginary video games, each one modeled on a familiar genre in the gaming industry.

One was a golf game replete with scantily clad women and thuggish violence, reminiscent of the Xbox game Outlaw Golf. The second was a typical guns-and-ammo game, with the user assigned to seek and obliterate terrorists. The third, included for comparison purposes, was an innocuous surfing game without objectionable content.

The students were asked to complete a 10-minute questionnaire on their video-game habits.

Killen's research found that most subjects understood that the two over-the-top games depicted negative themes and harmful stereotypes. But they failed to see how that content could harm them.

Many subjects reasoned that there could be no negative consequence from playing the games unless the player then proceeded to go out and shoot people in the head or attack them with a golf club.

"You're not really going out and killing people," one 19-year-old man told his interviewers. "So, I mean, it's just like fantasy."

Less frequent players, typically women, saw more negative consequences from the stereotypes. More frequent players, typically male, saw fewer.

When asked whether male and female stereotypes were "not all right," considering the potential negative effect on players, more than 60 percent of infrequent players agreed, and more than 60 percent of avid players disagreed.

"It's not like they were in denial about stereotypes," Killen said. "But they for some reason think it's not going to affect them."

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