Japan is now leading the world in the video game industry. In the 1990's, Japan experienced a severe recession, and consequently many industries have declined. Only the video game and animation industries have the highest level of international competitiveness even now.
Japanese video game companies are quite strong, and video games have been very popular among Japanese people since the mid-1980's. Thus, the Japanese have long been interested in the effects of video game use, and actually many arguments concerning this issue have often been found in the Japanese press. Some empirical studies, though not many, have also been conducted on the issue. Since Japanese researchers only infrequently write their papers in English, it seems that the Japanese debate and empirical studies on the effects of video games are relatively unknown outside Japan. It would, therefore, be meaningful to introduce this work to an international readership.
Thus, in the present article, Japanese debate and studies are described. First, however, the current situation as regards the popularity of video games and children's use of the games in Japan is described.
The popularity of video games
Home video games began to be popular in Japan in 1983 when Nintendo Co., Ltd. introduced a video game machine called Family Computer or Famicom on to the market (Family Computer was often called "Nintendo" outside Japan). Prior to this, people could not play video games unless they went to a game arcade or a coffee house where machines were available or unless they wrote their own game programs on a computer. Family Computer made it much easier to enjoy video games.
Even when they began to sell Family Computer, the staff at Nintendo did not predict that it would become so popular (Kurihara, 1993). However, the number of sold machines dramatically increased, and with the appearance of an action game named Super Mario Brothers in 1985, Family Computer became remarkably popular. At this time, many children came home as soon as their classes in school were over, because they wanted to play video games as early as possible. This was called the "Express Return", and drew people's attention. Video games became the most-wanted toys among boys, and in 1986, 3.9 million machines were sold in Japan (cf. Dentsu Institute for Human Studies, 1998). At about this time, half of the children possessed video game machines, and it was said that Family Computer had become a full-fledged member of the family (Kurihara, 1993).
Subsequently, the number of sold machines temporarily decreased, but video games quickly recovered their popularity, and children's enthusiasm reached its peak in 1988 when a role-playing game named Dragon Quest III appeared (also called Dragon Warrior III outside Japan). When this game came on to the market, many children queued outside shops all night long waiting for them to open. In addition, some children who could not buy the game threatened those who did with violence and robbed them of the game. This was called the "Dorakue Affair" in Japan, and Japanese journalists enthusiastically reported it (Dorakue is an abbreviation of Dragon Quest pronounced in Japanese).
After 1987, in addition to Family Computer, many video game machines appeared, for example, PC Engine, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Super Famicon, Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64, Play Station, and Sega Dreamcast. Video game machines attained variety and sophistication, and more firmly attracted children. Since 1988, the number of sold machines has greatly increased, and in 1992, the interests of Nintendo Co., Ltd. surpassed those of Toyota Motor Co., a representative Japanese automobile company (Yomiuri Shimbum, 1999, August 11). In 1996, over twelve million machines were sold only in Japan (cf. Dentsu Institute for Human Studies, 1998). This number is about one-tenth of the total Japanese population. At present, the Japanese video game industry sells over ten million machines and about one hundred million copies of software per year only in domestic markets. The total market sizes are now about two hundred billion yen (two billion US dollars) for machines and over five hundred billion yen (five billion US dollars) for software. About 90 percent of Japanese elementary school children possess video game machines for their own exclusive use (cf. Dentsu Institute for Human Studies, 1998).
Children's use of video games
With the increasing number of sold machines in Japan, children's use of video games also increased.
NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute has often conducted survey research on children's play. Elementary school students were asked, "what they often played" in 1984, 1989, and 1994 (Janamoto, 1985, 1990, 1995). The sample size was about 1,500 at each occasion. Mori (1997) summarized these results (Table 1). As is seen in the table, video games did not take a high rank in 1984. However, in 1989, they ranked second for boys. As for girls, they still did not rank high in 1989, but they ranked second in 1994. While the rank for boys did not change for the period 1989 to 1994, the percentage often playing video games increased. The proportions for 1989 and 1994 were 34 and 42 percent, respectively.
Table 1. What elementary school students often play
NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute has also conducted other survey research (Shiraishi, 1998). Elementary school children ranging from third to sixth grade (from eight to twelve years of age) were asked, "how long they played a video game" in 1987 and 1997. The sample size was about 1,500 at each occasion. The children were provided five alternatives, that is, "I always play it", "I sometimes play it", "I do not often play it", "I do not play it at all", and "I do not know of it". In 1987, 58 percent of children answered "always" or "sometimes", while 77 percent answered so in 1997. Thus, the proportion increased by almost 20 percent. In particular, the increase is remarkable for girls. The proportions for girls in 1987 and 1997 were 40 and 64 percent, respectively. As for boys, they were 75 and 89 percent. In addition, the children in this survey were asked, "what they played before dinner". As is shown in Table 2, a dramatic increase is found for video games. The proportion playing video games before dinner grew by 25 percent, but no other activities showed a great increase. On the other hand, decreases are found for outdoor activities, such as playing with balls and riding bicycles.
Table 2. What elementary school students play (or do) before dinner
It should be noted that the Dorakue Affair occurred in 1988, and children's enthusiasm for video games was already regarded as a serious problem at that time. As is suggested from the data mentioned above, children's current use of video games is probably greater than in 1988. Therefore, the current situation should be regarded as more serious.
Thus, children's use of video games has increased, and the games are now very important in their daily lives. In particular, the recent increase for girls was remarkable. Nowadays, as concerns male elementary school students, 59 percent play a video game for over one hour per day on weekdays and 23 percent for over two hours. As for female students, 20 and 6 percent spend over one and two hours, respectively (Shiraishi, 1998).
Arguments for the harmfulness of video games
In recent years in Japan, children's social problems - such as violence, bullying, schoolphobia, drugs, and prostitution - have become still more serious, and therefore, their causes and methods for coping with them are often discussed. Considered as possible causes are children's frustration due to the so-called "controlled school" and "entrance examination war" and the lack of teaching by parents and people in the immediate community. The harmful effects of media, especially video games, are also fervently regarded as one of the causes. For example, in February 1998, the following passage was found in Asahi Shimbum, a representative Japanese newspaper selling eight million copies daily.
A male teacher living in the Tohoku district says that the brutal crimes of secondary and high school students are caused by video games. "Everyone says they were quiet and gentle. It is natural. They have avoided keeping company with others, and have murdered others only in their own world every night. Imagine what happens to children who have been living under such circumstances for ten years." (Asahi Shimbun, 1998, February 2)
This teacher argued that video games are seriously harmful in that they cause violence, but video games are also argued to generate various other problems in children. For example, worsening eyesight and epileptic fits are typical of the physical problems, and social maladjustment - such as withdrawal and lack of interpersonal skills - as well as declining academic achievement are typical of the psychological problems. In some cases, such complexes of problems are considered in arguments for the harmfulness of video games, and a particular problem such as violence is considered in other cases. Recently, because of the violent crimes children have committed from 1997 to 1998, violence has been stressed as a serious deleterious effect.
The rationale behind the arguments
The arguments for the harmfulness of video games contain an underlying plausible logic explaining why video games can generate each problem. For example, as to violence, Sakamoto (1999a) summarized the rationale behind the arguments, and presented three characteristics of video games that were likely to promote children's violence.
First, in video games, players' own violence is rewarded. When the players conquer the enemy, they can obtain a variety of rewards such as high scores, new stories, and impressive images and music. Many empirical studies have been conducted on the effects of violent scenes on television, and their harmfulness has often been shown. These researchers believe that the harmful effects of violent scenes on television derive partly from the fact that violence is often rewarded, teaching viewers that violence is an acceptable means. For example, television programs for children in which heroes beat the enemy are typical. These heroes are respected and loved by everyone. The researchers believe that this reward pattern makes children regard violence as an acceptable means and consequently even behave violently themselves. However, on television, the violence of others, such as heroes, is rewarded (this is called "indirect reinforcement"). In video games, on the other hand, players' own violence is rewarded (this is called "direct reinforcement"). Since a reward for one's own behavior is more pleasant than that for others' behavior, the acceptability of violent behavior should be learned more effectively through video games than through television.
Second, in video games, players are accustomed to displaying violence. When people feel anger toward someone in real life, they never show violence if it is not an available behavioral option. When they are accustomed to it in video games, it might become an option. If so, they should more often show violence in real-life contexts when angry. Thus, it is possible that video games are the instruments with which people learn that violence is an available option.
Third, the setting of virtual reality provided by video games is similar to real life. It is therefore possible that the learned advantages and availability of violence in video games are transferred to the context of everyday life, causing people to use violence toward others. Nowadays, a phrase like "the ambiguity of borders between reality and fiction" is often found among the arguments for the harmfulness of video games in terms of violence.
The influence of arguments
The arguments concerning the harmfulness of video games have become heated every fifth year (Sakamoto, 1999a).
The first peak was in 1988. As mentioned earlier, in 1983 when Nintendo began to sell Family Computer, people did not realize that Family Computer would become so important in children's daily lives, and there was no controversy. However, as its popularity increased dramatically, some people began to debate the issue, and after about 1985, arguments for the harmfulness of video games were often presented. Children's enthusiasm for video games reached its peak at the time of the Dorakue Affair in 1988. The heat of the arguments also reached its first peak at this point.
The second peak was in 1993, five years after the first. In the end of 1992, a fourteen-year-old boy living in the United Kingdom died of an epileptic fit when he was playing a video game. The heat of the arguments in 1993 originated from this affair. The affair was often reported in the Japanese press, and many people fervently expressed a fear that video game use could lead to not only an epileptic fit, but also to a variety of serious physiological and psychological problems.
The arguments were also heated from 1997 to 1998. This peak was spawned by the frequent occurrence of children's violent crimes. For example, in May 1997, a murder occurred in Kobe. A fourteen-year-old male secondary school student killed a boy in the 6th grade, cut off his head, and placed the head at the gate of the student's own school for display. Before this, the student had already killed one girl and injured three. In addition, from January to March 1998, acts of violence in which a knife was used were frequent. Students often killed and injured their classmates. On January 28, 1998, a boy in the 7th grade even killed his teacher with a knife. These incidents led to a sensation, and consequently the possible causes of children's violent crimes were intensively discussed. In this discussion, the use of video games was often regarded as one of the causes, and therefore arguments surrounding the harmfulness of video games were heated.
The arguments of 1997 to 1998 were very strong, making them influential in reality. In Japan, there is a large organization for the video game software industry called the Computer Entertainment Software Association or CESA, to which over a hundred companies belong. In July 1997, the organization took notice of the arguments, and produced a written code for the voluntary restraint of harmful software. The code consisted of 25 items (for example, you may not express murder, injury, and violence or suggest a way of accomplishing them in a stimulated manner) and the organization decided to demand that companies not sell software that violated the code. CESA can give the companies certain punishments, such as an oral warning, a written warning, up to two years' deprivation of the right to vote, recommendation of withdrawal from the organization, and expulsion from the organization, when they sell software that violates the code. Up to the present, CESA has actually judged that some products of software violate the code, and demanded their companies not to sell them, unless the contents are modified. In addition, CESA has given an oral warning to two companies that sold unaccepted software. In September 1999, it was decided that software with severe violence must be labeled in order to inform the consumers. So far, about ten products have been labeled.
The influence of the arguments is found not only in the world of the video game industry, but also in the fields of justice and administration. On March 18, 1998, the Family Courts of Japan made a severe judgment on a boy in the ninth grade who had tried to rob a policeman of his pistol by threatening him with a knife. He was ordered to go to a reformatory. In making this judgment, the harmfulness of video games was considered. The judge's explanation was as follows: "His behavior is not due to an impulse, but to his own disposition developed through the use of media such as video games. Therefore, intensive teaching and training by experts are necessary for his reformation, and it is appropriate that he be sent to a reformatory." On June 30, 1998, the Central Council for Education of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture presented a document, entitled "Cultivating the sound minds of children who will develop a new era: A crisis of losing confidence in bringing up the next generation." This document was written to guide mainly parents in the education of children's morality and sociality, and it was one of the Ministry's policies for coping with the frequent occurrence of children's violent crimes. In the document, one instruction reads: "You should avoid the endless exposure of children to television and video games."
The arguments may have become a little calmer during the past year, but it seems that they remain influential. As mentioned below, arguments for the harmfulness of video games have not received great support from empirical research. Therefore, the strong influence of the arguments is not caused by research, but rather by their plausible logic.
Research on video games and violence
The occurrence of brutal crimes has long been low and therefore unremarkable in Japan. It seems that, due to this infrequency, the Japanese have not been greatly interested in media violence, and consequently only a few researchers have been trained as experts on this issue. As mentioned earlier, arguments for the harmfulness of video games in terms of violence are heated in Japan, but empirical research on this issue has not often been conducted. This may be due to a lack of expertise in media violence.
Before 1992, no studies on video games had been conducted in Japan, and in addition, the findings of studies conducted in other countries such as the United States had not been systematically introduced. Therefore, Japanese researchers did not fully understand that previous research had not shown negative effects of video games. Consequently, even academic researchers often supported the more popular arguments for such effects. Their enthusiastic comments were frequently found in the press.
Sakamoto (1993) reviewed empirical studies that had been conducted mainly in the United Sates, and introduced their findings in Japan. He wrote that: (1) Some studies had been conducted in the United States; (2) in experimental studies, the short-term effects of video game use on violent behavior had been detected only for infants and at most preadolescents, but no such effects had been clearly detected beyond these ages; and (3) in survey studies, even significant correlations between the frequency of video game use and violent tendencies had not been detected, and therefore it was difficult to regard the two variables as being causally related. Based on these findings, Sakamoto (1993) concluded that there was no evidence for serious negative effects of video games. This article had an impact on Japanese researchers, and it has frequently been cited. It seems that since this article was published, at least academic researchers such as social psychologists have not simply supported the argument for the harmfulness of video games.
However, the situation changed again recently. After the mid-1990's, Japanese researchers began to conduct empirical studies of their own. In these studies, serious harmful effects of video games have sometimes been detected. Based on these findings and other new evidence, some researchers argue that it is possible that video game use has deleterious effects.
In the following parts of the present article, empirical research conducted in Japan is introduced. Experimental studies are first described, and, subsequently, survey studies. After this description, Sakamoto's (1999b) recent view on the harmfulness of video games is introduced. This is based on the findings of recent studies and other new evidence.
Most studies mentioned below were conducted by the Ochanomizu University group, consisting of Akira Sakamoto and his co-researchers. Unfortunately, this is the state of Japanese research. However, the Tsukuba University group, consisting of Shintaro Yukawa, Tetsuhiro Miyamoto, and Toshio Yoshida, has recently initiated research on this issue, and it seems that other groups have begun to show an interest. Thus, there is hope for change in the near future.
Most previous research conducted in the world has not examined the effects of video game use on violent behavior in adolescents and adults. In the research on adolescents and adults, violent behavior was not measured, although hostility and aggressive thoughts were. In the research on violent behavior, only infants and preadolescents have commonly been used. However, research on the violent behavior of adolescents and adults is perhaps most important. If video game use affects only their hostility and aggressive thought and does not affect their violent behavior, the effects cannot be regarded as serious, because they do not lead to actual physical harm to people. In addition, if video game use affects the violent behavior of infants and preadolescents, the effects cannot be regarded as serious, because their behavior seldom leads to brutal crimes.
Thus, Sakamoto and his co-researchers conducted two experimental studies to examine the effects of video game use on violent behavior in adolescents and adults (Sakamoto et al., 1998a; Sakamoto et al., 1999). They also tried to examine the moderators and mediating processes associated with such effects.
In the first study, Sakamoto et al. (1998a) randomly assigned 52 female students at Ochanomizu University to one of five conditions. In these conditions subjects: (1) played a realistic game (Virtua Cop), (2) played an unrealistic game (Space Invader), (3) merely watched the realistic game, (4) merely watched the unrealistic game, and (5) watched a neutral film (Ann of Green Gables or A Symphony of Forests). After the subjects played or watched the game or film, they were given opportunities to subject a confederate to electrical shocks. The strength and length of the electrical shocks they gave were used as measures of their violent behavior. In addition, their blood pressures and heart rates were measured before and after exposure to the various media.
Sakamoto and his co-researchers conducted the next study (Sakamoto et al., 1999) to validate and expand their previous findings. The procedures of the first study were modified in the following manner. In order to enhance the illusion of reality, the realistic game Virtua Cop was in the second study replaced by Area 51, which has a virtual gun. In addition, a condition was added in which the subjects played a fist-fighting game, and a measurement of violent behavior was based on how long and strongly they subjected a confederate to white noise. Furthermore, the condition in which they merely watched a game was not used. Thus, the researchers used four conditions in the second study in which the subjects: (1) played a realistic game (Area 51), (2) played an unrealistic game (Space Invader), (3) played a fist-fighting game (Tekken 2), and (4) watched a neutral film (Ann of Green Gables). The researchers randomly assigned 41 female students at Ochanomizu University to one of these conditions.
The findings of these two studies were as follows:
(a) The subjects who had played a game sometimes subjected a confederate to more intense electric shocks and white noise than did those in the control group. This implies that adolescents' and adults' use of video games can promote their violent behavior.
(b) However, the sizes of such effects were different between video games. The effects were detected for Area 51, but not for Virtua Cop. As for Space Invader, the results of the two experiments were inconsistent. The degree of reality and reward found in video games can be regarded as moderators leading to these differences between the games, although more systematic research is needed on this issue.
(c) The subjects who had played a video game showed more intense violent behavior than did those who merely watched. This suggests that the effects of video game use on violence could be due to the interactivity of the games.
(d) The effects of video game use were not changed when the mediating effects of blood pressure and heart rate were controlled for. This might indicate that effects on violent behavior are not due to physiological arousal generated by the video game use, but due to cognitive processes such as the learning of violence.
Thus, these studies show that adolescents' and adults' use of video games can promote their violent behavior, and therefore, that the negative effects of video games can be serious. If so, however, the results also show that this is only true of a limited range of games.
Yukawa et al. (1999) also conducted an experimental study. Based on the results of their own factor analysis, they divided violent video games into two types, that is, role-internalizing games (for example, role-playing games) and stimulus-responding games (for example, shooting games), and examined the effects of each type. Like Sakamoto et al. (1998a), they also examined the effects of interactivity. In Yukawa et al. (1999), 60 male students were used as subjects and divided into two groups. One group of subjects played a video game, while the other group merely watched it, and the subjects in each group were assigned to one of three conditions. In these conditions the subjects: (1) played or merely watched a role-internalizing game (Biohazard 2), (2) played or merely watched a stimulus-responding game (Lay Storm), and (3) played or merely watched a non-violent game (Puyopuyo, a game similar to Tetris). Yukawa et al. (1999) measured the subjects' aggressive thoughts, negative affect (such as discomfort and hostility), physiological responses, and violent behavior, after the subjects had played or watched the video game.
Their results showed that the role-internalizing game generated more aggressive thought and negative affect than did the non-violent game, and the stimulus-responding game also generated aggressive thought, although not to the same degree as the role-internalizing game. As for physiological responses and violent behavior, no significant differences were found between the violent and non-violent games. In addition, no differences were found between the conditions of playing and watching, and therefore, effects of interactivity were not revealed.
Thus, Yukawa et al. (1999) show that violent video games can lead to aggressive thought and negative affect, but do not reveal their influence on violent behavior and the moderating effects of interactivity. In this regard, the findings of Yukawa et al. are different from those of Sakamoto and co-researchers. Some methodological factors might explain these differences, for example, subject gender. The subjects of Sakamoto and co-researchers' studies are female, whereas those of Yukawa et al. are male. In addition, the procedure and software used in the experiments are different. In any case, further research is needed to explain the different outcomes.
Thus, although there are mixed findings, effects of video game use have been detected in some cases. It therefore seems that video game use can affect even violent behavior, at least under particular conditions. However, in the studies mentioned above, only the short-term effects of video game use have been detected, but their long-term effects have not been examined. Although experimental studies have the advantage of revealing causality, it is usually difficult to examine long-term effects. However, when long-term effects of video game use are revealed, the harmfulness of the games can be regarded as more serious. Survey research is useful for examining such long-term effects, although it makes observing actual behavior difficult.
Some Japanese researchers have conducted survey studies on relationships between video game use and violence. However, most of the studies were one-shot surveys, which reveal correlations but not causality. It is therefore possible to say that these studies have not revealed the effects of video game use on violent behavior.
On the other hand, when researchers use a survey method, they can reveal causality to some extent, if they conduct a panel study. In the panel study, the same variables are measured on several occasions over time. It is possible to reveal causality to some extent by analyzing obtained data in particular ways. Actually, Sakamoto (1994) examined causality between video game use and social maladjustment.
As for video game use and violence, Sakamoto and co-researchers have conducted three panel studies. Panel studies on this issue seem to be rare not only in Japan but also in the international literature.
Kobayashi et al. (1998) conducted a panel study of 210 elementary school students attending fourth to sixth grades (111 boys and 99 girls), whose ages were nine to twelve. Their frequency of video game use and violent tendencies were measured twice, in October 1993 and February 1994. As for video game use, the frequencies of seven types of games - action, simulation, adventure, role-playing, sport, puzzle, and board games - were measured. Five-point scales ranging from "I very often play it" to "I do not play it at all" were used. Violent tendencies were measured with thirteen five-point scales. For these data, regression analyses and synchronous effects model analyses were conducted. The synchronous effects model analyses can be realized using structural equation modeling. When the same results were obtained from both analyses, the researchers regarded them as credible and important. Results indicated that board games lowered boys' violent tendencies, and sport games lowered those of the girls.
Kobayashi et al. (1999) conducted the same kind of panel study five years after the above-mentioned one. They measured the frequency of video game use and violent tendencies of 764 children attending fifth to sixth grades (367 boys and 397 girls) twice, in July 1998 and from November to December 1998. As for video game use, the frequencies of eight types of games - fist-fighting action, action, action role-playing, shooting, adventure, simulation, sport, and panel games - were measured. As for violent tendencies, its six components - physical violence, hostility, irritation, verbal aggression, indirect aggression, and replacement - were measured on 54 five-point scales. The results obtained from both regression analyses and synchronous effects model analyses indicated that (1) action role-playing games promoted boys' hostility, (2) action games promoted girls' hostility, and (3) fist-fighting action games promoted girls' indirect aggression. As for the other components - physical violence, irritation, and verbal aggression - no effects were found.
Naito et al. (1999) conducted the same kind of panel study for 192 secondary school students attending an eighth grade (98 boys and 94 girls), whose ages were thirteen to fourteen. Naito et al. (1999) measured the students' frequency of video game use and violent tendencies twice, in December 1998 and March 1999. The frequencies of the same eight types of games as used in Kobayashi et al. (1999) were measured. As for violent tendencies, 24 five-point scales were used. The results obtained from both regression analyses and synchronous effects model analyses indicated that action games promoted boys' verbal aggression. No other effects were significant.
Thus, Kobayashi et al. (1998) did not show that video game use promotes violent tendencies, but even that it lowers them. It cannot be said that this study supports the arguments for the harmfulness of video games. On the other hand, Kobayashi et al. (1999) and Naito et al. (1999) showed that fist-fighting action, action, and action role-playing games promoted some components of violent tendencies, although these effects were not found for both genders. Therefore, it can be said that the results of these studies support the arguments to some extent, though not greatly. Since fist-fighting action, action, and action role-playing games often include violent contents, it seems plausible that only these games could promote children's violent tendencies. This enhances the credibility of those studies.
As noted above, the studies produced different results. The difference in the period of survey can be regarded as a possible explanation. Data from 1993 to 1994 were used in Kobayashi et al. (1998), whereas data from 1998 to 1999 were used in Kobayashi et al. (1999) and in Naito et al. (1999). The latter data are fairly newer than the former. Recently, video game technology has dramatically developed, and has provided a very realistic world to users. When the degree of reality is high, i.e., when the world found in video games is similar to the real world, violence learned in video games might easily appear even in real-life contexts. This implies the possibility that the effects of video games have recently been augmented. In addition, as mentioned earlier, the frequency of video game use has recently increased, and this has the same implications. Given this line of reasoning, it is possible that the effects of video game use are more easily detected when newer data are analyzed, and this could be the reason why the effects were detected in the studies by Kobayashi et al. (1999) and Naito et al. (1999), but not in the study by Kobayashi et al. (1998). If so, it could be said that the findings of Kobayashi et al. (1999) and Naito et al. (1999) are more important, and that children's use of video games can increase their violent behavior. In addition, these are long-term effects, which can be regarded as serious. In any case, further research is necessary to reconcile the inconsistencies of the studies.
As mentioned earlier, Sakamoto (1993) did not think that video game use could have serious effects on violent behavior. Some researchers, however, are now changing their opinions. Actually, Sakamoto (1999b) states that video game use might cause increased violence under particular conditions. This shift in opinion is due to the observation of recent changes in the four issues described below.
First, changes in research findings have been observed. As mentioned earlier, previous studies conducted mainly in the United States did not provide evidence for the deleterious effects of video games. However, as seen above, recent Japanese studies have sometimes shown harmful influence that can be serious. Of course, since there are differences in the results, it is impossible to say that negative effects are clearly proved. However, the existence of some results supporting such effects means that the issue cannot be neglected.
Second, changes in the reality of video games have been observed. It is likely that realistic games more easily promote violence. As mentioned earlier, since video games have recently become still more realistic, it seems possible that current video game use has quite harmful effects on violence. Previous experiments and surveys in the United States did not show such effects, but in these studies, the unrealistic games that were popular at that time were used. It is impossible to generalize from such unrealistic games to today's super-realistic ones. And thus it would seem that these results - based on unrealistic games - no longer are applicable.
Third, changes in the frequency of video game use have been observed. When use is frequent, its effects are arguably greater. As mentioned earlier, since the frequency of children's video game use has recently increased, its effects may now be larger than previously. As also mentioned, no correlations between video game use and violent tendencies were found in previous survey studies conducted in the United States and Japan (for example, Kobayashi et al., 1998). This may be because children of that time used video games for relatively shorter periods or more infrequently. This fact also decreases the applicability of findings obtained in the previous studies.
Fourth, changes in the occurrence of violent crimes have been observed. It seems that the frequency of violent crimes that might be related to video game use has recently increased. For example, in March 1994, an act of violence perpetrated by a group of children occurred at Nagoya. On this occasion, fourteen secondary school students attacked two secondary school students, causing them serious injury. In the police examination, a boy from the offender group said: "You ask me why we did that? We just wanted to know how effective the punches and kicks we learned in fist-fighting games were." Actually, the violence was perpetrated in the following manner. The group first made the victims select their opponent. The selected boy identified with the heroes of fist-fighting games, and using their punches and kicks, he attacked a victim who could not resist because the group had him surrounded. The unselected boys formed the audience and gave joyous shouts every time the selected boy gave showy punches and kicks to the victims. The selection was repeated, and many boys eventually perpetrated violence on the victims. A boy even went to a game arcade that was located 200 meters away to make sure of the punches and kicks he wanted to give (Nihon Keizai Shimbum, 1995, January 4). This incident seems to have been caused by video game use. Although credible statistics are unavailable, it appears that recently such incidents are more common than previously.
The changes in research findings and the occurrence of violent crimes may be caused by the augmentation of effects of video game use, which are in turn due to changes in the degree of realism in video games and the frequency of their use. In any case, considering these developments, some researchers are changing their minds (Sakamoto, 1999b).
As found in the present article, although only a few studies have been conducted in Japan, each study seems to be fairly well constructed. For example, violent behavior has been measured in experimental studies. In addition, some panel studies have been conducted. These are probably not so common in the rest of the world, and could therefore be regarded as important contributions to the research field on video games and violence.
However, the scarcity of studies is problematic. At present, some unsolved inconsistencies are found between Japanese studies, leading to unclear conclusions. This is partly due to the small number of studies. In addition, the quality of research is usually improved by frequently exchanging opinions with other research groups, but today, such exchanges are difficult in Japan, because there are only a few research groups, although the number is increasing. It is not easy for Japanese researchers to exchange opinions with foreign groups because of the language. Thus, several groups are necessary in Japan.
Japan is now leading the world in the video game industry, and therefore, it should take responsibility for issues concerning deleterious effects of video games. Japanese researchers should conduct many studies. Actually, they have a lot of advantages for conducting research in this area.
First, it seems that in Japan, ethical standards for psychological research are still not as severe as in other countries such as the United States. As mentioned earlier, violent behavior has been measured directly in Japanese experimental studies. This is made possible by the generosity of the standards.
Second, since the popularity of video games began early in Japan, many Japanese people are now using the games and they have accumulated experience with them. This is useful in examining the effects of video game use with survey research. If the survey sample does not include the subjects who have used video games often, it is impossible to detect the effects of the games.
Third, Japan has a lot of game software companies, and therefore it is not difficult for Japanese researchers to cooperate with the companies on research projects. For example, it would be relatively easy for Japanese researchers to ask companies to make or modify software used in experiments.
Many questions can be identified for future research on video games and violence. First, does video game use affect violence? Do the effects continue over time? Are the effects serious? Second, what kinds of variables moderate the effects of video game use? What kinds of games have larger effects? What kinds of use have larger effects? Third, what are the processes underlying the effects of video game use on violence? How related is the interactivity of video games to such processes? Fourth, what kinds of interventions are useful in avoiding the harmfulness of video games? And many other questions can be found.
Japanese researchers should make efforts to help in answering these questions by conducting much more research than they have previously, and their possibilities for doing so are good.
In Japan, since 1983 when Nintendo began to sell Family Computer, the number of sold video game machines and software has continued to increase, and the frequency of children's video game use has also increased. Nowadays, 59 percent of male elementary school students play a video game for over one hour per day on weekdays and 23 percent of them for over two hours. 20 and 6 percent of female students spend over one and two hours, respectively.
Given such popularization, many people in the Japanese press have argued that children's use of video games could have serious harmful effects on their violent behavior. Before 1992, previous studies conducted mainly in the United States had not been systematically introduced to the Japanese, and therefore, even academic researchers in Japan often fervently supported arguments for the harmfulness of video games. However, after 1993, considering the findings of US research, Japanese academic researchers did not simply support the arguments.
From the mid-1990's, empirical research on video games and violence began in Japan. Japanese empirical research can be regarded as unique because violent behavior has often been directly measured in experimental studies and because some panel studies have been conducted, measuring the influence of video games over time. In these studies, the deleterious effects of video game use on violence have sometimes been detected, and based on this, some researchers are now beginning to believe that video games can be harmful.
Despite these studies, Japanese research is still rare. Japan is now leading the world in the video game industry, and as such it should take responsibility for the games' possible negative effects. In addition, Japanese researchers are in a particularly good position to work on these issues, and therefore their work should be expanded in the future.
Asahi Shimbun (1998, February 2). Wareware no Jinken ha, Kyoushi tachi no mikata [Our human rights?: Teachers' views]. Morning edition, p. 34. (in Japanese)
Dentsu Institute for Human Studies (Ed.) (1998). Research for information and media society 1999. Tokyo: Dentsu Institute for Human Studies. (in Japanese)
Janamoto, K. (1985). The current world of elementary school children: From the survey of elementary school children (1). The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, 35(1), 43-58.
Janamoto, K. (1990). Tired children: From the second NHK survey of the "Elementary School Children's Life and Mind". The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, 40(2), 2-11.
Janamoto, K. (1995). Elementary school children's life and cultures: From the third survey of the "Elementary School Children's Life and Cultures". The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, 45(1), 12-23.
Kobayashi, K., Kimura, F., & Sakamoto, A. (1999). Causal relationships between video game use and aggressiveness: A panel study of Japanese elementary school students. Paper presented at the third conference of the Asian Association of Social Psychology, Academia Sinica, Taipei. (in English)
Kobayashi, K., Sakamoto, K., Hinokuchi, Y., & Sakamoto, A. (1998). Terebigeimu shiyou to kougekisei no ingakankei no kentou: Syougakusei ni taisuru paneru kenkyuu [The examination of causality between video game use and aggressiveness: A panel study of elementary school students]. Proceedings for the 39th annual conference of the Japanese Society of Social Psychology, Tsukuba University, Tsukuba, 326-327. (in Japanese) (Sakamoto, K., Sakamoto, Kobayashi, & Hinokuchi (1998) is the early version of this paper, which was written in English.)
Kobayashi, K., Sakamoto, A., Kimura, F., & Hasebe, M. (1999). Terebigeimu shiyou to kougekisei no ingakankei no kentou (2): Syougakusei ni taisuru paneru kenkyuu [The examination of causality between video game use and aggressiveness (2): A panel study of elementary school students]. Proceedings from the 40th annual conference of the Japanese Society of Social Psychology, Keio University, Tokyo, 286-287. (in Japanese) (Kobayashi, Kimura, & Sakamoto (1999) is the early version of this paper, which was written in English.)
Kurihara, T. (1993). Bideo geimu no syakaiteki hankyou [The social impact of video games]. In T. Sato (Ed.), Jouhouka to taisyuu bunka: Bideogeimu to karaoke [Informationization and popular cultures: Video games and Karaoke] (pp. 83-95). Tokyo: Shibundou. (in Japanese)
Mori, Y. (1997). Terebigeimu no komyunikeisyon [Communication in video games]. In Y. Hashimoto (Ed.), Komyunikeisyon gaku heno syoutai [An introduction to communication science] (pp. 184-202). Tokyo: Taisyuukan Syoten. (in Japanese)
Naito, M., Kobayashi, K., & Sakamoto, A. (1999). Terebigeimu shiyou to kougekisei no ingakankei no kentou (2): Syougakusei ni taisuru paneru kenkyuu [The examination of causality between video game use and aggressiveness (2): A panel study of elementary school students]. Proceedings for the 40th annual conference of the Japanese Society of Social Psychology, Keio University, Tokyo, 288-289. (in Japanese)
Nihon Keizai Shimbum (1995, January 4). Kakutou gamen, rinchi de saigen [Fighting on screens realized by group violence]. Morning edition, p. 30. (in Japanese)
Sakamoto, A. (1993). "Terebigeimu no akueikyou" ha hontouka?: Kougekisei to syakaiteki hutekiou nikansuru syakaisinrigaku-teki kenkyuu no gaikan [Are "the harmful effects of video games" true?: A review of socio-psychological research on aggression and social maladjustment]. In T. Sato (Ed.), Jouhouka to taisyuu bunka: Bideogeimu to karaoke [Informationization and popular cultures: Video games and Karaoke] (pp. 64-82). Tokyo: Shibundou. (in Japanese)
Sakamoto, A. (1994). Video game use and the development of socio-cognitive abilities in children: Three surveys of elementary school students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 21-42. (in English)
Sakamoto, A. (1999a). Terebigeimu wo meguru shakai gensyou [Social phenomena related to video games]. Child Study, 53(1), 112-120. (in Japanese)
Sakamoto, A. (1999b). Terebigeimu ha bouryokusei wo takameruka? [Do video games promote violence?] Child Study, 53(2), 105-112. (in Japanese)
Sakamoto, A., Narushima, R., Sakamoto, K., Takahira, M., Suzuki, K., & Izumi, M. (1999). Terebigeimu asobi ga ningen no bouryoku ni oyobosu eikyou: Genjitsusei no chousei kouka [The effects of video game play on human violence: The moderating effects of reality]. Proceedings for the 63th annual convention of Japanese Psychological Association, Chukyo University, Nagoya, 897. (in Japanese)
Sakamoto, A., Ozaki, M., Mori, T., Takahira, M., & Ibe, N. (1998a). Video games and human violence: Impacts of interactivity in media. Proceedings from the Interaction '98 symposiums of the Information Processing Society of Japan, the University of Tokyo, Tokyo, 109-116. (in Japanese) (Sakamoto, Ozaki, Mori, Takahira, & Ibe (1998b) is the short version of this paper, which was written in English.)
Sakamoto, A., Ozaki, M., Mori, T., Takahira, M., & Ibe, N. (1998b). Human aggression caused by virtual reality and multimedia. In H. Thwaites (Ed.), Future fusion: Application realities for the virtual age (pp. 416-421). Burke, VA: IOS Press. (in English)
Sakamoto, K., Sakamoto, A., Kobayashi, K., & Hinokuchi, Y. (1998). Causal relationships between aggressiveness and various types of video game use in Japanese elementary school students. Paper presented at the 15th biennial meetings of International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development, Berne. (in English)
Shiraishi, N. (1998). The important role of TV and video games in children's friendship: From the survey of the "Elementary School Children and TV '97." The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research, 48(4), 2-19. (in Japanese)
Yomiuri Shimbun (1999, August 11). Kasougenjitsu samayou doushin [Children's mind wandering virtual reality]. Morning edition, p. 12.
Yukawa, S., Miyamoto, T., & Yoshida, F. (1999). Bouryokuteki terebigeimu ga kougekikoudou ni oyobosu eikyou: Yakuwari-douka-gata geimu to sigeki-hannou-gata geimu no hikaku: Sankasei no kouka wo kuwaete [The effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior: The comparison of role-internalizing and stimulus-responding games: Adding the effects of participation]. Proceedings from the 40th annual conference of the Japanese Society of Social Psychology, Keio University, Tokyo, 132-133. (in Japanese)