Annette John-Hall: Using video games to reduce violence

Eric Small hosts video gaming tournaments that draw thousands each year. He doesn't see these games promoting violence.
Eric Small hosts video gaming tournaments that draw thousands each year. He doesn't see these games promoting violence. (ANNETTE JOHN-HALL / Staff)

It's a way to let off steam and relieve their anger, say young players.

Posted: February 03, 2012

We've heard it for years - a violent culture begets violence.

Conventional wisdom says, if you want to understand the not-so-subliminal reasons for incivility, you don't have to look any further than the movies, the music, and the video games - the elements of pop culture we so readily identify with and glorify.

Those blasted video games are the worst. Violent video games, more than violent television shows or movies, can increase aggressive thoughts and behaviors because they're interactive. At least that's what the American Psychological Association says.

Always sounded a little simplistic to me. I can't imagine a video game having more of an influence on a kid than a parent. But when Philadelphia has suffered 34 homicides in 33 days, you can't help but wonder about everything.

What I do know is, I didn't expect to come to this conclusion.

'Aha' moment

How about this: Yes, young people are playing violent video games, but as a way to decrease their aggressive thoughts, not increase them.

And parents are using video games as effective tools for raising their children.

That "aha" moment presented itself at the University Family Fun Center in University City, where Eric Small reigns as the gaming king supreme with a joystick as scepter.

It wasn't always this way a decade or so ago when many of the city's arcades, including Family Fun, were considered hot spots for crime.

But that was before Small, 39, better known as "Big E," took his childhood passion for gaming and parlayed it into international tournaments held right here in Philly. Next up is Winter Brawl 6, Feb. 18 and 19 at the Sheraton Suites Philadelphia Airport, where Small expects more than 1,000 gamers to take it out on each other - but only on the video screens.

"Never had a problem," says Small, who is as affable as he is a physical contradiction to his name. "I have security at the door to make sure nobody walks out with a PlayStation, but [the competition] is all friendly arguing and bickering."

Small's gamers battle in games like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur V, master assassins and superheroes fighting to the death.

You would think any game that takes Leonardo da Vinci's quote "Our life is made by the death of others" as its credo was just the kind of violent indoctrination that easily impressed minds don't need.

But actually, says Kenneth Scott, a Street Fighter aficionado, its effect is the opposite.

"If I was mad at school, I would go home and play Street Fighter," says Scott, a student at Community College of Philadelphia. "It was therapeutic."

(I can just see Scott taking cleansing breaths as he blows his on-screen enemies to smithereens.)

Method to the kill

I'll admit I don't see the appeal. Watching Scott playing Street Fighter has all the nuance of typists working in those back-in-the-day steno pools - frantically banging on buttons seemingly with no rhyme or reason. But gamers say there is a method to the kill - the deft combination of hand-eye coordination with a chess player's anticipation.

"I used to teach my sons through video games. It's about pattern recognition and being adaptive," says Victor Melbourne, 38, a childhood pal of Small's and a longtime gamer. "You can get some good bonding time in, too. I'd lose to them on purpose and sneak the knowledge in later. . . . It's like putting medicine in ice cream."

Small credits gaming with expanding his own horizons. He has traveled as far away as Japan to promote his tournaments.

Tournament competition allows kids to meet and interact with new people, says Vada Golphin, 19. The homies he sees hanging on the corner don't get that.

They just become targets for real violence.

"Here," Golphin says, "the violence ends once the game is over. Any beef you have stays on the screen."


For more information about Winter Brawl 6, go to www.necphilly.com

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Annettejh.

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