M-rated bloody gory video and computer games are most popular among young teens, according to a new study.
M-rated games are actually meant for ages 17 and above, but the study suggests that middle-school children play them frequently to release their anger.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Cheryl K. Olson at the Massachusetts General Hospital's (MGH) Center for Mental Health and Media.
As part of the study, researchers analysed a large sample of 1,254 children from two states who came from various socio-economic, racial/ethnic and geographic groups, so these findings might represent the average middle-school child.
The study found that most 7th and 8th graders (ages 12 to 14), including two-thirds of boys and more than one in four girls regularly played violent M-rated video games 'a lot in the past six months'.
'Grand Theft Auto', which is rated M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs, was the most popular game series among the boys surveyed. Surprisingly, it was also the second most popular series among the girls after 'The Sims', a game that simulates the activities of a virtual family.
The study also noted that just six percent of the sample had not played any electronic games in the previous six months.
Many children played the games to manage their feelings, including anger and stress. Children who played violent games were more likely to play to get their anger out. They were also more likely to play games with strangers on the Internet.
The researchers also found that kids who were involved in these games were more likely to play in groups.
"Contrary to the stereotype of the solitary gamer with no social skills, we found that children who play M-rated games are actually more likely to play in groups - in the same room, or over the Internet," Olson said.
The study suggested that since availability of M-rated games is on the rise, it is important to explore their effects on the children who play them and look at the policies once again which propose that children should not access these games because although so many participants played violent games, youth crime rate has actually declined.
"But violent game play is so common, and youth crime has actually declined, so most kids who play these games occasionally are probably doing fine. We hope that this study is a first step toward reframing the debate from 'violent games are terrible and destroying society' to 'what types of game content might be harmful to what types of kids, in what situations. We need to take a fresh look at what types of rules or policies make sense," Olson added.
The findings of the study were published in the July issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.