Is revenge app healthy or dangerous?

By Owen Conflenti - Anchor

HOUSTON - Want to get revenge for something? There's an app for that, but it's causing controversy.

Grab the boxing gloves or go for the knife. The gun will cost you 99 cents, but a baseball bat is included. Choose your weapon and bludgeon your opponent into oblivion. 

The game is called Friendly Revenge and it's marketed as a way for people to de-stress. 

"We're taking that (daily) stress and channeling it through the video game," said the game's developer, Michael Dromlewis, of MD2 Group.

More specifically, Dromlewis hopes young people will use the game to take out aggression. Instead of turning to real violence and bullying, they can put their target's face on a cartoon body via the camera-phone and go to town, so to speak. 

"Instead of having the schoolyard bully beat the kid, why don't we do it in a video game?" said Dromlewis.

During the game, as the character's health meter inches closer to death, the player's stress-relief meter goes in the other direction. 

"In definitely no way are we promoting violence at all," said Dromlewis. "We are using what's called a stress-relieving factor."

KPRC Local 2 asked psychotherapist Micki Grimland, who has worked with children and studied childhood behavioral issues for 30 years, about the effectiveness of channeling aggression through a game like Friendly Revenge. 

"Do the kids who play those video games seem more chilled-out and relaxed? The ones I see in my office aren't," said Grimland.  "They're lonely, cut off from human contact."

Grimland said she sees mixed messages in a game that's meant to help cut down on bullying, yet allows players to eliminate their worst enemies. 

"I don't want my children to learn to release stress with aggression," she said. "I want them to learn to relieve stress with breathing, slowing down, being quiet, taking a time out and having mindful thinking."

Most parents KPRC Local 2 met agreed, saying the game was inappropriate for their young children. 

"Absolutely horrible," Bobby Roddey said. "I think that'll invite kids to be more violent." 

Some wondered if the simple action of the game could turn into something.  

Without venturing a guess on the effectiveness of the game as an anti-bullying tool, other parents were just so disgusted with bullying in general that they're willing to try almost anything at the smallest chance it might help.

Teenager Kylaa Carter said she sees both sides.  On one hand the game might give the player a sense a relief, but she worries it could be "bad because they might actually do it." 

And that leads back to Grimland's point: While the video game itself may not cause violence, the blood-splattering images it projects can desensitize the brain even for older children who may be more mentally-equipped to decipher between reality and fantasy.

For Dromlewis, "fantasy" is a key word. And so is "social." He said he sees Friendly Revenge as a harmless stress-relieving game, obviously not real, where kids can share and compare their battles on social media like Facebook or Twitter. 

"It creates a laugh, gets your attention and nobody gets hurt," said Dromlewis. "By the end of the end of the day, all you're doing is comparing funny pictures."

In a situation like this, even Grimland and Dromlewis would agree the responsibility ultimately falls on the parents.  But Grimland takes it a step further, saying we should all have an investment in the mental health of the children of this world.  Whether it's a game-maker, a journalist, or a psychotherapist, we are all general citizens. And with many kids more tech savvy than the adults these days, that responsibility may be greater and tougher than at any point in our history.

Grimland has other suggestions for parents to channel their children's aggression: breathing exercises, yoga, sports, even boxing or martial-arts that allow kids to pound on inanimate objects.

Despite the criticism of the game, Dromlewis said he's committed to his anti-bullying message and will donate a portion of the game's proceeds to charities working with kids.

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