The effect of violence in video games has been a long drawn out debate. From before the days of Wolfenstein 3D to Modern Warfare 2, parents, psychologists, and politicians continue to claim that children exposed to violent video games are more prone to acting out in violence. Is there any merit to these claims and if so, to what extent is the merit? Is it something to be aware of and alarmed about? Should game developers be more conscientious of the audience and the social trends to help keep consumers safe?
I’m of the opinion that violence in anything makes anyone no more violent than Harry Potter books make anyone a heretical mage. A couple of the many findings purported by so called ‘experts’ are as follows:
Meta-analyses reveal that violent video game effect sizes are larger than the effect of second hand tobacco smoke on lung cancer, the effect of lead exposure to I.Q. scores in children, and calcium intake on bone mass. Furthermore, the fact that so many youths are exposed to such high levels of video game violence further increases the societal costs of this risk factor (Rosenthal, 1986).
Meta - pertaining to itself or of itself. Metadata is data about data, but in detail – who collected it, where it came from, and those kinds of things. A Meta-article would be an article on GameInformer about GameInformer. The Site Bug Thread is a meta-thread, just as an example. So in the sense of ‘meta-analyses’, it takes on a sort false knowledge based on the study of other similar kinds of findings - the results are dependent upon the quality and scope of similarly compared datum; sources of bias are not controlled by the method and even a good meta-analyses of badly designed studies will yield bad statistics. At no point do the studies indicate the method or design, only results and if that’s not going to raise a flag about transparency I don’t know what does.
The overly simplistic mantra, "Correlation is not causation," is useful when teaching introductory students the risks in too-readily drawing causal conclusions from a simple empirical correlation between two measured variables. However, correlational studies are routinely used in modern science to test theories that are inherently causal. Whole scientific fields are based on correlational data (e.g., astronomy). Well conducted correlational studies provide opportunities for theory falsification. They allow examination of serious acts of aggression that would be unethical to study in experimental contexts. They allow for statistical controls of plausible alternative explanations
Though there are good theoretical reasons to expect some populations to be more susceptible to violent video game effects than others, the research literature has not yet substantiated this. That is, there is not consistent evidence for the claim that younger children are more negatively affected than adolescents or young adults or that males are more affected than females. There is some evidence that highly aggressive individuals are more affected than nonaggressive individuals, but this finding does not consistently occur. Even nonaggressive individuals are consistently affected by brief exposures. Further research will likely find some significant moderators of violent video game effects, because the much larger research literature on television violence has found such effects and the underlying processes are the same. However, even that larger literature has not identified a sizeable population that is totally immune to negative effects of media violence. (Anderson, 2003)
17 years later this argument almost denies the validity of the first argument. Dr. Craig C. Anderson states that there’s no conclusive study to show the number of people affected by the effects of violence in video games – that there’s not enough evidence to show what the effects are or how many people, only that ‘highly aggressive’ people are affected more than nonaggressive people, and even then those findings were inconsistent. He supposes that future studies will be more conclusive and works to lessen the impact of inconclusive findings by stating that there is an equally inconclusive finding on people immune to the effects of violence.
The argument doesn’t indicate anything conclusive other than it effects a large amount of kids. It then goes on to link the numbers to items that cause social alarm in its time (second-hand smoke and lead exposure). Where this link becomes disingenuous is that the report indicated nothing physical other than mass of people yet links it to physical disease and affliction thereby presenting the argument in the context of a disease. This aside from the term ‘violence’ is never defined and left for the reader to suppose as to the definition. Using astronomy as an example of correlation studies is used as an attempt at justifying the methodology without indicating what it was. People respect astronomers, they put men on the moon, mapped Mars, disseminate information from Hubble… yet the argument is closed with terms like ‘plausible’ and ‘alternative’ which mean ‘likely and probable’ and ‘in lieu of’ – far from factual, concrete, and directional. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the argument was not a black and white stance: Violence in video games causes violent behaviors in kids. The studies indicate anything but solid answers; not “can cause”, “may cause”, or “could cause”. Anything indicating that the funded studies could be wrong is not found in the phrasing of the argument. They stand firm on the premise that they ‘do’ cause and it is flatly false in the semantics and syntax of the actual findings. Interestingly, Anderson is the primary source for positive reports of the correlation between video game violence and violent behavior but they all might as well say that a city has seen an increase in crime over time without taking the time to relate it to the increase in population over time.
Contradiction in findings are not uncommon and indicate that even alleged experts haven't a clue what video games 'do' to people. Live Science, a web site that reports on scientific news released information on a study that reports violence as not a reason people play games yet the Chicago Tribune reported in March of 2009 that violence warnings on a game made the game more appealing (yet didn't cite who the research was done by or the point of the research).
In the end many of the reports and studies are little more than subjective analyses that have much less persuasive effects when viewed objectively. For example, a study by John P. Murray, a psychology professor at Kansas State University, conducted a very similar experiment in an attempt to find a correlation of video game violence making exposed children prone to violent acts post game, employing the same technology used in Vince Mathews’ 2006 Indiana University study. Murry’s findings are that kids experienced increased emotional arousal when watching short clips from the boxing movie “Rocky IV.” The tests were both run on immature brains and only a small handful of kids – while all children have underdeveloped brains in context to adults the more recent studies have no more or less solidarity than from 20 years ago.
Parents across the country enroll their children into contact sports such as football and martial arts – sports that rely on aggressiveness and will to be more aggressive than the opponent. People get seriously injured participating in such sports, yet parents are encouraged to get their children involved in them because they teach discipline, teamwork, sportsmanship, and promote healthy exercise. The biggest difference between football and Medal of Honor, is that the parent has to be involved and coaches remind the players to show restraint during certain moments but both football and MoH have instances where an aggressive ‘win’ attitude is needed to get the job done and encouraged. Players are told to have strong hits and to take other players down, but with a sense of sportsmanship. The rules are understood before playing.
If nothing else, the saddest part of these studies is twofold:
Researchers are paid to find proof that parents need to pay attention to their children; there needs to be proof that someone should be responsible for the contents of their home. It’s like paying for that oh so obvious ‘safety research’ reports that the site of most accidents happen in the home. Who would have thought that the building people spend a majority of their time in is where they have most accidents... and that stuff gets funding? It takes hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to have some guy in a coat report this? I don't know if I should be disappointed or enraged...
Researchers have not taken their own logic and inverted the situation. If a game depicting violence created a violent pattern of behavior, or could create a violent behavior why have no studies been done on inverted scenarios? If violent games can make non-violent player act violently post game, then non-violent games should be able to suppress violent urges in violent people post game. Given that part of the anti-violent game argument is that risk of behavior is proportional to length and degree of exposure then the opposite should also be true yet the focus is only on negative effects in an attempt to regulate and quell the video game sensation. Further, if players took on the attitudes encouraged by game play, why do we see no increase in video game linked crime?
We do... sort of. Wikipedia has an incomplete list of video game related incidents, but upon investigation many of those instances are where people either try to scapegoat video games or video games are only assumed to be the 'cause'. Perhaps one of the biggest 'sources' of influence is Grand Theft Auto, but criminals in all cases are people who are of an age where they know the difference between right and wrong and no other information about the criminals have been presented such as whether or not these people have a habit of criminal behavior.
Many people on the anti-video game side of the fence champion Jack Thompson... and I cease to understand why. He's a disbarred lawyer. Lawyers don't get disbarred for no reason - Thompson was disbarred for lying, disparaging and humiliating litigants. He fights dirty, which is fine I guess, but it's the lying in tribunals that sort of nags at me.
My personal feelings about violent behavior in kids 'due' to video games is fairly simple:
Watching someones head explode upon impact of a .50 cal round doesn't make me violent anymore than McDonald's makes me fat. My inability to get off of my lazy @$$ makes me fat, and my lack of self control, rational thought and civil morals 'allow' me to kill someone. In the case of children, as parents we're responsible for them and what they take from life experiences. We've an obligation to sit down and explain where babies come from and why taking that Sig Sauer P220 to school isn't acceptable. If we continue to leave these talks to someone else, then in reality we've still no one but ourselves to blame when kids act out in certain ways. It's not the video game, the music, the movies, or other kids... if we have the ability to control or at least direct a situation and fail to do so then the problem lies within us.