This is the first in a series of experimental ‘dueling cblog editorials’ I will be doing with CaffeinePowered
, you can check out his ‘Point’ HERE
(I left my camera’s memory card up in the Bay Area when I was home for Christmas so I don’t have awesome Phoenix Wright pictures; hopefully I’ll have it when the next installment goes up.)
Video games and violence.
Every time this topic comes up, there’s always a shitstorm of discussion. It seems like almost every person on Dtoid jumps in, and almost everyone seems to have the same opinion:
Video games have no effect on a person’s aggression or violent tendencies.
And I 100% disagree with that opinion. I firmly believe that, on some level, violent video games have an effect on people, from children to adults.
Before everyone jumps in and starts telling me how wrong I am, how they’ve played a video game and haven’t murdered someone, how this opinion is damaging to the video game industry, allow me to explain. It’s not an easy topic to condense into a blog so I can’t cover everything, but let me try to give you a brief overview of why I think video games actually do affect gamers (just not in the way that the media and Jack Thompson claim).
Defining Violence and Aggression
One of the biggest misunderstandings in this debate is exactly what “violence” and “aggression” are. Whenever this topic comes up, people seem to automatically equate any suggestion that video games can make a player more aggressive to a statement that “Playing video games will make you kill people”, and this simply isn’t true. In the context of studies discussing increases in aggression and violence, they do not mean the extremes. Every time a study comes out where aggression is mentioned everyone freaks out and acts like the researcher is blaming gamers for genocide. Aggression can mean a lot of different things. Violence doesn't mean you're shooting people in the head. Additionally, they don’t always mean physical acts. Wanting to punch someone in response to a conflict, even if you don’t actually do it,
When I was younger, my little brother and I would play Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat in the backyard. It was a game, and we had fun beating the crap out of each other. I dragon punched him in the face a number of times. Is that aggression and violence that’s a direct result of video games? Yes. We weren’t aiming to kill/maim the other person, and it was all in fun, but it is still a direct example of increased aggression as the result of a video game. If I didn’t know what Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat were, it’s unlikely that we would have gone out and played like that.
If you understand what “increased aggression” actually means, the research doesn’t seem as far fetched, although people may still disagree. In fact, a large number of things in the media are linked to increased aggression. Playing or viewing “violent” sports (like football, hockey, etc.) is known to increase aggression and violence*
, and I don’t think many people would argue with that. If you’re a football player, you’re going to really want to win and you’re probably going to enjoy slamming the opposing quarterback to the ground as you blitz him. That’s a perfect example of increased aggression and violence. Again, like with video games, all football players aren’t homicidal maniacs who want to shoot up schools. Similarly, watching violent movies can increase the propensity of violent or aggressive thoughts. After watching some badass action movie with explosions and backflips and ninjas and all that shit, who hasn’t imagined themselves in the hero’s place afterwards, running around shooting terrorists and blowing shit up?
The “Jack Thompson” Fallacy
But even with that example, I’m not claiming that it’s the exact same for everyone. That’s another problem that happens whenever these studies come out. Everyone inevitably chimes in with “Hey! I play video games and I haven’t killed anyone. Obviously this study is wrong!!” In doing so, you make the same mistake that Jack Thompson does when he points to one instance of a kid supposedly influenced by video games who has gone on to murder someone. Nothing in social sciences can be predicted 100% across an entire population.
These studies don’t claim that every single person who plays video games will become muderers, as Jack loves to say, they in fact claim that the act of playing violent video games may, in a percentage of the population, increase the chance that an individual may have violent thoughts or behaviors. That's something that could be as simple as the kid might be more likely to punch his pillow when he's angry. And of course, the inverse is true as well. Just because you yourself and your friends haven’t gone out and stabbed someone because of a video game, or if you feel that you have been absolutely 100% in no way affected by a video game, doesn’t mean that there are not other people who are.
How the Media Twists the Research
One of the main “problems” with these kinds of studies that link video games and aggression/violence is that the mainstream media picks up on them and twists the meaning and interpretation of the results in order to make a sensationalistic story about how buying your child a video game will cause him to stab you in the face in the middle of the night.
This is certainly an issue; this kind of press is bad for gamers and the industry in general. However, this fact doesn’t make the studies themselves inherently incorrect or invalid. If you read most of them, many of the researchers make great pains to say that they’re not claiming that there aren’t any other extraneous factors involved, or that they’re making the claim that video games turn kids into murderers. The mere fact that the media misinterprets them, or that they go against your personal beliefs doesn’t make them incorrect or invalid.
What These Studies Actually Mean
While I touched earlier on how I increases in aggression and violence can be small minor things, it’s logical to assume that if video games actually did make people more aggressive and violent, more video gamers would be committing crimes. However, it’s important to understand that these types of research studies try to statistically control their variables so that they can look at the effect in the ABSENCE of any other mitigating variables. When a study says that playing video games makes you violent, it’s saying that “not taking into account ANY other factors, such as parental involvement, SES, mental state, etc., video games can make some people more violent.” Most gamers come from stable households and many have parents who took an interest, or at least paid attention to their game playing, and as a result this mitigates the effect that video games have. If your parents are responsible and you have normal social support networks, video games will not grossly affect you in a negative way (although if listening to the chat in Live is any indication, gamers still seem to be pretty verbally aggressive). If your parents don’t monitor what you play and give you no support, chances are you’ll be affected more by video games than most.
How to Fight the Negative Press
The best way to counteract all the negative publicity games get as the result of poor interpretations of research on violence and video games is to become informed yourself. If every time a piece of research comes out and gamers just yell ‘NO THIS IS WRONG’, our credibility doesn’t really go up. It will be FAR more beneficial to the video game industry as a whole for us to acknowledge that there's a link between media and personality traits, and then point to all the other areas like sports where almost identical findings have been made to show that the media is making a far bigger deal out of video games than they should. Use this knowledge to encourage developers, retailers, and parents to take ESRB ratings seriously. 9 year olds should not be playing Manhunt. Stores shouldn't be selling M rated games to 7 year olds 50% of the time. Gamers as a whole don’t look good when a 5 year old is decapitating people in God of War. Instead of pretending that video games are a magical type of media that don’t affect people in any way, acknowledging their power and then pointing to similar media and the various mitigating variables that decrease violence is the best way to educate people on why games aren’t as dangerous as the media claims they are.
(Pretend this is me while my camera is unusable)
While most video game players don’t go on to shoot up schools, I think it’s hard to deny that most gamers, in some way, shape or form, have been affected by video games. Maybe you’re just a little bit more likely to curse someone out for headshotting you in Halo 3, maybe every now and then you think of how cool it would be to fire a rocket to the face of the asshole you have to work with every day, maybe you push your sister when it’s not necessary. Of course, video games aren’t the sole reason you might do these things, but I think there’s a good chance that had you never played video games, you might be just a little less likely to have those reactions/thoughts/actions. Can you honestly look at yourself and say there’s not a single instance of an aggressive thought you’ve had or action you’ve taken that wasn’t influenced in some way by a video game, no matter how small/minor that thought or action may be? What’s important to remember is that the effects on most of us for video games are so minor that they won’t harm us in the long run.