Well, the original title for this was something akin to “How I Learned To Stop Worrying And To Find The “Does Violent Videogames Cause Violence” Debate Tedious”, but the title quickly became tedious in it's self and could have potentially created a wormhole of tediousness where days upon days were spent in run-on-sentences and filling out tax forms. Instead of a silly film reference (which is actually relevant), I decided to make an obscure reference to a piece of fun sociology. Those who get the reference, well done, you see where this train is heading obviously. Just don't tell those who don't get it quite yet, I want to see their faces light up like an orphanage as they learn something. It's one of the few pieces of joy I still get.
The debate on if violent videogames cause violence is an argument old enough to drive a car and fire a gun. The idea is the simple question of: Does playing violent videogames at a young age (younger than 16) increase the chances of an individual committing a violent act? However, the reasoning of why this question hasn't been answered despite the long slew of studies on the subject or applied to the subject is actually an equally easy and hard thing to assess. Due to this, this may run on a bit long and could get rather dry, but I feel it may be necessary to understanding the problems that have been created by researchers, activists and even the very question it's self. Finally, I really want to talk about mods & rockers, and why two sub-cultures in England during the 1960s is actually very relevant to the violent video games debate. On a side note: The debate has also dipped into other areas beyond childhood exposure to video games causing violence such as making the person acutely more likely to commit a violent act, but the most heated and most core debate revolves around long term damage. Despite my focus on the long term damage debate, the points I'm going to raise actually are applicable for all parts of the debate.
Let's start off with the basics of research. When you create a piece of research, you start off with a rough hypothesis you wish to explore. At this point, it's fine to keep it somewhat vague and unanswerable. For instance, the hypothesis could actually be “Does playing violent videogames as a child make the child more violent in adulthood?” This is a fine hypothesis at the start. The first problems begin at a stage called “operationalisation”. This is the part where you start really nailing down what would prove your concept correct or disprove it. You have to reword the hypothesis above to include any particular demographics in mind, since you couldn't leave it as “child”, because it's vague and there's just too much biological and psychological differences between, say, a 5 year old and a 12 year old, you'd probably say “10-12 year olds”. You'd also have to include how you're measuring it, and how you're manipulating factors. There's a few other formalities as well which can affect things. In the end, an operationalised hypothesis may look like this “Does the exposure of videogames with an age certification of 18 for one hour a day affect the scores on the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire by 10-12 year old males?”. While you may look at this operationalisation and are already screaming at the screen many problems (e.g. “WHY DID YOU FOCUS ON BOYS ONLY!”, which to that I'll say because there are biological and psychological differences between males and females, which is a variable that can and should be controlled), you can already see how there are many ways to answer the same question. “Does the exposure of videogames with PEGI descriptor of “violence” by 8-10 year old girls for five hours a week for three months affect if they are more likely to play with aggressive toys at the end?” is another way. It is technically answering the question of “do violent videogames cause violence”, but it is doing it in a completely different way. Naturally, the methodology does change the results. Zimbardo's famous Stanford Prison Experiment and Reicher & Haslam's BBC Prison Study used different methodologies and got different answers (Zimbardo's study showed a high level of role absorption with a high amount of power by guards and very low by prisoners, while Reicher & Haslam's led to both groups holding a lot of power with prisoners rebelling against the guards). This doesn't remotely talk about if one study is better than another, just differences in result can occur. You can end up with two polar positions being present, and neither really being wrong.
A second problem faced just because of the question it's self, is ethics. How do you even research something like this? I've mentioned some operationalised hypothesis above, but they would be torn up and thrown at me if I tried to submit them because of just how severely unethical they are. I would be doing the equivalent to raising a child to only see horizontal or vertical lines to see what would happen, a study they actually did on kittens with “interesting” (I wish I could use bigger speech marks for this) results. “Greater good” may be argued as much as possible, but in the fields of psychology and sociology, they have a very low tolerance for bending ethical guidelines. They do allow it, but knowingly inflicting harm on a child's psychology does tend to break the guidelines in two. So you have to use natural studies, so the child is already playing violent videogames. This is fine because you're not committing harm, but the extraneous variables here are incredible. An obvious one is this: Does violent videogames cause violence in children, or do violent children play violent videogames? This is a chicken-or-egg argument that is very fundamental to your entire debate, but you can't answer. You just don't know, and lack any way of knowing in an ethical manner.
Now onto researcher problems finally, and it's namely two core issues. The first core problem is why you need to always always ALWAYS check who funded the research. Researchers are not rich, but they're also not in it for money. They are people who wish to find out about the world and scream it to the masses. Let it be for fame, or the delicious kick of just finding some fact no one else has. Usually the latter, as it is an incredible rush for an academic to find new land in the world of knowledge. However, they still need money. They need money so they may eat, they need it to fund employees to help and they need it to purchase items that may be needed (e.g. videogames). There are companies offering money. Some are more neutral than others (e.g. universities tend to be pretty neutral with regards to agendas), but every company giving money for research has an agenda. For instance, chances are if you do government research in the UK into if giving benefits to the unemployed gets them back to work, the agenda that the government would have would be the answer “no”, as they prescribe to the Charles Murray mentality that giving money to the unemployed will make them stay unemployed, a notion that most studies disagree with. With the Joseph Rowntree the agenda is to get the answer “yes” as they are a social issues organisation with a particular interest in poverty and the affects of it.
Agendas become VERY important as they are the reason they are funding your research. Assuming you are a researcher who wants to scream any truth, as long it's the truth, with no agenda in mind, you're still going to have to bend your truth to speak a particular agenda. If you want your research published, you're going to have to say EXACTLY what your funder wants you to say, no matter what the data says. If you data says abortion is okay, and you're working for an anti-abortion group, by god you're going to twist that data so hard it'll be like a reverse Philosopher's Stone as you turn gold into lead. If you don't, contractually the funder has final say if you get to publish your data. If you even mention the data exists if your funder says no to publishing it, you're going straight to court. Not to mention, doesn't really sit well on your work record to have research rejected. The company sure as hell knows they better find a better researcher, one who will say the truth they want spoken, and not the other truth.
"There's the truth... and there's the truth!" - The Simpsons, summing up sociology.
The second problem is journals also want to have their own truths spoken. Peer-review isn't as rigorous as you'd imagine. When I say they peer-review paper, you'd imagine an academic hunched over the paper just trying to find any flaws in the thing. One hole so they can tear it up and say “nice try, but you're an idiot”. At least someone who can spot a fraud a mile away. However, as Alan Sokal managed to show in 1996, the rigorousness you'd expect is more a passing glance to see if it seems okay. Alan Sokal is a physics professor who submitted an article to Social Text (a journal about postmodern cultural studies) which proceeded to argue that quantum gravity was a social construct, and began to throw around such “scientific terms” like morphogenetic fields (a.k.a telepathy). As Sokal managed to use the right terminology expected and was a physics professor, the article was published. What this means is just because an article is published doesn't show it is a remotely good article. In the same way going onto talk-shows as a doctor doesn't mean you're a good doctor, or even a doctor at all (in the same way the doctor who goes on talk shows to advise people on medical matters, could be a doctor in classical arts).
Now the fault activists have to why the debate on violent videogames is tedious is a small one (well, excluding if they're involved in funding for loaded research that speaks their truth), is the demanding nature they do not want to know what may actually be happening but rather just want their view confirmed. How correct or wrong someone is, or the logic they may be using to justify it is irrelevant in the eyes of the activist, who looks only at the conclusion and from their either praises or damns the research. While I'll admit I'm fortunate to not know how the anti-violent videogames crowd reacts to any news on any journal published on videogames, I however had experience with regards to videogame fans reacting to anyone saying videogames cause violence. Even if it's someone with no power at all, or even if the journal article was flawless (no journal article is flawless, none at all), what tends to occur is a swarm of fans standing up to defend videogames. This knee jerk damning every time someone says something bad about videogames does need to end. Videogames do bad things, because everything does. One thing that is confirmed without a doubt videogames can do is cause addiction. Videogame addiction is a severe issue that can cripple people socially, financially and physically. It is a problem that has been talked about by people such as Extra Credits (if you want to learn about videogame addiction, it is the best gateway into learning about it). There is a chance videogames could cause violence if exposed to children at an early age. It is a distinct possibility considering the fragile nature of child development (e.g. not reading to children at an early age can later hamper their intellectual development). We shouldn't be rushing to the aid of videogames, saying we have the answers, but rather be reminding people the answers are just not in yet and already working out ways videogames can prevent harm towards others in case it does end up being the case. If videogames is something you love, the best thing you can do is help it overcome any weaknesses it has rather than defend said weaknesses, as it will end up more powerful and more beneficial by overcoming them. Keep in mind the debate focuses upon child development, so the best solution if it does end up being the case is actually making age certifications more enforced, and why is making GTA 5 get in the hands of 14 year olds harder a bad thing?
Which this brings me to why I mentioned Mods & Rockers earlier. During the 1960s, newspapers began printing stories of when two sub-cultures were going to meet up and have a fight. One side were the Mods, who were suit-wearing scooter-driving The Who fans who wore Parkas when it got cold. On the other side were the Rockers, men who wore leather jackets, rode motorbikes and listened to rock-n-roll music like Chuck Berry. The twist of the story was, according to Stanley Cohen, before the papers began talking about this the sides had never thought to fight. They didn't like each other (e.g. Rockers hated Mods because they took drugs, while Mods found Rockers old-fashioned), but they never organised fights between the sub-cultures. There were small fights in cafes, but nothing major and organised. However, as the stories in the newspapers rolled claiming these organised large fights had occurred, fights did start to be organised as a reaction. A moral panic began amassing against anyone who was associated with the sub-cultures. If anything remotely bad happened, it was usually blamed on the sub-cultures. They began being associated with anything bad. The idea being if you were a mod or a rocker, you probably took drugs, were involved in teen pregnancy, was violent, committed crime and used contraceptives (the 1960s were a different time).
Once upon a time, I used to go to The Escapist. I'd read their news, read the reviews (I found them too quick to hate characters who did awful things, and too eager to give high ratings, but it was a curiosity), read the magazine and watch their videos. However, something changed. They began printing stories designed as click-bait. Stories of all sorts really, just designed to draw attention. They dropped the magazine in favour to reporting about things rather inconsequential that was remotely relevant to videogames. They were running stories on things such as someone breaking in and stealing a bunch of consoles and PCs from a hospital. Stories barely relevant, but click-baity enough to get the comments going to deplore this kind of action. The favourite form of click-bait was also the one that caused me to stop going there. About once a month, they'd talk about how such-a-such said videogames cause violence. Every time, at least 10 pages of people saying the predictable tired routine of “HOW DARE THEY!”. It was like the two minutes of hate from George Orwel's 1984. The final straw was when they ran a story how a small-town sheriff said a shooting had occurred due to videogames. This was a man with absolutely no position of power beyond law enforcement (and a small one at that) saying what he believed, and just 10 pages of absolute hatred for this guy despite having no authority to act upon his suspicions nor being able to respond to any responses. This was just 10 pages of just yelling at a wall. What I saw here was a demonising of anyone who would suggest videogames were flawed. It was the creation of a folk devil of a collection of people who wanted to change videogames out of a belief that wasn't right nor wrong as nothing had been proven yet. The worst crime was a premature conclusion, but no one believed that. That is the day I left The Escapist, with the belief that as long as that behaviour occurred the truth on videogames and if they cause violence would be impossible to be found as any answer except “oh, there is no link” would just be yelled out. Not because it's wrong, but it wasn't the right “truth”. I long for a day where we not only acknowledge how games are great and beneficial, but also when we are okay to accept problems our culture has and to improve upon them. When that day occurs, I will want to embrace video game culture not just as a fan of the culture, but also as an academic with great interest in what the field holds. Until that day comes though, I fear research into the more difficult and troubling areas of videogames would just be met with scorn and doubt for the message they hold and information shouldn't be ignored if it tells a tale we wish not to hear. Knowledge is only powerful due to the truth it holds; if we bend the truth to our will, the knowledge will bend too and thus lose the sharpness.
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