Videogame myths debunked

Interesting stuff that mainstream media and politicians could learn from -

Classic studies of play behavior among primates suggest that apes make basic distinctions between play fighting and actual combat.

While I agree with most of Jenkins’ points, I think he’s off-base with #2 (links between violent game play and aggression) and #8 (desensitization occuring due to violent videogame exposure). In an earlier Qt3 thread, shift6 and I posted some links to many studies demonstrating these associations.

Even though I do believe videogames have an influence on violent behavior, I think there are other stronger influences. Ambulance-chasing lawyers like the one in DaveC’s second link completely overstate gaming’s impact, and are just as problematic as people who deny any influence.

Videogames have an influence on violent behavior like shaking a soda can causes excess carbonation.

If it ain’t there, shaking it doesn’t matter.

</apple juice>

Nature vs. nurture. I don’t think there is any conclusive evidence either way. Until someone can show that videogames are directly responsible for violent behaviour, where otherwise there would be none, I will remain higly skeptical.

I once broke a keyboard when I hit it when I died. Does that count?

*Obligatory pimpage: And don’t forget, kids, that Dr. Jenkins has a monthly column in Computer Games Magazines. Subscribe today!

Wait, if these videogame myths are now debunked, there should be a woeful dearth of videogame myths at the moment.

Therefore, I will now bunk new videogame myths:

  1. Videogames cause death in 100% of game players. It may not happen now, or even in some time, but it will happen, eventually. Preliminary studies among the older gamer population starting in the late 70s/early80s have already shown hints of an eventual 100% mortality rate correlated with videogame playing.

  2. Videogames cause dramatic decrease in proper grammar usage. Studies conducted on well known videogame forums around the Internet demonstrated a marked lack of grammatical proficiency, proper spelling, and usage of punctuation.

On that brutish note, are there any long-term studies of aggression and gaming? Most of the stuff focuses on the immediate effects, which, unsurprisingly, show higher levels of aggression after a period of gaming. You get that same effect from most types of competitive play, I suspect.

By long-term, I’m talking years. Even days or months would do. I guess with games as a household constant now, one could argue that the short-term and long-term tend to meld into one period of aggressive attitudes, but I’m not convinced.


Peter Griffin: Oh no, Lois. I knew this guy that once bought a car out of the paper. 10 years later, bam!..Herpes!

u f007i0 i m 2 7eet 2 u53 5pe7in3 n pu||c7u47i0||!!1!1!

(or the alphabet, apparently)

I doubt this will convince you, but this research shows an experimental difference in a low-level violent behavior; the only difference between the two groups was prior exposure to a violent videogame. This study, like every other, has flaws. Techniques like meta-analysis, which allow researchers to aggregate the results of many studies, have consistently found significant links between videogames and violence.* These findings are consistent with the much larger literature demonstrating an association between general media violence (TV, movies) and real-world behavior.

We have a 6 page thread arguing about evolution in the Politics & Religion forum. I think it’s fair to say that the link between media violence and behavior shares the same level of acceptance among behavioral scientists as the theory of evolution does among biologists. I’d bet at least 90% of college texts summarize the evidence as substantial, not “inconclusive and could go either way.” Scientists have widely differing views on the importance of the association, but few deny a relationship.

I did a quick search and found no longitudinal studies involving videogames; I assume researchers are still collecting data, because there’s a substantial lag between data collection & publication.

We do have longitudinal data involving television (15 year longitudinal study). Like all long-term media violence studies, this is correlational, not experimental, which means you can’t strictly determine cause-and-effect relationships. There is no feasible way to do a longitudinal experimental study of this subject – both practical and ethical complications arise. The result is consistent with dozens, if not hundreds, of short-term experimental studies. Experimental studies don’t always generalize to the real world – the longitudinal study is much better in this regard – but they do allow causal relationships to be inferred. Again, every study is flawed, but a consistent pattern emerges.

  • Anderson, CA, & Bushman, BJ. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature, Psychological Science, 12, 353-359.

I think the point being missed with studies like the above is that it’s highly unlikely that the important facet of the variable is the “videogame” part, as opposed to the “violent” part. People’s moods are influenced by their entertainment. Kids coming out of a Star Wars movie are going to be having pretend lightsaber fights. This is not news, nor is it evidence that Star Wars causes laser weapon violence among American youth.

What it is is the continuing hunt for cheap and easy absolution and explanation in our sick little “everyone’s responsible but me” modern culture. No one will ever convince me that Doom had anything to do with the Columbine shootings. If videogames didn’t exist, they’d have been watching Natural Born Killers over and over or something. The violent individual finds something familiar in a piece of entertainment media and latches on to it. The media examples do not create the behavior, the obsession over them is a symptom of an existing condition.

We as a nation really need to move past these endless permutations of the Twinkie Defense.

Everyone focuses on the violence as if that’s the issue. It’s not. What’s important are the circumstances surrounding the violence and the environment in which it occurs. In modern parlance, this is called “the message.” What message is the game sending with its violence? That’s the question.

We have always exposed children to violent images. Grimm’s Fairy Tales are some of the, er, grimmest stories around. Even the old black-and-white cowboy flicks had their violent (albiet not graphic) moments. But sources such as these are generally credited with having a good and positive effect on childrens’ moral development, whereas the complaint today is that certain videogames have an evil and negative effect. How can this be?

The answer is that violence conceived as necessary in the service of good is thought to be permissible and even admirable, while violence in the service of evil is hateful and deplorable. Postal and GTA are games which feature violence in the service of evil. It’s just that simple. What people are objecting to is not so much the violence itself (although such over-the-top celebrations of murder and mayhem will almost always choose to revel in gore, which is generally objectionable because “reveling in gore” is something only the evil-minded relish), but the message being sent. And that message is either a) that good and evil aren’t objective realities, but merely represent differing “points of view,” or b) that evil is objectively and positively a good and desirable thing. Parents are rightly concerned that their children are being fed this relativist/nihilist poppycock, and they moreover correctly identify the purveyors of it as morally dead, greedy creatures whose only concern for their fellow man is how much money they can pull out of his wallet.

It’s hardly amazing, then, that there has been a push to sanction or obstruct the efforts of such people. After all, if Christians were coming after your children, wouldn’t you move to protect them? Well, that’s the way millions upon millions of people view these games and the people who make them and that’s why things have developed as they have. It’s not that hard to figure out.

ADDENDUM: This concern for the moral well-being of children stems, of course, from the Christian and religious community. What is surprising about the controversy over videogames is the extent to which many modernists and liberals have signed on. The thing to understand, though, is that the modernists and liberals do so not out of a concern for their childrens’ moral well-being (they think there’s no such thing), but out of a concern for their biological and material well-being. Squarely put, they don’t want their children going to jail. And since, being good modernists, they don’t believe anything but material things exist, the only ground they can find for an argument lies in Skinnerism: that children, who are nothing more than biological machines, react involuntarily and in a knee-jerk way to “stimuli.” In the case of videogames, that “stimulus” is identified as “violence.”

Of course, since this view of things is false, the science (suspect as it often is in its own way) is not going to back them up, and hasn’t, and they have consequently squandered much credibility for the whole movement. Most of you seem to be very happy about this.

With all due respect, Matt, you just did the same thing. People who produce violent videogames state they are just meeting consumer demand, and rail against parents for not being accountable. Parents say there’s no way to watch children 24 hours a day, and scream at their schools for not being more responsible. Schools throw up their hands and say they can’t do anything with the limited funds they have, but implore Congress to make videogame manufacturers more accountable. Everybody feels superior and nobody changes their behavior. A few kids die due to violence each year.

I wish more people would simply say, “Look, I’m not the sole cause of this problem, but maybe I can do a little something to make it better.” Otherwise, we should have the guts to come out and say we enjoy having access to violent forms of escapism, and if a few folks take it too far and die because of it, those are acceptable losses. I wish many institutions (parents, the media, & schools) would work together to limit exposure of children to media violence. As an adult, I think people should have access to whatever they want to purchase. I enjoyed Grand Theft Auto 3; I don’t think it should be banned, but I wouldn’t let my teenager play it.

The media examples do not create the behavior, the obsession over them is a symptom of an existing condition.

This conclusion is not supportable with the evidence that we have available. Let me try an analogy. You read a study summarizing the results of 20 experimental studies involving a new drug designed to combat arthritis. Even though each study was flawed, the overall results demonstrated significantly more arthritis symptoms in 950 people who were randomly assigned to a placebo, relative to 950 people who were randomly assigned to the new drug.

What is the most likely reason for different symptom levels between the groups?
a) the new drug caused a reduction in symptoms
b) the 950 people, across 20 independent trials, who were given the placebo all just happened to have a worse starting condition of arthritis
c) shit bonerz!
d) all of the above (an in-joke for anyone who took an undergraduate psych course)

Most scientists would answer (a). By analogy, when we see 950 people randomly assigned to watching high levels of media violence behaving more violently than 950 people randomly assigned to low levels of media violence, we believe it’s due to the greater exposure, not a pre-existing condition. That doesn’t mean that certain people don’t have a greater tendency towards violent behavior (due to upbringing, genetics, etc) than others; I’ve always said that there are multiple causes to violence.

Techniques like meta-analysis, which allow researchers to aggregate the results of many studies, have consistently found significant links between videogames and violence.*

Ah, the meta analysis. We won’t actually try and correct for duplicitous or external factors, or even hold a real study ourselves. We just have a talking point and we want to say “studies have shown” so that we can get in the news.

There are a number of scientific studies showing a link between violent video games and violent behavior, in the short term (that last clause added because TSG brought up a good question). There are no scientific studies I have found showing no correlation between violent behavior and violent video games. Saying that the link doesn’t exist is ignorant. The studies do not say that violent video games cause violent behavior despite some whining politicians saying so. There is, however, a clear correlation between the two. Thanks to Sidd_Budd for linking to the previous, pretty good thread on the topic.

Do violent video games only magnify pre-existing tendencies toward real life violence? Are violent video games only part of the whole “violence in the media” library which effects all people? If so, how much? If not, why the correlation? These questions have not been answered.

Some people wanted to ban TMNT cartoons because they saw an increase in kids “attacking” each other after seeing the show. Like most things with kids I’m sure it wore off after a half an hour. The big question is what is corelation and what is causation?

As shift6 said, there is a link in the short term, but it’s probably no different than kids getting hyped up about anything and running into the yard jumping all over each other. I played cops and robbers with fake guns and chucking dirt lumps long before I ever played videogames or saw Starsky and Hutch.

Ugh, what have I gotten myself into? I think I have an inkling of how lung cancer specialists feel when they have to deal with lobbyists from the tobacco industry.

I recommend Michael Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things, to any folks who might be interested. He has a couple chapters where he points out strategies used by both Creationists and Holocaust Deniers. Instead of providing scientific evidence of your own claims, continually point out flaws in existing research regarding the topic. Demand a perfect study before considering changing your position. Bonus points if you find two scientists who disagree on a detail of the contested theory – how can the Holocaust have happened if scholars can’t even agree if it was 5 million or 6 million people who were exterminated?

I’d appreciate links or citations to published studies that demonstrate no association between exposure to media violence and violent behavior. I’m quite willing to look them over and compare them to studies that do find an association. I put more faith in conclusions of studies that have gone through a peer review process than I do the opinions of a few folks with a vested interest in the continued success of videogames.