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Veteran Member - Level 11
Before I begin a word of caution. This is a long blog...longer
than even I normally post. Weighing in at five pages and 2,300+ words, I know
many of you may not read the entire thing. If there is one thing I can
encourage you to read, it's this
(pages 16-18). It debunks many of the urban legends that are out there and
includes citations to the references used by those for and against violent
Okay...go use the bathroom, and grab a snack...here goes.
You all know as well as I do ever since the school shooting
in Connecticut there has been a lot of churn from the various levels of the
government up to and including the President of the United States regarding the
potential dangers of playing violent video games, especially the influence it
can have on younger gamers. And this movement has also generated a lot of activity
from the media, who all seem okay with pushing an agenda instead of just
reporting the news. It's a topic I have blogged about and debated with others; a
topic near and dear to my heart; and a topic that isn't going to go away
anytime soon, even if we don't have it shoved in our faces every day. One
common element in nearly every discussion on the topic of video game violence
made by the opponents and supporters of video games is...
"According to studies,
researchers discover playing violent video games... (fill in the blank)"
The findings usually come up with three different sets of
results often depending on your perspective of the matter. There are some
studies that support the notion that playing violent video games, especially
when you're younger, can lead to aggressive and potentially violent behavior. These
results typically come from those researches that are not gamers and think
strict legislation should be imposed to regulate games with mature content.
Then of course you have some studies that find no conclusive link between
playing violent video games and aggressive or violent behavior. Obviously these
studies tend to come from the researchers that support the video game industry.
And finally you have the group in the middle, who claim no allegiance to either
side - they just want to conduct their studies, see what the results say, and
provide an unbiased account of their findings.
To summarize, it's like saying...there's your truth, my
truth...and the actual truth.
Since I am so passionate about this subject, I think it is
vital to try and learn and understand as much as I can about the issues, from both
(or all the) perspectives, so I can speak to the issues as an informed gamer,
not just as a passionate one. Famed Chinese General and military strategist Sun
Tzu stated in his Art of War doctrine a concept that translates to, "The more
you read and learn, the less your adversary will know."
To illustrate what I'm saying, I'm going to share something
I learned from my high school psychology class eons ago (perhaps the only thing
I learned - certainly the only thing I remember).
It was the first day of school and the first day of psychology
class. I remember what the teacher looked like (a skinny Will Ferrell) but I
can't for the life of me remember his name. He went around the room asking
about our thoughts and expectations from the class and then told us this story
(perhaps you all have heard this one before too) about a researcher who
suggested talking positively to your plants every day would make them grow
bigger and better, thereby proving plants had feelings and emotions. Along
comes another researcher who scoffs at this theory, suggesting the reason the
plants respond to your voice is because when you talk you exhale carbon
dioxide, which if you remember from Biology, is what the plants need for
photosynthesis to sustain life...so the plants grow more because you're giving them
more CO2 by talking more. Who is right? Frankly, I have no idea, but it just
goes to show how two different people can look at a situation and come away
with completely different interpretations of the data.
Please keep that in mind.
Anyway, I wanted to know more about the types of research
and studies that were conducted, specifically, what kinds of tests were
performed that resulted in the experts concluding what they did. Now before I
share just a brief sampling of some of the experiments, I'd like to state that
just like in all my other blogs on this issue, I'm not here to push any sort of
agenda or one sided argument - I want to share just a few of the tests data
points and you can decide for yourself what the information means and whether
you think it's a reasonable test to indicate the association. Therefore, I'm
not going to tell you specifically who conducted the tests or which side of the
fight they represent...
* 600 eighth and ninth grade students completed surveys that
asked questions about the types of video games they preferred and how "violent"
they were. The survey also recorded how often the students played the games,
the students' hostility level, how often they had argued with teachers during
the past year, their average grades, and whether they had been in a physical
fight in the past year.
* 130 college student had their blood pressure measured
before, during, and after playing selected video games and had students take a
"word completion" test after playing selected video games. One study found that
children who had just finished playing violent video games were more likely to
fill in the blank letter in "explo_e" with a "d" (so that it reads "explode")
than with an "r" ("explore")
*Comparison of brain wave patterns of "high gamers" (over 40
hours per week spent playing video games) with "low gamers" (less than two
hours per week).
*Extended play has been observed to de-press activity in the
frontal cortex of the brain which controls executive thought and function,
produces intentionality and the ability to plan sequences of action, and is the
seat of self-reflection, discipline and self-control.
*Comparison of brain waves of 39 male college students
during an experiment in which "noise blasts" were administered and violent and
nonviolent images were shown.
*A test group of children listed television shows and video
games and rated how often they viewed or played the media. The children were
then evaluated using the Child Behavior Checklist, a well-researched and
well-validated tool for measuring behavioral problems in children and
* Eleven participants were randomly assigned to watch Mortal
Kombat: Deception (violent video game) or Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002 (nonviolent
video game). The participants filled out a demographic survey and pre Word
Completion Task. After watching the assigned 10 minute video game clip,
participants filled out the post Word Completion Task and the Buss-Perry
Aggression Scale. The results showed that the violent video game group did not
score significantly higher on the post Word Completion Task. The violent group
was not more aggressive. An approaching significant difference was found
between the violent and nonviolent groups according to the Buss-Perry
Aggression Scale. The nonviolent group reported higher levels of aggression.
*A study of 1,254 seventh and eighth grade students examined
the influence of exposure to violent video games on delinquency and bullying
behavior. This study did not use abstract measures of aggression, but instead
focused on specific negative behaviors such as delinquency and bullying.
*A study of 213 participants examined the influence of
violent video game play on aggressive behavior. The 213 participants were
divided into a 75 person treatment group that played a single game, Asheron's
Call 2, a type of "massively multi-player online role-playing game" that is
"highly violent" and has "a sustained pattern of violence," for at least five
hours over a one month period, and a 138 person control group that did not play
the game. Participants then completed self-reported questionnaires that
included a range of demographic, behavioral, and personality variables.
*Participants reported their media habits and then played
one of eight violent or nonviolent video games for 20min. Next, participants
watched a 10-min videotape containing scenes of real-life violence while heart
rate (HR) and galvanic skin response (GSR) were monitored.
Now, I know I said I wasn't trying to persuade you and I'm
not...but I do want to delve into a particular study I came across, simply
because it's a fairly recent study and some of the dialogue it references calls
shooter games "murder simulators". I think it also shows how and why "research"
can be inherently flawed, yet somebody down the road will likely cite this as a
reference in one of their meta-analysis research papers. The article isn't that
lengthy, but I'm going to edit it for brevity anyway. You can read the full
In our study, 151
college students played one of three different video games for just 20
minutes: a violent shooting game with
humanoid targets that rewarded headshots (Resident Evil 4), a nonviolent
shooting game with bull's eye targets (the target practice game in Wii Play),
or a nonviolent, non-shooting game (Super Mario Galaxy). Participants who
played a shooting game used either a standard controller or a gun-shaped
controller. Afterwards, we had them fire 16 shots at a life-size mannequin 20
feet (6.1 meters) away using an airsoft training pistol, which has the same
weight, texture, and firing recoil of a real 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
The results showed
that players who used a pistol-shaped controller in a violent, shooting video
game had 99% more head shots and 33% more other shots compared to other
players. We didn't tell players to aim for the head - they did that naturally,
because the violent shooting game they played rewarded head shots. These
results remained significant even after controlling for firearm experience, gun
attitudes, habitual exposure to violent shooting games, and trait
aggressiveness. Habitual exposure to violent shooting games also predicted
In summary, playing a
violent first-person shooting game for only 20 minutes increased accuracy in
shooting a realistic gun, especially at the head. It is important to note that
our results do not indicate that a person who plays violent shooting games is
more likely to fire a real gun at others. These results instead indicate that
if such a person were to fire a gun, he or she would fire more accurately and
be more likely to aim for the head. These results indicate the powerful
potential of video games to teach or increase skills, including potentially
lethal weapon use.
If you're a gamer, you might be chuckling with this
"research" and their choice of games.
If you're a gun enthusiast, you're probably scratching your
head how an airsoft training pistol has the same recoil of a real 9mm
And if you're both a gamer and a gun enthusiast, you're
probably mad as hell that this piece of garbage is actually considered
"research". Are you effing kidding me? Excuse my language, my southern heritage
slips out from time to time. I'm not even going to waste my time or your time
breaking down the foolishness of this "research".
Food For Thought
When reading some of the studies, consider the date the
findings were published. A study from the 19970s - 1980s about video games is
likely to be very different from a study released in the last, oh...I don't know...decade.
When reading some of the studies, be aware of the term
"meta-analysis" which is often used to mean, "Based on reviewing a collection
of findings from other researchers, I have come up with my own theory." Which
means that an actual test or study might not have ever occurred. It would be
like me reading a bunch of reviews for Duke Nukem and reporting that it sucks,
even though I've never played it, and then somebody else quoting my review in
their review. See, it gets kind of convoluted doesn't it? And then down the
road, I'm being quoted as saying Duke Nukem sucks and I've never even played
Just because large bodies of like minded individuals agrees
with one another and publish papers agreeing with one another does not make
something scientifically accurate or true. It might, but it also might mean
they're all wrong.
How do you conduct a rock solid case study that can
conclusively prove that video games cause aggressive and potentially violent
behavior in our youth? The truth is you can't...unless of course you grow and
raise test subjects that have never been exposed to any other external
influences that potentially pollute the actual test. Even then it would be
difficult based on simple genetics and free will - some people are the way they
are because they were born that way. Do you know many of these research
analyses never even take into consideration whether the test subjects are on
medication for mental health concerns, many of which are known to cause
aggression. How do you gauge quality of life and the relationship with your
parents, family and friends into the equation? Some of the studies evaluated
kids in Singapore, not the United States - does that matter?
In closing, consider the following statement from Jennifer
Mercurio, the Vice President & General Counsel of the Entertainment
Consumers Association (ECA) who said in the a letter to the Vice President...
"Studies shows that media does not cause violence."
Notice it says "does not" - not "is inconclusive" or "there
is no definitive proof"...it says does not. That's a pretty bold statement, but it
also says "cause" though, which doesn't mean it doesn't have any influence or impact
at all when combined with other factors.
Just something to think about...
Fight the good fight my fellow gamers. And be informed when
you do it.
Keep your head down and your powder dry...
Thanks man... I feel just a little bit smarter having read this!
And yeah, my jaw did drop at the mention of the one 'study'. While I'm not personally a gun owner I come from a storied line of hunters and there have always been several (ok, quite a bit more than that) guns in my home. While I initially had a pretty liberal view of the whole situation I realized a few weeks back that I was being a hypocrite hiding behind the first ammendment in regards to my hobbies while demonizing another protected by the second. To each their own is my current opinion on the entire issue.
Great piece. I raised one eyebrow pretty high at that "study" you quoted; I've very rarely handled a firearm, but if asked to use one to shoot at a stationary target, I would no doubt aim for the head - and I'd go on to argue that a lifetime of obsessing over zombie culture would be just as much to blame, if not more, than video games.
There's also a huge gap between "contribute" and "cause," as well as between "aggression" and "violence." it's frustrating to see words hot-swapped in allegedly scientific studies with that kind of recklessness.
Saint, I loved your last point about how mental illness is rarely, if ever given much attention in these issues. I wrote a blog about this topic and I predicted that mental illness would NEVER be addressed in the midst of all this "public outrage", and I think time will prove me right.
I guess I just have one question to ask. I'm all for fighting for this, but do you think it's a fight that can be won?
Well done, Saint. And thanks for this important PSA. Based on everything I've read and heard, there is no credible research that links violent games with violent behavior. The key I think when discussing this with nongamers is the word "credible."
I am familiar with the studies that show the increased aggression (which is very different). Even in those studies, it's important to note that the aggression is not in all subjects, it is minimal, and it is very short-lived. In other words, at worst, it's an infrequent and limited potential result. That verges on statistically insignificant to me.
Likewise, I don't know the details but most studies you reference rely on subjective information gathered from the subjects themselves in the form of answers to questions. Worse, it often involves responses from children. Of course that is hardly the basis for a scientific study. Nevermind that there appear to be a lack of control groups or controlling factors considered (again, a supposition on my part based on the data you impart).
The problem is that it is difficult to win these arguments because critics have preconceived notions that are difficult to dislodge. The best we can hope for is encouraging reasonable doubt in the public by a preponderance of data that refutes critics' arguments. To that end, I think you provide a good example of that approach. Thanks, Saint.
I've really taken a liking to reading through these blogs, Saint. Very well done.
I was JUST talking to someone about the mental health issue in all of this before clicking to read this blog. I can't agree more that both nurture and nature from one's personal life shapes you far more than any videogame. I’ve played videogames as far back as I can remember, and violent videogames have always been part of the experience. Clearly based on this “research,” I must be more prone to shooting up a shopping mall instead of writing a blog about emotionally compelling stories that were actually examples found in exactly the types of violent videogames they detest. Ironic? Or just plain stupidity on their part? Furthermore, I would NEVER aim for the head no matter how much some game rewards me for doing so. I have always been taught to aim for center mass, even before the military. Those folks most likely aimed for the head because of ignorance of basic weapon handling…ok, I better stop before I bust up my keyboard. Great blog Saint, but another one like this and I’m sending you the bill for my replacement keyboard.
Mojo said it best, students will lie to sound cool from K-12th grade. They want to fit in. I have had students tell me about games they play and then I research them or play them and they are completely off base. They lied and made up stuff to fit in with their classmates who are playing the games. It is a tough world to live in and kids will lie to fit in and be a part of something, even if the thing they are trying to be a part of is something fake and useless like popularity. I have never cared about being popular but these kids will succumb to peer pressure and this focus groups are terribly flawed because the questions asked can be loaded and skewed, Ah it gets me heated.
Great blog Saint.
Theirs is a mix of something like opiniformed. At best. Excellent work Saint. Which is more than I can say for what they pass off as research.
I just want to point out that your description of a meta-analysis is a little bit incorrect. Meta-analyses in psychological research don't (or, I guess more accurately, shouldn't) proper their own theories. Rather, they try to parse a theory that explains the results of the other studies it analyzes. It's a fine distinction, to be sure, but it's important. To use your DNF example, a proper meta-analysis would conclude that there is a high likelihood that DNF is a low-quality game. Note also that this example is not great because its conclusion is subjective in a way that good research should not be.
Meta-analyses are actually quite useful in many contexts, although you are right to be skeptical of them in this particular case. A lot of these studies make bold real-world claims based on very lab-specific operationalizations of violence (in other words, their proxies for real-world violence to make the experiment feasible have questionable application in real-world contexts). In the context of clinical treatments, this sort of distinction is known as efficacy vs. effectiveness, and it's very well-documented. The same treatment can be efficacious in 80% of people, meaning experiments (which pull from a very specific pool and necessarily exclude more serious cases) show a huge effect, but have a 0% effectiveness rate when analyzed in real-world contexts.
Most damningly, though, is that every study essentially defines its outcome by the procedure and measurement that it chooses to use. That's where meta-analysis can be useful (because it uses statistical mumbo-jumbo to equalize these different measurements), but in this case it's not because so many of the measurements are specifically tailored toward finding a certain result.
Also, the golden rule of "correlation does not equal causation" seems to be lost in the debate. I personally think making causal claims from the experimental methods used here is a spurious enterprise, but I'm not exactly an expert researcher, just a dedicated student of it.
One final point: this area of research is, as you say, very young. The fact is, we don't have enough research to make any statements with scientific certainty. That's fine. But the minute the word "probably" exits the conversation, it loses its validity.