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 video games.

Okay...go use the bathroom, and grab a 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 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 adolescents.

* 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 article here.

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 shooting accuracy.

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.

Jaw drop.

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 semi-automatic pistol.

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 the game.

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" 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...