More Violent Video Game Research Says Real World Violence Link Is Crap
from the murder-death-kill dept
If you’ve been reading Techdirt for any decent length of time, you already know that the science behind whether violent video games cause real life violence is hardly settled. With that said, it’s also true that those making the claim are the ones that have to prove their case. What that means is that the burden of proof on those that claim there is a link between real violence and gaming violence is much higher than on those of us that claim no link exists. So, when the most recent work and its researchers come out to again suggest that there is simply no link between violence and gaming, it’s worth highlighting, particularly considering the antagonistic approach new, younger researchers are taking against the old guard and their reaching methodologies.
Stetson University psychologist Christopher Ferguson is one of the chief antagonists. In their drolly titled 2013 commentary, “Does Doing Media Violence Research Make One Aggressive?,” Ferguson and his colleague, German researcher Malte Elson, invite readers to contemplate a thought experiment as a way to think about the plausibility of the “monkey see/monkey do” theory. “Take 200 children and randomize 100 to watch their parents viciously attack one another for an hour a day, the other 100 to watch a violent television program an hour a day,” they suggest, “then assess their mental health after one month is over.” Surely they are right when they assert that “to suggest the mental health outcomes for these children would be even remotely identical is absurd.” As the thought experiment makes clear, ordinary folks do recognize that people, including children, can distinguish between real and fictional violence and will react accordingly.
The thought experiment reduces the violent media concept to an absurd level, surely, but that only serves in this case to highlight what the sandbagged-claims of some researchers are attempting to hide: people are smarter than they’re given credit for. The moment you acknowledge that even the youngest children can make distinctions between real life violence and fictional violence, the game is almost entirely lost from the get go. All that’s left to do is to find that fictional violence doesn’t also magically make children, or adults, like being violent in real life, and the game is a rout and we can all go home. If only there was some kind of published metric that would allow us to show that as violent media has become more prevalent, people have actually become less violent in real life.
In October 2014 the Villanova psychologist Patrick Markey and colleagues published a study comparing trends in onscreen violence to America’s murder and aggravated assault rates between 1960 and 2012. They report that movie violence has dramatically increased in the past 50 years, and that depictions of gun violence in PG-13 movies have tripled in the last 27 years. Controlling for possible confounders such as age shifts, poverty, education, incarceration rates, and economic inequality, they report, “Contrary to the notion that trends in violent films are linked to violent behavior, no evidence was found to suggest this medium was a major (or minor) contributing cause of violence in the United States.” In November 2014, the FBI reported that the violent crime rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent over the past 20 years.
Who wants to suggest that movies, games, and television were more violent fifty years ago? Yeah, I didn’t think so. This is the point we’ve been making for years. Setting aside the single, percussion-like occasions when some horrific violent act occurs, like, say, Sandy Hook, where is all this violence? Movies and television have been getting progressively more violent as time has marched on, but violent crime keeps dropping. And, don’t think I’m forgetting that video games are a more recent thing, compared with movies and television.
In the December 2014 Computers in Human Behavior, a team of researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia used the standard 15-minutes-of-play format widely adopted by video aggression researchers to assess whether playing ultra-violent, violent, and nonviolent video games had any post-play effect on two measures of pro-social behavior. In one, players are paid $5, asked to fill out a brief questionnaire about a local children’s charity, and told they can donate some money on their way out. In the second, players are told that they are choosing the level of difficulty of a puzzle that another subject has to finish in a limited time in order to earn money. The hypothesis was that the more violent the game, the harder the puzzle and the lower the charitable donations would be. Instead, the researchers reported that there was no difference among the three groups with regard to pro-social behavior, although the players of the ultra-violent games did donate more. “There is now growing reason to suspect that playing violent video games does not impact prosocial behavior in a normal population,” concluded the researchers.
Again, when the burden of proof is higher on the side making the claim that a link between violence and video games exists and the side claiming no link exists continues to bury them with good, solid data, it’s probably time to give this up and move on to the next moral panic.