from the dissension-in-the-ranks dept
We've been covering stories here about studies and claims linking real-world violence and video games for about as long as I've been a reader/writer. An even cursory review of our own record can only lead a reader to conclude that such links are, at best, nebulous, and are perhaps less likely than likely to exist. When coupled with some recent and fascinating revelations about just how easy it is to get a study to say exactly what you want it to say, and to get that study published and reported in supposedly reputable arenas, we're left with the troubling impression that such studies linking violence and gaming are more back-patting endeavors than they are true intellectual efforts.
With that in mind, you may have heard of a recent American Psychology Association report that strongly affirms the link between gaming and aggression, which is in this context meant to be synonymous with violence. This was the product of the APA's task force for studying the existence of such a link. It might represent a scientific victory for those who have long claimed that such a link exists, were it not for the predictably massive problems associated with the task force, the studies it took into account, and the methodology for the conclusions it drew. These problems are evidenced by the over two hundred academics who have submitted an open letter to the APA sharing their collective concerns over how this all went down.
One of those signees, Stetson University psychology professor Chris Ferguson, spoke with Game Informer, detailing the problems with the task force. Among those problems are details such as the task force being mostly comprised of scholars who have demonstrated in the past a willingness to link violence and aggression, the measures they used for aggression, and task force members having previously publicly supported legislation aimed at keeping games away from children.
Ferguson tells me that of the seven task force members, four had at anti-media leanings, with another that uses aggression measures that have been called into question by some factions of the psychology community. "To some degree, they're really commenting on their own product," he says. "I think people interpret these things as neutral. You have to remember that they are commenting on their own product. These are people looking at their own research and declaring it beyond further debate. All of us would love to do that, but we don't really get that chance, nor should we."For those of us that worship at the altar of science, this serves as a welcome reminder that science is only as good as those conducting it. Bias is omnipresent and omnidirectional and it is something we must always be vigilant against. For instance, cited in the open letter is the fact that the APA previously stated as a matter of policy that violent games should see a reduced exposure to children and that the APA had already made recommendations to the gaming industry about exactly how violence should be portrayed in games, specifically suggesting that real-world consequences should be visited upon violent actors in digital media.
He also notes that all seven members of the task force were over the age of 50, citing a correlation between views on media and age. "I point that out because there is solid evidence that age is a correlate for attitudes about video games, even amongst scholars," Ferguson explains. "Age and negative attitudes toward youth predict anti-game attitudes."
In other words, as the letter states, the APA task force essentially reached the conclusion that the APA's previous work and recommendations were on point, using a hand-picked team comprised of researchers perfectly biased to reach just that conclusion. Adding to the letter's concern over some of the sloppy methodology for drawing the task force's conclusions is the kind of simple real-world analysis of data that has me wondering just how any of this made it past the APA's review to begin with.
Ferguson and his colleagues also point to data evidencing a decrease in youth violence, which contradicts assertions that media (video games and non-interactive forms) are a public health concern. Ferguson cites colleagues at Oxford, Villanova, Western Michigan University, and more that have presented recent findings in peer-reviewed journals. These studies indicate that there is no connection between violent video games and aggression. A study by Patrick Markey at Villanova indicates that "participants who were not angry tended to be relatively unaffected by exposure to violent video games."In other words, at the exact moment that the APA suggests violence and video games are linked, and at the exact moment that violent video games have exploded in popularity and dissemination, violence amongst youth (and the general public) is trending downward. One would think that if a link existed, we might see some evidence of it outside of ham-fisted studies utilizing questionable methodologies.
But, alas, this is the way of things. And you should expect this to continue, probably right up to the point when most of the research of this issue is being done by a generation in which gaming was prevalent in their youth. Then the studies will likely show something more interesting than a self-created echo-chamber of moral outrage.