Video Game Violence: What does the science say
Video games are still in their infancy; like any infant it pushes boundaries in tense areas such violence. There is a long list of incidence which people link to the playing of video games. The earliest recorded incident happened on November 22nd 1997 when 13 year old Noah Wilson died after his friend Yancy Salazaar stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife and severing his aorta, left him to die after an hour of extreme blood loss. In the case Wilson V Midway Games, Inc., Noah Wilson’s mother claimed that Yancy was obsessed with Mortal Kombat and was re-enacting a finishing move from the game. The judge decided that Midway was not to blame as there is no move in the game which relates to the act. It seems that every time a major act of violence occurs video games are brought into the firing line and slated; people crawl out of the woodwork with subjective blather earning them social favour and a minor spotlight.
But we can blast opinions and subjective viewpoints across the web until our souls are laid bare. But there is science; objective backed theory of whether video games do cause violence or not. Why would we stick to the banter of the masses when the world of science can provide us with answers?
In 2005, the American Psychological Association released an official statement in 2005 (pending amendment for 2014) which stated the following:
- There appears to be evidence that exposure to violent media increases feelings of hostility, thoughts about aggression, suspicions about the motives of others, and demonstrates violence as a method to deal with potential conflict situations.
- Comprehensive analysis of violent interactive video game research suggests such exposure increases aggressive behavior, thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal, and decreases helpful behavior.
- Studies suggest that sexualized violence in the media has been linked to increases in violence towards women, rape myth acceptance and anti-women attitudes.
And that the APA:
- Advocates reduction of all violence in videogames and interactive media marketed to children and youth.
- That research should be made regarding the role of social learning, sexism, negative depiction of minorities, and gender on the effects of violence in video games and interactive media on children, adolescents, and young adults.
- That it engages those responsible for developing violent video games and interactive media in addressing the issue that playing violent video games may increase aggressive thoughts and aggressive behaviors in children, youth, and young adults, and that these effects may be greater than the well documented effects of exposure to violent television and movies.
- That it recommends to the entertainment industry that the depiction of the consequences of violent behavior be associated with negative social consequences.
- That it supports a rating system that accurately reflects the content of video games and interactive media.
While this may sound definitive, Psychologists have asked the APA to revise the statement as it does not accurately reflect the current evidence. It’s likely that this statement was deliberately defensive to protect the APA from complaints or being dragged into court.
The summation of most research seems to suggest an increase in violent predisposition. Steven Kirsh reported in Childhood the possibility of video games leading to a hostile attribution bias. People show a bias towards violent resolutions or perceive more negative interpretations in ambiguous circumstances. The University of Toledo examined the relationship between violent media and desensitisation in fourth and fifth grade pupils; finding higher exposure to violent video correlated with lower empathy and stronger pro-violence attitudes. The most recent data that we have on the links come from the University of Innsbruck; who used meta-analysis looking at 98 studies, testing nearly 37,000 participants since 2009. It was found that violent video games overall do affect social behaviour, linked to an increase in aggressive outcomes and a drop in prosocial outcomes. It was also noted importantly that the reverse is also true when the exposure to less violent or non-violent video games is measured.
It is difficult to measure violence. Psychological studies can only pass an ethical approval if participants leave the study in the same state of physical and mental health they entered in. Gone are the days of Milgram and Zimbardo where boundaries could be pushed. This makes measuring violence hard; psychologist resort to methods such as how loud you want to blast someone with music for losing and how much hot sauce to put in chilli. While in a lab or a house party these are all well and good they give us no real world measure of aggression. For a real life instance we are required to piggy-back on real tragedy. Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was found to play excessive amounts of Dance, Dance Revolution and Super Mario Brothers daily.
The problem which arises is that Psychology finds different results. This isn’t uncommon in the discipline, it’s how we separate one-offs from solid theoretical proof; however we find that rather than objectively agree that the issue is complex people squabble like schoolchildren. Christopher Ferguson wrote a review of 25 years of research in the subject in 2013. This was then followed by comments, as all psychological articles are in peer-review. He was slated for writing mostly conjecture with no backing and going against research. In response Ferguson wrote a snide article called ‘Does doing research into media violence make one aggressive?’ This devolves into petty arguing and makes us no better than the subjective social commentators.
So unfortunately, 900 words later we have no definitive proof that video games cause violence. They do seem to increase a person’s disposition to violent outcomes. However that ignores a lot of factors such as starting predisposition, social upbringing and innumerable other factors.
When I was 12, well into my music and my video games, my mother made me take up Jiu-Jitsu to, in her words, ‘let the violence from all these hobbies somewhere.’ Was she right? No, she gave someone with temper control issues the ability to hurt people. But on point, hopefully one day we will know not only what causes violence but how to minimise the effects without ruining the gaming experience. Violence can make impact, or even be the basis of a game as the whole genre of fighting games can attest. But violence must be understood to be part of the game. Nothing more.