Last week, we started our series on the controversy between violence and video games. Today, we’d like to frame out the debate and provide further insight to what is going on.
There’s a phenomenon going on here with gun violence, and everyone’s got an opinion about how to address it. LaPierre, Lieberman, and Rockefeller have their explanation: violent video games are a contributing factor in poisoning our culture and producing mass murderers. Many others disagree. An intelligent society must look to evidence to decide which side is on-point and which is off-base. Do violent games produce violent people? Seems like a question for the field of psychology.
As it turns out, there is debate and disagreement between psychologists on this exact topic. In fact, video games are just a subset in a greater debate about the psychological effects of violent media as a whole. The angle on games is usually that since they’re active entertainment, there’s a “training” factor going on. Studies and papers have been published by both sides, with titles like “Violent Video Games: Specific Effects of Violent Content on Aggressive Thoughts and Behavior”, “The More You Play, the More Aggressive You Become: A Long-term Experimental Study of Cumulative Violent Video Game Effects on Hostile Expectations and Aggressive Behavior”, and “Not Worth the Fuss After All? Cross-sectional and Prospective Data on Violent Video Game Influences on Aggression, Visuospacial Cognition, and Mathematics in a Sample of Youth.” Here’s a study that asserts a desensitization effect, and here’s one that refutes it.
Both sides have their champions. The folks who believe games make people violent look to Dr. Craig Anderson of Iowa State University and Dr. Brad Bushman of Ohio State University. Anderson is one of the frequent talking heads to which the media turn when they want to run stories on this topic. When pundits or politicians want to blame video games for violence and not – oh, let’s say for the sake of argument – the easy access to incredible force multipliers our current gun control environment grants to sociopathic individuals, Anderson is who they turn to for talking points. And every time he starts trending in the media, he is criticized by Dr. Christopher Ferguson of Texas A & M (an institution sadly familiar with shootings), who finds Anderson and Bushman’s work to be methodologically flawed and cites his own as the more accurate picture.
I wish I could tell you I had the psychology chops to read their papers and reasonably conclude, “Yup. Sound experiment,” or “Nope. Flawed methodology.” Truth is, I’m not qualified to peer review their work at a Ph.D. level. Make no mistake: any defender of games and gamers who says there is zero evidence that links video games to aggression is absolutely dead wrong. There is research on this topic that has found such evidence, and all due credit should be paid to such work. That said, criticism is an essential part of scientific research, particularly in fields like psychology. But don’t pretend like Anderson’s and Bushman’s results never happened just because it more conveniently fits your worldview.
Join us next week when we take a closer look at Dr. Anderson’s stance on the issue.