Last week, we took a closer look at the debate. Today, we’d like to discuss Dr. Anderson’s research and cases of violence and video games.
I’m not a psychologist, but I am qualified to note academically suspicious habits of Anderson that I don’t seem to find with Ferguson (or, to be fair, with Bushman). In that CNN interview, he neglects to mention that the International Society for Research on Aggression, whose work he cites, is run by himself, and he appoints the other members, all of whom have a publishing record free of work contradictory to his hypothesis. He says “Every major scientific society that has studied the question has come to the same answer … Media violence is a risk factor… is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior including violence.” Those two sentences are false. They’re false separately, they’re false put together. I’m not attacking him, but what else can I say here?
I also take major issue with some of the statements he makes in his papers. Here’s a strong example of what I’m talking about. A 2004 study by Anderson, et al, says “School shootings by boys with a history of playing violent video games…heightened public debate about the role played by this relatively new violent entertainment medium.” I have the ellipsis in there because that’s where they list seven school shootings, including Columbine, committed by students from 1997 to 2003. Later in the paragraph, they mention five more multiple murders (not school shootings) that were “linked to video games.”
It turns out that of those twelve incidents, I could only find any sort of mention of video games in the news and analysis for six of them.
Much was made about the Columbine shooters’ affection for Doom.
A fifth-grader in Wellsboro, PA who committed suicide at school had liked Metal Gear Solid.
The only mention of video games I could find in the case of the high school shooting in Santee, CA is an article by something called the Shiller Institute on their website (which has all the sleek design panache of Free Republic) that says the 15-year old shooter was “addicted to Nintendo games.”
Another high school freshman, later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, shot a prayer group in West Paducah, KY. Incidentally, this was a breakout case for the famous Jack Thompson, who represented a subsequent lawsuit against two porn sites, several PC game developers, and the movie studios behind Natural Born Killers and The Basketball Diaries as being causal factors in the shooter’s psychosis. The case was thrown out by Federal Court, which ruled “it is simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen (an activity undertaken by millions) to shooting people in a classroom (an activity undertaken by a handful, at most) for Carneal’s actions to have been reasonably foreseeable to the manufacturers of the media that Carneal played and viewed.”
Of these incidents, the best case in favor of mind-poisoning video games is a mob of college students who beat a homeless man to death in Wyoming, WI, part of a weird string of “sport killings” of homeless people around the country in 2006 and 2007. One of the killers later told police that the murder had reminded him of playing a violent video game.
A six-man gang who called themselves the “Nut Cases” enjoyed Grand Theft Auto, and went on a 10-week crime spree before being arrested in January 2003.
Finally, the Beltway Sniper duo consisted of a teenager with murderous ramblings about Allah’s vengeance on America, and the former Army Expert Rifleman who mentored him after having kidnapped his own children to Antigua. The teenager liked Halo.
So let’s back up. Here was a murderous Oakland gang, a suicide, a mob beating of a homeless man, the depressed and unsuccessfully medicated Columbine shooters, a paranoid schizophrenic, and the jihadist Beltway Sniper teenager who was creepily brainwashed by his erratic mentor. At first blush, one might conclude that the common denominator for these cases is some flavor of “crazy.” Anderson, et al, are saying that the relevant common denominator is video games, or at least that video games caused or contributed to the crazy. I’m not elaborating on these stories in order to discount Anderson and Bushman’s experimental results; I’m doing it because this is part of the chain of logic about their conclusions. Depression, jihad, schizophrenia, gang violence, mob mentality, suicide – these are the circumstances for these killings, and Anderson’s experiments have to try to prove that video games are a causal factor for them.
Stay tuned next week when we continue our series on Violence and Video Games.