But here’s where I extend the most possible benefit of the doubt to Anderson and Bushman. I think it would go too far to say that violent games or media have zero short-term psychological effect. In fact, a form of Anderson and Bushman’s hypothesis makes some sense to me, anecdotally. I’ve totally watched Starship Troopers on TV and been put in the mood to go shoot stuff up in Halo or vice versa. But this is an effect not unique to violent games or media. I’ve walked out of a stadium after attending an epic football or basketball game feeling all jacked up on adrenaline, wanting very much to go play football or hoops somewhere. I’m actually very much willing to concede that games or other media can get my adrenaline up and have a “put me in the mood” effect. Surprise: porn makes me horny. But porn doesn’t turn me into an uncontrollable sex machine. And if it did, that would speak to deeper problems than just my porn intake.
But there’s the “put me in the mood” effect, and then there’s behavior modification. If we’re trying to blame games or any media for violence, then the argument is being made toward behavior modification. Anderson and Bushman argue there’s a connection there, Ferguson denies it.
Along those lines, I got some other ideas for further experimental research here. Have the experiment group play Madden. Football simulations are violent, there are even injuries in the game. Hell, have the experiment group actually play live competitive sports and then take tests for aggression. When I play pickup basketball at the gym, rebounding and contesting (sometimes blocking) an opponent’s shot is very much an act of violence. My hunch is that I might test more aggressive immediately after an hour of hoops with Anderson and Bushman’s methodology.
When I think about it, the games Anderson and Bushman used are very in-your-face about being directly threatening toward the player. The player’s vantage point is actually under enemy fire in an FPS, and his onscreen analogue is getting pummeled in Street Fighter.So here’s an even better idea: test with games that are threatening, but not technically very violent like Fatal Frame. The carnage and body count in StarCraft or Age of Empires is much higher than in the first Resident Evil, but somehow I think the latter would elicit a more visceral, emotional, aggressive response. Hell, that’s what Resident Evil does best – let the player aggressively, violently deal with their fear.
So let’s get back to NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre and others who think the focus of our attention regarding 2012′s rash of gun massacres should be on violent media, and disregard the nation’s gun control environment. If you support that focus by pointing to the research of Drs. Anderson and Bushman, than you’re cherry-picking your favorite studies and holding them up as consensus, while ignoring all the equally well-conceived criticism. My personal opinion is a significant if not 100% conclusive lean in Dr. Ferguson’s direction, but let’s give Anderson and Bushman the most possible benefit of the doubt. Let’s say their work is of equal validity to that of Ferguson and company (again, full disclosure: I don’t think it is), and just call all the psychology study about linking violent video games to acts of violence an inconclusive wash.