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Jun 03, 2005

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» Terra Nova: Contradictions (1) from 01play.net
Does violent games teach violence to young players? No. No? Does educational games help young players to learn? Yes. Yes? I would say that a lot depens on the meaning you give to the word “teach”. And most of all, to the context in whi... [Read More]

» Game effects revisited from Intelligent Artifice
Well, it turns out I'm not the only one to think about the inherent contradiction of game effects. [Read More]

» Public School FPS from Water Cooler Games
We talk a lot about educational games here. Education and games often raises questions about violence in games, such as the one Richard Bartle posed recently over at Terra Nova "On the one hand, we're saying that no no no,... [Read More]

» Public School FPS from Water Cooler Games
We talk a lot about educational games here. Education and games often raises questions about violence in games, such as the one Richard Bartle posed recently over at Terra Nova "On the one hand, we're saying that no no... [Read More]

» Cheltenham Science Festival from Guardian Unlimited: Gamesblog
I'm speaking today as part of a panel at the Cheltenham Science Festival. The topic is "Do Video Games Make You Violent?" On the grill with me are Dr. Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University, a leader in research into... [Read More]

» Research into long-term effects of violence and gaming released today from Guardian Unlimited: Gamesblog
Further to the recent debates (in person and online) about the relationship between violence in videogames and the real world, and filling the gap some have suggested was wide open in research on the subject, a new article published today... [Read More]

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Comments

1.

There's something of an aporia regarding the use of the word "teaching" here, isn't there? The first case, regarding violence, is a concern about certain behaviours and attitudes; the latter case concerns pedagogy.

I would think that no one really believes that games truly teach violence, that violent behavior is something children are entirely unaware of, in some prelapsarian innocence, until they are "taught" it by the game. The real question is whether violent behavior in the game encourages imitation in the real world. Meanwhile, the goal of pedagogical games isn't really behavioral reinforcement.

2.

Hmm -- Dmitri & Constance can probably address this one better, but...

I've been bugged by the same question. My current answer is that it depends on what you mean by "teach." When I read stuff by Constance, Kurt Squire, and pro-games educators generally, I get the sense they're talking about 1) the cognitive gymanistics that games demand from the player (e.g. multiple windows, coordinating groups, sheer processing of information), and 2) the structural understanding that comes from simulation. (e.g. a flight sim teaches you to fly.)

So far, so good -- the above doesn't really conflict, or relate at all, to the question of whether games cause violent behavior.

I think that conflict does exist, though, because some people claim that games "teach" in the sense of rhetorical persuasion. And while it doesn't really follow from that that games can promote violence, it does mean that they can promote error (for instance, by suggesting that violence is an effective solution to a conflict).

There aren't many people who claim games educate in a moral sense, but I think Richard Garriott has done it a few times, and Ian Bogost and Gonzalo Frasca are certainly in the thick of this aspect of "teaching."

I think the rub here is in the nature of simulation. I'm skeptical of Baudrillard's more extreme statements, but I do think that people regularly confuse simulation with reality, and that this can lead to changes in the way that we act and decide. A simple example would be a person who made an urban planning decision based on Sim City. Another example would be a person who made a tort reform decision based upon playing Ian's tort reform game.

The danger, of course, is that if the model is bad, the decision will be bad. However, if the action based on the bad model can't be blamed on the bad model (e.g. the failure of tort reform can be blamed on a host of other factors), then the flaws in the model are never revealed. Additionally, much decision making is based on flawed (and perhaps even pre-conscious) models/heuristics anyway, so again, the flaws in the simulation might not be much different than the flaws in other heuristics.

3.

The 'games as force of evil' discussion basically rests on two central suppositions. The first is that video games increases one's general propensity for violence. So far, the research on this has been inconclusive. While kids who play violent games tend to be more violent, it's also true that violent kids tend to be drawn more to violent entertainment. Other research suggests there may be a cathartic effect going on (kids are initially more violent after playing a game, but are less violent in the long run) - which is interesting because the theory of catharsis has been rejected by most psychologists. Still, it's worth noting that youth violence has been steadily declining since the early '90s, which incidentally is about the same time that FPS games truly came into the fore.

The second is that the games are 'murder simulations' that turn our kids into mindless killing machines. Jack Thompson at the Killology website (http://www.killology.net/) is the top proponent of this argument. It's worth noting that he's widely regarded to be an opportunistic idiot.

His notion is that the repeated play of video games is very similar to how the army trains you to kill without thinking. The concept of 'basic training', for example, is to get you to learn to attack and defend yourself without thinking. This concept has been fairly widely discredited by most research I've seen. It turns out that actually pulling a trigger on a sniper rifle or stabbing someone with a bayonet is quite a different experience than doing so with a series of mouse clicks, and since the physical motion is such an integral part of what autonomous training is, Jack's argument falls apart quickly.

That's not to say these violent video games don't teach things. Research has shown that playing counterstrike and games like it teaches things like caution, tactics and teamwork. Of course, if you aren't a murderous Columbine kid, these things are all seen as a positive.

4.

After seeing Star Wars as kids, my brothers and I would run around in the woods with roughly lightsaber or blaster shaped sticks and pretend to inflict serious bodily harm on one another. I don't remember ever really WANTING to hurt each other.

On the other hand, I used to see Captain Kirk do that karate chop thing to the side of the neck all the time and wanted to know what it did, so I tried it on a kid in my third grade class. It made him cry and I felt really badly, but while it was a "violent" act it was one born of curiosity and ignorance, not malice.

Games are a powerful tool for teaching not because they encourage people to emulate behaviors but because they are an enjoyable way to impart information. I hate balancing my checkbook, but (God help me) I enjoy running calculations on game mechanics to maximize my results.

IMHO, extreme Clockwork Orange scenarios aside, media in general doesn't have much to do with violent behavior. Healthy, well-adjusted people don't shoot up high schools because they've played too much Halo. I think if you're that prone to violent behavior, it's unlikely you really needed the suggestion at all.

5.

One additional prong of the 'games as force of evil' argument -- and one that probably has the most intuitive appeal to many, explains the media attention, and explains much of the popular disdain for gaming culture, is that many games are just pretty offensive to average sensibilities.

E.g., I'm just starting the treadmill in SWG, and I walk my guy out to the wilderness. I see an alien butterfly-thing and an alien insect-thing. I kill them both. Now, I knew this was the right thing to do, on the game's terms -- it's an MMOG, this pretty flitting thing is a mob, ergo it must die. But if I had to explain this behavior to someone unfamiliar with the genre, they just wouldn't get it.

Games like Katamari, The Sims, and even Tetris, point out that you don't need 1000 dead rats to make a game. It will be a good day when a major MMOG manages to get past the design crutch of killing.

6.

While the distinction in "behavioral conditioning" vs "teaching thought processes" is important, I've heard of instances where both goals are sought in educational virtual worlds.

Some who argue that behavioral conditioning isn't an issue often cite the fact that players are learning to "push buttons for a response on the screen" and not actually commit the act in person... but one of our design goals is to provide increased levels of immersion... As we try to immerse the player more thoroughly, aren't we at risk of weakening the barrier to behavioral conditioning?

And isn't this similar to the thought patters many expressed in a previous entry? Many acknowledge moments when certain thought practices were carried over from games.

Are we contradicting ourselves here? I don't know, but it is something we can't dismiss lightly.

7.

Having just started playing SWG myself, I think it's a game with more depth than others I've played. There are noncombat professions available that many people seem to enjoy. Some people are artisans or traders, some are politicians, some are entertainers. The core of the game is the familiar "find mob/kill mob/loot mob/rinse & repeat" setup, but there seems to be more to do than that. I've spent a lot of time in space combat but very little on the ground, and what I'd really like to do is be more of a trader than a combatant.

8.

Recently I've also felt there may be some contradiction there. I firmly believe that games are a strong vehicle for teaching, and have had to examine my beliefs about video games and the possible connection to violence in that light.

Games (at this point) seem to be a stronger vehicle for analytical learning than emotional learning. There is still a fairly distinct line drawn between what is real and what isn't. I doubt if many people would assert that watching Bugs Bunny has lead to a significantly increased incidence of violent behavior in the viewers.

There seems to be a presupposition about video games akin to the concept of subliminal mind control. Its seems like it is assumed that game audience's have no cognative ability to reject the "training" presented to them. However in spite of years of Mario's infiltration into culture I have yet to see a self defense technique of jumping onto people's heads.

Likewise in spite of the moral bent of the later six games in the Ultima series I am still not an avatar of virtue (which apparantly also involves large amounts of killing). When Garriott added consequences for "theft" all most game players found was that they had better wait until nobobdy was around or awake before lifting a nice piece of equipment.

The majority of people seem well able to pick and choose the concepts they want to learn from any given media. Someone looking to learn and practice violence in games can probably do so. I think that indicates that they already have issues, and without VWs would have merely sough a different vehicle for learning.

9.

I agree there's a contradiction here, and one that comes in large part from us (as an industry) sticking our collective heads in the sand (as evidenced in part by some of the above remarks). Our products are just games, right? Just for entertainment. They couldn't possibly affect anyone's attitudes or behaviors... right?

Well, let's see. Passive audio-visual advertising -- as on TV -- is a multi-billion dollar per year industry. It dwarfs games and movies, probably combined.

Why? Because it works. Seeing others behave in a certain way changes our attitudes and behavior. When an actor, unknown to you, says, "this detergent makes my clothes clean!" you're more likely to buy that detergent. You personally may not go out and buy that product, but more people will than would have otherwise. The same is true when a beer commercial makes a (seemingly) none-too-subtle connection between their product, social acceptance, and physical pleasure. Or when careful product placement even briefly mentions a product (as in the movie Moonstruck when Cher's character asks for a brand of champagne -- and their sales spike upward).

Now of course most people -- especially highly intelligent, educated people -- want to deny this. "Other people might be so easily taken in and influenced in their attitudes and behavior, but I'm beyond that sort of thing."

Hogwash.

We are, as a species, eminently influenceable. And this is even more true in interactive environments than in passive ones like TV. For example, there was a recent Wired article describing how students at Stanford (highly educated and intelligent people) were influenced to agree with a previously unpalatable proposition by an avatar -- not even a real person -- who merely mimicked their gestures and expressions after a short time delay.

So yes, games can be used to educate -- but also to influence, to inculcate, to inure, to propagandize.

Of course if we start to think clearly about this, it brings up all sorts of uncomfortable questions about common in-game activities. I don't expect that GTA is going to cause a significant rise in street violence amongst suburbanites, but without a doubt it affects our attitudes of what we find acceptable. Does anyone really want to argue that such a game will help men be more respectful of women?

Now all this said, I'm not arguing for censorship. I am arguing for recognition and responsibility: we need to recognize that games -- like all media -- have an often unfathomed ability to influence our behavior. We as game developers need to be responsible for that, both in what we choose to put in our games and how we support limitations (i.e., ESRB ratings with teeth) on buying age-inappropriate material.

IMO, it's simply irresponsible and ignorant to develop games without giving serious thought to how the content is likely to affect and influence those who spend hours immersed in it. Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do." This is still true, even in games, much as we might like to ignore it.

10.

Theo> "On the other hand, I used to see Captain Kirk do that karate chop thing to the side of the neck all the time and wanted to know what it did, so I tried it on a kid in my third grade class. It made him cry and I felt really badly, but while it was a "violent" act it was one born of curiosity and ignorance, not malice."

Very good. Now, your ignorance was made by a TV representation of a violent act, but at least when Kirk chopped the necks of foes, they tended to show some negative effect (dropping FAST).

Now, imagine if violent, life-threatening acts do not show any long-term harm when you see them, and you might argue that the kid, acting on them, suffered "ignorance" in not knowing that the act would have such serious consequences. IIRC, there was just such a case where a pre-teen used Pro Wrestling moves on another kid and killed him. (The defense didn't work)

The same could be argued for some violent video games. It's not a "the game made me evil" mindset, but one of, "my experience in this field is limited to what I've experienced in games, and from what I've learned there, I could not have anticipated the results would be so lethal."

I did once hear some teens, after seeing a movie, argue that it was unrealistic a .22 pistol would kill a person with one shot- they used the amount of damage one would cause in a FPS to reinforce their case. (sigh) I used to just worry about people who built their world-view from bad hollywood movies... now video games...

11.

The distinction is between what things CAN do and what things DO do Games CAN teach kids good. DO they? Well, hopefully one properly designed for it and used as part of a course of instruction DO. On the other hand, games CAN teach a kid bad violent behavior. DO they? Studies show that, generally speaking, they DO not. (There's also a distinction here between A game -- not all GAMES are educational -- and GAMES in general - A game might encourage violence, but GAMES in general do not.)

But another issue is simply one of rhetoric. One can admit games can cause violence if one points out so can TV and MOVIES and BOOKS and ART and RELIGION. Almost any medium can motivate someone to do something bad or good. A "violent" video game is really no different than a "violent" TV series.

Bruce

12.

the difference here lies in the application of knowledge learned from video games.

play counterstrike, learn how to hunt and kill people.
play, i dunno, kitty korean, learn how to speak korean.

sure. now, imagine players lived in a world where speaking korean: physically hurt, was a criminal offense, and socially viewed as bad. people would play kitty korean, but they might not necessarily apply it in real life.

i assure you someone who does exceptionally well at counterstrike will have better odds of killing another person than, say, someone who does exceptionally well at literati.

however, that does not imply the counterstrike player is more likely to kill another person in real life. being good at something is not reason to do it, especially given the nature and nurture of real life.

13.

Bruce said, "On the other hand, games CAN teach a kid bad violent behavior. DO they? Studies show that, generally speaking, they DO not."

Really? I think this is a common myth.

See for example:
Anderson, C.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science, 12, 353-359.

Quoting from the American Psychological Association site, "Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior. (Anderson & Bushman, 2001)."

Quoting further: "There is some evidence that highly aggressive individuals are more affected than nonaggressive individuals, but this finding does not consistently occur. Even nonaggressive individuals are consistently affected by brief exposures. ...

Experimental studies with college students have consistently found increased aggression after exposure to clearly unrealistic and fantasy violent video games. ...

Repeated media violence exposure increases aggression across the lifespan because of several related factors. 1. It creates more positive attitudes, beliefs, and expectations regarding use of aggressive solutions. 2. It creates aggressive behavioral scripts and makes them more cognitively accessible. 3. It decreases the accessibility of nonviolent scripts. 4. It decreases the normal negative emotional reactions to conflict, aggression, and violence."

Violent video game effect sizes are larger than the effect of second hand tobacco smoke on lung cancer, the effect of lead exposure to I.Q. scores in children, and calcium intake on bone mass."

14.

There are some things that a game definitely can teach people, indisputably. I can name every country in Europe because in my youth I played lots of games that used Europe as a board, so I absorbed the simple geographical facts without ever having to study an atlas. The same is true of many historical details, star names, types of wild animals and so on that cropped up in the games I played. I also remember some non-facts, of course, from fantasy or SF games with no basis in reality. Nevertheless, if I wanted my kids to know about the Wars of the Roses, I'd play Kingmaker with them before giving them a book on the subject.

The issue is less clear over the teaching not of facts but of skills. Jim Gee argues persuasively that games can teach people all kinds of stuff that's not generally taught (or even teachable) in a classroom setting. However, it's also very hard to direct it. You can say that playing games teaches problem-solving skills, but when examination boards want kids to know the causes of the American Revolution that doesn't help you a great deal.

Do attitudes fall under the same category as "problem-solving skills"? My feeling is that they don't; you may need problem-solving skills to play a game, but you don't need an attitude to play it (even if the game is designed so that you have to act a certain way to win). Children have an editing option over whether to accept the violence as "real" or "make believe", but they don't have such an option over the fundamental problem-solving skills necessary to play a half-decent game.

There are some kinds of educational game that are caught by this, though. Games that "teach kids to co-operate" only "teach kids to co-operate to win this game", not to co-operate in general. Well, that's what I believe, anyway; if there's any evidence that they actually work, we'd have to look again at why "games that teach kids to be violen" don't work.

Richard

PS: I urge anyone strongly interested in violence and computer games to read Gerard Jones's book, Killing Monsters, which, amusingly, Amazon currently links in a special deal with Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill - a book with an almost exactly opposite point of view.

15.

Chas-->"Very good. Now, your ignorance was made by a TV representation of a violent act, but at least when Kirk chopped the necks of foes, they tended to show some negative effect (dropping FAST)."

It's worth noting, however, that the negative effect is superficial at best. Take the A-Team for example. More bullets fired in a one-hour episode than the Invasion of Normandy, but nobody gets hurt. Drivers staggering out of cars that flipped over at top speed with nothing more than a headache. Media says it's okay to hurt or kill people, as long as they're bad.

Mike Sellers, I agree that people are influenced, but I wonder if a point exists at which "conventional" messages cease to have impact. I've played quite a few games and seen quite a few movies, most of which involved physical conflict of some sort, many of which included relatively gruesome combat. Nevertheless, I don't even step on ant hills if it can be avoided. And yet I can trace my preference for Dr. Pepper to a Batman comic that had Robin asking Alfred for one like 25 years ago. Media influences me as much as the next guy, but how much exposure, and at what intensity, does it take to override someone's morals or forget the difference between the real world and the virtual?

Does playing a racing game make me a more aggressive driver? Yes. I admit it. For a little while I drive faster and take more risks. Does swinging a sword in a MMO make me a more aggressive person? Not in the least. I think there's just a distinction in my mind between what's acceptable and what isn't. Driving fast is okay, it's just not what I normally do. Hurting people isn't okay, and it would take something extreme to push me over that line.

16.

I think the problem is not so much that games teach or don't teach, but more that games are viewed as children's entertainment.

After all, you can see a documentary, or a violent movie. You can watch the History Channel, or the Sopranos. The reason that the furor doesn't come up (or doesn't come up as much) is that movies or television are recognized as media that adults use. Games, in contrast, are viewed by non-gamers as children's entertainment, not consumed by 'real' adults.

Games teach, just as movies, television, and books do. If we can justify outlawing violent games, how can we not justify outlawing violent movies, television, and books?

17.

Hikaru wrote:

play counterstrike, learn how to hunt and kill people.

Uh, right, yeah. Isn't that like claiming that playing Tekken will teach you how to fight? I'd welcome any "fighter" whose sole method of "training" is playing a video game to come on down to my training gym and learn how wrong he is.

--matt

18.

I always like contradictions – and paradoxes – because exploring these forces you to examine assumptions and beliefs that otherwise remain hidden. Currently, I’m considering a number of contradictions in play theory both in terms of what theoretical assumptions cause them and what theoretical assumptions might resolve them.

The claim that playing games teaches only “good” things is one of these – and a difficult theoretical claim to maintain, particularly in the face of the widespread conventional practice of limiting, restricting, and/or prohibiting play in schools. I remember, for instance, giving a presentation on computer games in a local high-school computer lab plastered with huge banners on all four walls reading, “NO COMPUTER GAME PLAYING!” Perhaps such restrictions are horribly misguided, but, if so, then it is hard to explain why they are so often deemed necessary – and effective.

I’m now writing a paper titled “What’s good about bad play?” -- but that paper might just as well have been titled “What’s bad about good play?” Too often, I think, what’s bad and what’s good are characterized more by the social/cultural context than by the formal properties of games and play.

At the upcoming DiGRA conference I hope to present on a similar topic concerning contradictions within theories of play – particularly development theories (e. g. Piaget, Papert, and maybe even Gee) – that understand social play as extension of individual play. These theories tend to ignore the extent to which individual play transforms, disrupts, or otherwise interferes with the mechanisms of social play. Anti-social play (e. g., grief play) seems just as characteristic of free and individual play than the more socially acceptable (i. e., educationally beneficial) forms of individual play we see emphasized in, for instance, Montessori settings.

Other than that, I can only recommend the greglas comments above, which seem remarkably (but, given the source, not unusually) clear.

19.

Theo said, "I agree that people are influenced, but I wonder if a point exists at which "conventional" messages cease to have impact. I've played quite a few games and seen quite a few movies, most of which involved physical conflict of some sort, many of which included relatively gruesome combat. Nevertheless, I don't even step on ant hills if it can be avoided. And yet I can trace my preference for Dr. Pepper to a Batman comic that had Robin asking Alfred for one like 25 years ago."

When considering an area like this it's important not to make false inductions from our own anecdotal experience to everyone else. For you, violent videogames seem not to have had much effect. Okay -- maybe you're on one end of the curve; alternatively, maybe others around you would report aggression you're not aware of. Either way, your individual experience doesn't speak to tendencies in the overall population.

Your experience with Dr. Pepper highlights this fact; no doubt thousands of others saw that same comic book panel and registered no greater preference for Dr. Pepper. But you -- and many others -- did. Affecting some portion of the readership's attitude and behavior was precisely the reason that was placed in the comic in the first place.

"Media influences me as much as the next guy, but how much exposure, and at what intensity, does it take to override someone's morals or forget the difference between the real world and the virtual?"

Studies (referenced above) indicate that a significant number of people's tolerance for and acceptance of violence goes up after playing violent video games -- even those featuring cartoonish violence. At what exposure and intensity? I don't know, but it appears to be measured in minutes, not hours or days.

"Does swinging a sword in a MMO make me a more aggressive person? Not in the least."

While no one can comment specifically on what games to do you or any particular individual, the quantitative populational research is clear: the answer to your question is, "yes, absolutely." You -- and many others -- would likely be surprised at how very little it takes to push people "over the line."

For more on this, see for example the famous Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. Intelligent, educated, even peaceful students were turned into craven prisoners or sadistic guards over a period of just a few days.

Think it can't happen to you, or to others, or that out of all media and experience games are somehow immune from having this effect on us?

That's wishful thinking.

20.

I'm not saying it doesn't work on me or that it couldn't work on me, I'm suggesting that it's not as black and white as you're making it sound. I think it's a vast spectrum, and at one end of the scale all it takes is a familiar comic book character to get you to drink a soda or perhaps FEEL aggressive, while at the other end it takes something far more drastic to get you to actually act violently toward another person.

I read much of the Stanford Prison Experiment. You've got to admit, that's a pretty darned drastic "push".

21.

Damn this Terra Nova site. It's simply impossible to keep up with the posts, let alone all the the comments. :)

So, Richard, you're right. This is a contradition. Here's what I said about it in an article last year (sorry for the long citation; the EBR site seems to be broken...):

What does it mean for simulation to become critical? In Penny’s conception, it relates to how criticism becomes embodied, how it encompasses and accounts for physical interactions with a work. Penny rightly points out that if embodied involvement in military simulations trains soldiering, then embodied involvement in desktop shooter games must also train something. Another way to frame this idea is like this: if we want to claim — as I do — that games can teach, inspire, or politick, then we must admit that games may also incite violence. Penny suggests that embodied action in simulations and games creates “nonillusory experiences” and collapses the “gap between ‘representation’ and ‘enactment.’” These are convincing statements. But when Penny draws conclusions like, “When children play ‘first-person shooters,’ they develop skills of marksmanship,” I find myself asking the obvious question, which Penny asks but does not answer, what do they do with these skills?
In his riposte to Penny’s article, Jan Van Looy offers catharsis as one possible answer: players safely discharge aggression in games. Penny hints, but does not say unequivocally, that the player has choices about what they do with their learned, embodied behavior: “There is the possibility that such behaviors might be expressed in situations which resemble the visual context or emotional tenor of the gameplay. … it is hard to escape the conclusion that … first person shooters actively contribute to an increase in gun violence among kids.” or, “It is the ongoing interactions between these representations and the embodied behavior of the user that makes such images more than images.” What is missing, in short, is the First Person, the I that would interact.
To be fair, Penny is not writing about a solution, but rather a problem. He calls for “the theoretical and aesthetic study of embodied interaction.” But it is curious that Penny offers no individuated examples in his piece, save one I, the person of Simon Penny himself describing his own encounter with the art installation Kan Xuan. And it is here that I get the best glimpse at how critical simulation works best, again in the first person. Van Looy points out that some elements of simulations transfer out of game and some do not; I would go further and say that some elements of simulations transfer for some people, or if we can go even further, some elements of simulations transfer for this person in this way. I am happy that Van Looy is not at risk to kill people in the real world after killing virtual people in games, and I should like to think that I feel this way about myself. However, as Gerard Jones argues, we need to learn how to help players (viewers, readers…) channel that violent aggression into productive aggression. Jones shows convincingly that the deadly, dangerous, or merely improprietous uses of media aggression almost always have to do with kids’ individual circumstances, and how they are managed or mismanaged.

At the risk of self-promotion, I tackle this question in some detail in a book that will be out from MIT Press in the spring. I'd talk about it more here, but I just sent off the manuscript and I'm a bit tired of thinking about it. :)

22.

Hikaru> play counterstrike, learn how to hunt and kill people.

Matt> "Uh, right, yeah. Isn't that like claiming that playing Tekken will teach you how to fight?

The US military has some pretty decent empirical data on the effectiveness of using simulation software to enhance real-world training.

As such, I think we are going to have a tough time claiming that games can't be used to enhance killing effectiveness when these very games are being used by military groups that have enough funds to use whatever tools they need to be the very best professional killers in the World.

Not only have military groups decided that simulation games, like counterstrike, are among the very best tools available today, they also have the empirical data to back up that decision.

-bruce

23.

I think a lot more of the arguments along the Stanford Prison experiment line would hold more weight if they could be replicated in a less immersive setting.

We learn to distinguish fantasy from reality at a very young age. Kids can blow up aliens left and right and still easily understand that even mild violence like pushing is unacceptable with their peers.

I think the far more pernicious effects of games are in the realms of marketing, propaganda, etc. We absorb a lot of information and preference influences from video games because those things map very closely to our real world experiences. GTA, for example, probably does more worldview-damage by presenting "pimping" as a jokey minigame than anything it does with violence (and even there, its presentation is positively timid compared to other media like television).

We clearly learn lots of things from video games. But not everything we learn is necessarily beneficial -- I think that's the crux of the paradox.

24.

Hikaru> play counterstrike, learn how to hunt and kill people.

Matt> "Uh, right, yeah. Isn't that like claiming that playing Tekken will teach you how to fight?

Bruce> The US military has some pretty decent empirical data on the effectiveness of using simulation software to enhance real-world training.

I've had a chance to work with such sims (and experience some real situations long ago) and while I agree that the ARMY combat simulators are valid combat training tools, I can only hope that I be fortunate enough to go against people trained in combat from "counterstrike" or any of the other games in the market. (Maybe that's why we allow them to be exported... ;) )

I think Matt's point was that the games that were designed to "entertain" take many liberties that make them of very limited value in real life- even counterproductive in many instances.

25.

Ian Bogost>At the risk of self-promotion, I tackle this question in some detail in a book that will be out from MIT Press in the spring.

Damn! Another book I have to read!

Richard

26.

Anderson always comes up in relationship to violence. At least one of his studies are correlating high duration and volume of a sound punishment of an opponent as "violent".

The punishment is usually two way, there is no direct connection to the "person" being punished, there often isn't even a person on the other end, but a machine choosing a semi random series of more agressive punishments.

The agressive behavior is categorized by a higher duration and intensity of punishment by the player after having played a "violent" game.

I wouldn't consider it a significant substaniation of claims about violent games promoting violent behavior.

As far as military sims and training, I'd say the the increase in effectiveness is primarily due to the ability to abstract the violence. Just like with the online hunting. Remotely operated machines that kill look very much like a video game. They also dis-associate the operator from the victim. Obviously video games would be good training for utilizing one, but I don't agree that that makes the video game violent.


27.

The thing is, there really doesn't need to be a contradiction at all:

"Yes, computer games can have a positive impact, as an educational tool, and yes, computer games can have a negative impact, as in callous desensitization to violence. For that very reason, we should encourage more games with educational value, while encouraging enforcement of a voluntary ratings system which cautions parents on extremely violent games, but without violating their creators' free speech rights."

How hard is that to say? No contradiction, no one's First Amendment rights get violated, and maybe we get more games like Spore. Game set match. So take that frown and turn it upside down, Mr. Bartle!

28.

Just so, James. I hope more people take heed of statements like yours.


Rob Fermier said, "I think a lot more of the arguments along the Stanford Prison experiment line would hold more weight if they could be replicated in a less immersive setting.

They have been. See the APA page I referenced above, which has several papers listed on it. There are many other sources too.

"We learn to distinguish fantasy from reality at a very young age. Kids can blow up aliens left and right and still easily understand that even mild violence like pushing is unacceptable with their peers."

That's just the reassuring myth we tell ourselves. What evidence do you have? None of the studies I've looked into support this contention.


Thabor, before you dismiss Anderson you should first understand that the APA page (where he wrote the opinion) references others' work, not his, and that the APA has no special axe to grind here. Further, there are several published, peer-reviewed studies there addressing independent social measures of aggression, questions of correlation vs. causality, etc. If you take time to look into this, you'll see the effects described are not so easily dismissed.

As I quoted earlier, "Violent video game effect sizes are larger than the effect of second hand tobacco smoke on lung cancer, the effect of lead exposure to I.Q. scores in children, and calcium intake on bone mass." Kind of puts this in perspective.

Of course you can wave all these indicators away, but not without willfully burying your head in the sand and ignoring the reality of the effect that what's on the screen has on the humans in front of it.

29.

A note on effect sizes. The phrasing in that article is very misleading. That effect size derives from aggregates of lab study results. In those lab studies, the dependent variable is a contrived measure (such as the obnoxious noise duration). Given how many naturally-occurring variables have been stripped away in the lab setting, that effect size is necessarily grossly inflated. Sure, it's explaining the effect of the manipulation on the contrived measure in an isolated lab, but how big would that effect size be in the real world?

Effect sizes from the correlational studies are even more misleading. First of all, there is no chance that lung cancer causes tobacco smoke, but it's very plausible that aggressive people like violent games. I think Anderson's statement, while true, is incredibly misleading and confusing for people who don't have experience in psych stats.

---------------------------------------------------

Separate issue:

Here's a link to the Andersen & Bush (2001) paper that Mike mentioned (in particular, look at graphs on page 3): http://www.psychology.iastate.edu/faculty/caa/abstracts/2000-2004/01AB.pdf

The violence literature argues that gamers become more violent primarily because they come to expect the world around them to be more hostile and violent. This is a change in affect, atittude and expectations. It's not a change in any kind of skill or abiity.

I don't think this is what the education literature is suggesting how learning occurs or can be implemented in games. They focus on actual skills and cognitive abilities, not affective expectations. In other words, people don't learn problem-solving skills simply because they expect the world to be more logical and rational.

I wonder whether we're stumbling over two very different definitions of "learning".

30.

I think we ARE looking at least two modes of "learning" which were already indicated above.

The two modes apply to the two basic way we learn/absorb knowledge.

(1) We can be told that a bullet to the brain at medium range will kill while at long range will not.

Or (2)we can experience via simulation that this could be valid in RL.

To confirm both knowledge in RL, people are likely going to experiment (e.g. first-hand experience).

Younger people are likely to experiement more than older people to confirm their 2nd-hand knowledge, therefore more and more "violent" events in RL.

All of this occurs prior to "embodied behavior". For example, after too may X-file and CSI I learned lots about psychos and forensics "for the good of mankind :)" I also learned that serial killers tend to start "experimenting" with small "kills" and then move towards bigger "kills" and "thrills."

I'm sensationalizing the above example, but this is just my 2nd-hand knowledge. I haven't had the urge or desire to experiement 1st hand :)


31.

W. James Au>Yes, computer games can have a positive impact, as an educational tool, and yes, computer games can have a negative impact, as in callous desensitization to violence.

So you're saying that there isn't a contradiction here because computer games really CAN desensitise people to violence? In other words, we're wrong to dismiss arguments that computer games cause people to be violent, because they can indeed do just that?

>So take that frown and turn it upside down, Mr. Bartle!

That's Dr Bartle. Or just Richard!

Richard

32.

Incidentally, both Richard and I referred to Gerard Jones's book Killing Monsters. I want to echo Richard's recommendation and extend it; the book is good for anyone interested in parenting in general; in fact, it's the first book I recommend to friends who are soon to become parents.

The most important point Jones makes is that the responses to media artifacts are not wholly intrinsic to those artifacts. But denying that the artifacts produce responses at all is self-defeating, and the source of the contradiction Richard articulates.

Incidentally, I make a simiar argument when it comes to persuasion in games, although most of those arguments are in press right now and I can't point to them directly.

33.

There are far too many interesting comments for me to read and still have time to post what I hope will be an addition to the conversation, so please pardon any repetetiveness in the following...

On the one hand, I don't believe that video games (or most media, for that matter) or going to encourage someone to do something outside of their nature. The problem with children, of course, is that their nature isn't necesarily set in stone yet. With adults this isn't so much of a problem. I'm a pretty chill guy, most of the time, but I loves me some video game violence. Doom, Quake, Q3a, CS, Unreal, etc. Love the killing. Also a big fan of the turn based strategy games that feature much killing, Fallout 1 and 2 for example. Much killing. very detailed killing.

That said - I am NOT going to go out, pick up a HK-P90c assault rifle and take out my boss. Much as I would like to. Simply not going to happen, murder is against my nature.

With kids, though, there is a legitimate concern that they are learning that violence is the only way to solve problems and if not the only way, the preferred way. But this has been a problem forever - ie. cops and robbers, cowboys and indians. I played those as a kid. Plenty of my foes "died". Doom 3, GTA3+, God of War - they all have M rating for a reason. The reason is that they are violent and that an adult needs to decide whether or not a given child is mature enough to play and understand what is going on. The effects of game violence are determined by the level of parental involvement.

I find it hard to fathom how it is that the columbine tragedy happened - there had to be signs that the parents either ignored or missed in their absence from their childrens' lives. The way to make the world, violent video games included, safe for children is not to ban the game and hide the truth, but to be an active parent. Period.

Sorry for the preaching. Something interesting I read...

A number of years ago a kid opened fire on a group of about 10 kids at an after school bible study group, or some such. He wounded all of them, and killed quite a few of them. The kills were all head shots. Mind you: after the first shot - everyone scattered, so he was doing head shots on running kids. Every single shot he fired HIT someone, usually fatally. An FBI agent on the scene later remarked that it was a pretty stunning feat - not a single one of the agents under his command could have done the same, and they had training with real guns. The kid didn't. The games he played very likely increased his score, so to speak, but whatever he was playing - it didn't tell him to pick off a bunch of praying children.

34.

Richard asked, "So you're saying that there isn't a contradiction here because computer games really CAN desensitise people to violence? In other words, we're wrong to dismiss arguments that computer games cause people to be violent, because they can indeed do just that?"

That's what I've been saying, and it sounds like that's what James is saying. Computer games are not psycho-socially irrelevant. Is that so hard to believe? O is it just that we don't want to be responsible for the effects of what we create?

35.

I think we need a sense of proportion here. If videogames make people more prone to violence, then why did virtually every category of violent crime in America go down every year for a decade (most of the 1990s and early 2000, according to the FBI), at the same time that videogame sales rose every year those same years? You'd think there would be some correlation.

More to the point: If these things have a real and lasting effect, then why doesn't watching a bunch of sitcoms make me funnier? That one REALLY irritates me.

36.

To address the question: there's something true, imo, that in recognizing educational potential for VG we have to admit that they have the potential to teach good things as well as bad things.
But they have jointly the potential to promote learning in reflective way, to make people think by taking situated roles, taking different sides in the situation and acting consciously based on their experiences and observations (could we do any better in real life?).

So I asked myself: should an effective means for learning be thrown away, put aside, once we recognize it works indeed, just because "it could" harm? If hijackers learned from flight simulators would that be a reason for banning them?
I've read with passion the book about VG by J.P. Gee (2003), that Richard mentioned above, where not only does Gee support the role of VG in education but indeed he argues that learning principles involved are behind the only real effective way of learning (!).
His point on the issue, which I agree with, is that the play of identities involved could teach more tolerance (brought by a real understanding) than the *virtual* violence involved, as it acts as a means to come to that reflective understanding (his example was about racist games). The only kind of understanding that could lead to a real change in one's attitude toward others.

When I played GT3 (PS2), first screen issued a warning against real life dangers of fast driving, and I admit that when the game becomes addictive that warning comes rightly into "play".
On the other hand, personally I don't see having fun with a real gun out on the street just because I had it in an immersive game world with sound effects and colors and stuff (but there's no doubt that teachers will have a new supporting role in school awa in distance learning). As goals behind playing and its fun are game-related, basically, they are definitely different from the ones in a pathological mind where problems are already in place, so I'd keep them in separate consideration. Riccardo

37.

Mike Sellars>Computer games are not psycho-socially irrelevant. Is that so hard to believe? O is it just that we don't want to be responsible for the effects of what we create?

Accepting the assertion that computer games do affect behaviour still leads to some unanswered questions, though. If computer games do "teach" people to be violent, they don't do a very good job of it; as Jess (and the Jones book) points out, society hasn't become more violent with the arrival of violent computer games. This is why people in the games industry can feel justified that their products aren't turning a generation of young people into psychotic killers. However, if computer games don't teach violence very well, how are we to know they'll teach anything else very well, either? Is a computer game that emphasises caring about people likely to be just as ineffective at making them do so in real life as games that emphasise shooting people?

Richard

38.

Richard,

We go back to the intent and design issue when trying to decide whether violent games "teaches" kids to be violent. We can use games to teach, but most games are not designed to teach.

Example: Axis and Allies was not designed to be a teach tools, but it can be used to teach about WWII. Moreover, we can play Axis and Allies to learn something about WWII as an by-product of our entertainment.

So, what most people are talking about is what I called “contributory” effects. The interactive ability to experiment and learn by action, e.g. “roleplay” is the center of concern. This line of thinking has been applied to comic books, books, TV, etc. Video game is just another item to add to the list.

However, on the area of ethics, it would be prudent to err on the side of caution and be a responsible game developer. Industry groups such as IGDA have tried to promote this. At minimum, it’s good PR.

Lastly, my unanswered question is what is the society's rate of absorption and acceptance of violent acts as a chosen course of action, and in particular to the contribution of violent game to this rate?

Example: society over the course of the decades has move toward multilateralism as a chose course of action (assumption). Has the mostly unilateral actions by the US in recent international relations allowed unilateral to be a more accepted and chose method of action?

Frank


39.

Richard said, If computer games do "teach" people to be violent, they don't do a very good job of it; as Jess (and the Jones book) points out, society hasn't become more violent with the arrival of violent computer games.

Quoting again from the American Psychological Association page, where they debunk various myths:

"[Myth] If violent video games cause increases in aggression, violent crime rates in the U.S. would be increasing instead of decreasing.

Facts: Three assumptions must all be true for this myth to be valid: (a) exposure to violent media (including video games) is increasing; (b) youth violent crime rates are decreasing; (c) video game violence is the only (or the primary) factor contributing to societal violence. The first assumption is probably true. The second is not true, as reported by the 2001 Report of the Surgeon General on Youth Violence (Figure 2-7, p. 25). The third is clearly untrue. Media violence is only one of many factors that contribute to societal violence and is certainly not the most important one. Media violence researchers have repeatedly noted this."

Also, rewording your post by analogy: If schools do "teach" people to be [civically aware], they don't do a very good job of it; .... society hasn't become more [civically aware] with the arrival of [such school curriculum].

You can substitute mathematics or geography or whatever you'd like in here -- the assumptions called out by the APA are highlighted in each case, particularly in the area of other contributing or intervening factors, as with the relationship between attitudinal changes from computer games and societal trends overall.


Richard also asks, However, if computer games don't teach violence very well, how are we to know they'll teach anything else very well, either?

This is the heart of your question and it cuts both ways. As others have noted the US Defense Department has excellent empirical data that various computer games (both off-the-shelf and custom-made) teach well -- that is, they change knowledge, attitudes and behavior. So how can one be true and the other not? Either computer games are effective educational tools, or they're not. Either they can teach aggression and desensitize to violence along with firing range safety and how to follow orders under fire, or they can't.

We can't accept the praises of how games do well and ignore the criticism that what we produce can also teach anti-social, destructive lessons.

40.

Having followed this sort of debate for some time, and still digging through all of the research mentioned, I currently feel:

  • It is emotionally intuitive to expect constant exposure to violence to have an effect on the viewer.
  • By extension, it is easy to subscribe to the belief pushed by mass media, and disregard what would be "bad science" that counters said effect.
  • It is financially intuitive to argue against that effect.
I personally don't have a "policy" per se, but I have and will liberally regulate the violence in my household while, of course, experiencing it virtually myself.

Oddly enough, based on some recently reported events and statistics, I wondered (perhaps niavely) if there was a corrolation between the rise in child violence (perceived or real) and the fact that over 75% of households in America are dual-income, thinking perhaps the anchors traditionally in place to regulate media impact, and counter where necessary, aren't there like they used to be.

Of course, it's not like I buy into the Ward Cleaver 1950s either. The good old days weren't really all that good. We may have just heard less about stuff traditionally considered private.

41.

Mike Sellars>Quoting again from the American Psychological Association page, where they debunk various myths:

Gawd, this earnest psychology stuff is precisely the kind of thing that the Gerard Jones book rails against. That page is itself full of myths that are in need of debunking.

Some of the things mentioned are true (eg. computer games aren't the only possible cause of violence), but other things are by no means "fact". Myth 8, for example, relates that there's at least one study that demonstrates students become aggressive after playing low, cartoon-level violence games, neglecting to mention that there are other studies that didn't show this, and that there's a difference between playing at being violent and actually being violent.

Taking the American Psychological Association at its word, it's hard to see whether they feel "violent" computer games promote "violence" a lot or just a little.

Either way, though, you're right: the heart of my question is whether or not there's a strong link between what games teach when they're trying to educate and what they teach when they're not. Could it be possible that they cause procedural/behavioural changes in people only weakly for some things (eg. violence) and strongly for other things (eg. self-confidence)?

Richard

42.

It’s probably been said, but debates over media violence make me feel more aggressive than any game, but I guess I’ve been primed.

American Psychological Association page is a wonderful thing. Given the context it probably creates or at least re-enforces as many myths as it attempts to de-bunk. I also love the references list, where are numerous counter studies and meta-studies? They could at least reference the other side – c’mon fair fight, ooops.

Just to drop in a serious ethical point. Under many theories and moral intuitions The causing of harm does not in and of itself mean something is bad. A good example is the car. Here one does not have to get into fancy-pants statistical analysis. Lots of people are killed by cars - FACT. Now some people do think that cars are bad, for the individual and the environment, but in the main people don’t think of this.

What I suspect is happening is that people are doing a subconscious sum (utilitarian calculation) of first order effects i.e. on one side cars kill but on the other they provide economic utility and personal convenience, so on balance.

With video games the sum is: on the one hand there is a chance that video games cause violence on the other,,,,

On the other what? Well nothing really. Sure people have fun playing them, millions upon millions have hours upon hours of fun but that does not really count as its not real fun it’s virtual, and its childish, and people should get out more etc etc.

In fancy language, society tends to be neo-puritanical and first-order utilitarian about such things.

It seems to me that this is the implicit context in which many of these studies and much of the debate occurs. After all, what is it that researches are trying to prove, a narrow statistical point about aggression or that the http://www.igda.org/articles/rreynolds_ethics.php>video games are bad?

43.

in-comming,,,, 1up has a head to head on video game violence between http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3141144>Thompson and Jenkins.

Let's hope Jenkins has learnt from the http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/08/20/jenkins_on_donahue/>Donahue event.

44.

Without getting too into the methodological and theoretic issues with the aggression research, let me just say that the research to date is inconclusive about direct aggression effects. However, saying that the studies have been flawed is simply not the same thing as saying that their conclusions must therefore be false. That's bad logic.

The research on television effects and aggression is pretty strong at this point. We know that kids who watch aggressive shows tend to be more aggressive later than kids who don't. And we know that this happens over time, and even when controlling for other factors like poverty, etc. So the case for gaming to have similar outcomes is hardly a stretch. Is their ideological sociocultural baggage going on? Of course.

Aggression effects are thought by Anderson & co. to be about learning. They make the case that the affect and the rest becomes learned over time. The have not proven this, but they suggest it is likely. Until I see longitudinal data, I'm agnostic about it. Their model: You experience an obstacle and you call upon a repertoire of possible means of dealing with it. They suggest that one of the means becomes violent action and that it's more accessible as an option if someone has seen a lot of it. This sounds similar to learning to me, but is not quite the same thing.

Lastly, for those of you who admire Gerard's hypothesis (and I am one of them), don't fall into another logical trap. If he is right that games can make children feel powerful and can make sense of the world by playing games, it does not mean that the agression researchers must necessarily be wrong. From my read of the literature, these two positions are not mutually exclusive. Sure, each makes one "camp" feel better in their positions, but the truth is far less about making someone's case and more about the sticky, confusing and complicated world of media uses and effects.

45.

>>> "We learn to distinguish fantasy from
>>> reality at a very young age. Kids can
>>> blow up aliens left and right and still
>>> easily understand that even mild violence
>>> like pushing is unacceptable with their peers."
>
> Mike Sellers wrote:
>
> That's just the reassuring myth we tell ourselves.
> What evidence do you have? None of the studies I've
> looked into support this contention.

Maybe the fact that we still have a world?

If violent video games, tv, movies, etc. actually had a significant effect on making people more violent, we'd be completely done as human beings by now.

Every single person in the industrialized world is bombarded by such things via entertainment mediums, and yet violate is *not* out of control. The overwhelming majority of people are *not* violent.

> Mike Sellers wrote:
>
> As I quoted earlier, "Violent video game
> effect sizes are larger than the effect of
> second hand tobacco smoke on lung cancer,
> the effect of lead exposure to I.Q. scores
> in children, and calcium intake on bone
> mass." Kind of puts this in perspective.

It puts in perspective that there are some serious junk scientists out there.

That is some of the most outrageous bunk I've ever read.

Jessica pretty much destroys the above silliness:

> I think we need a sense of proportion here. If
> videogames make people more prone to violence,
> then why did virtually every category of violent
> crime in America go down every year for a decade
> (most of the 1990s and early 2000, according to
> the FBI), at the same time that videogame sales
> rose every year those same years? You'd think
> there would be some correlation.

Nothing like some actual facts from real life to utterly destroy sloppy, "research."

46.

No, your logic is wrong. Saying there's a small effect is different than saying there's no effect. And showing overall downward trends is neither proof of positive or negative effects. It merely shows that the total combination of factors involved have pushed real-world violence down. These factors are often moving in opposite directions. Perhaps gaming had no effect at all. Perhaps it pushed violence down. Perhaps it pushed violence up, and the crime rates would have been even lower had there been no games. Since no one really knows, we should be cautious with our grand statements.

I think that proviso applies to Bushman and his colleagues, and I've told them so. It also ought to apply here.

As someone who's been trained in social psychology and also understands this industry, it's clear to me that we have two groups who could really benefit from actually meeting one another. The social scientists often have no conception of game content, the context of actions, or the social element that moderates effects. And those in industry often have no conception of how to properly interpret research findings and methods. Both groups want to see a particular outcome, and so neither is all that open about it (exception: kudos to Richard for starting the thread). I straddle these two worlds and I see more sniping than any wholehearted attempt to find the truth. Thank god there are a few exceptions floating about.

47.

It sure is convenient to have crappy, sloppy research that says one thing, and then use vague excuses to explain why in actual reality the same thing doesn't happen.

Considering the CONSTANT bombardment of violence people receive from TV, movies, and games, if they truly had the power to make people more violent they actually WOULD MAKE PEOPLE MORE VIOLENT.

It isn't like we are talking about some obscure activity that only a few people participate in and only do so in limited amounts.


48.

Time for some devil's advocacy. How do you know that real-world violence wouldn't be even lower if people did not have that bombardment?

We do, after all, have an appalling rate of gun violence in the US, even when compared to a nation like Canada that has just as many guns per capita (or so said Michael Moore in "Bowling").

49.

It isn't like we are talking about some obscure activity that only a few people participate in and only do so in limited amounts.

Yes we are. The APA research is about children, teenagers, and college students who play violent video games. Period. No other media, no other age groups. We aren't talking about the aggregate effect of all media depicting violence on the entire population, or even on a representative sample.

Specifically, what the APA research proves is that children/teenagers/college students are more violent in their thoughts and actions if they play violent video games, than other children/teenagers/college students their same age who are only exposed to violence through TV, movies, music, books, magazines, comic books, etc. Despite how much we like to pat ourselves on the back for making more money than the Hollywood boxoffice each year, there are still children/teenagers/college students in the US who do not play games at all, much less violent games.

As for your point on the general decline of violence over the past decade and its link to violent media in general, the APA addresses that specifically. From the link Mike posted earlier:

Myth 11. If violent video games cause increases in aggression, violent crime rates in the U.S. would be increasing instead of decreasing.
Facts: Three assumptions must all be true for this myth to be valid: (a) exposure to violent media (including video games) is increasing; (b) youth violent crime rates are decreasing; (c) video game violence is the only (or the primary) factor contributing to societal violence. The first assumption is probably true. The second is not true, as reported by the 2001 Report of the Surgeon General on Youth Violence (Figure 2-7, p. 25). The third is clearly untrue. Media violence is only one of many factors that contribute to societal violence and is certainly not the most important one. Media violence researchers have repeatedly noted this.

The 2001 Report of the Surgeon General on Youth Violence can be found at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/youthviolence/youvioreport.htm. In the press release, it states:

Youth homicide, robbery and arrest rates in 1999 were actually lower than they were in 1983. This drop was largely due to a decrease in the use of firearms by youths since the peak years of mid-1990s. At the same time, however, arrest rates for aggravated results remain nearly 70 percent higher than 1983, and self-report studies indicate that the proportion of youth involved in violent behavior and the rates of violent offending have not declined since the mid-1990s.

(Emphasis added)

As with all statistical studies, it's important to read the research and specific findings, rather than just run with the media tagline that "youth violence declined in the 1990s". Similarly, I would like to see the results and the methods used in the APA studies on violent video games, rather than having the results interpreted for me by the APA. I haven't yet found a link to the actual studies, but if I do I'll post it here.

Let's do keep in mind, however, that the APA -- known more formally as the American Psychological Association -- is the largest professional body of psychologists anywhere in the world. The APA Handbook sets the standards for diagnosing mental illness; they would be the ones to decide if typing in caps in a professional community is a symptom of mental illness, for example. The APA psychologists would also be the ones to testify in court if the issue of violent video games was ever really raised there in a valid way.

I'm not trying to defend the APA's studies, and I would be much more comfortable with the studies if I were able to read the original findings and read about the methodology, rather than having the results laid out for me in a Myth/Fact type set up. However, when the leading psychological association in the world says that there is a stronger link between video game violence and violent behavior than between second hand smoke and lung cancer -- something I and many other adults, especially out here in California, simply accept as fact -- well, I sit up and take notice.

50.

From the "can't have it both ways" department that is the essence of Richard's post, consider this new finding (released today) from TV research. Think it applies to gamers? Hmm . . .

Abstract
Media Psychology
2005, Vol. 7, No. 3, Pages 301-322
Positive Effects of Television on Children's Social Interactions: A Meta-Analysis

Marie-Louise Mares
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Emory Woodard
Villanova University

We conducted a meta-analysis of 34 studies of the positive effects of television on children's social interactions, levels of aggression, altruism, and levels of stereotyping (a total of 108 effect sizes, 5,473 children). Across dependent measures, there were consistent moderate positive effects for those who watched prosocial content in experimental settings compared to control groups or those who watched antisocial content. Moreover, the positive effect of self-selected exposure to prosocial content was as strong as the negative effect of self-selected exposure to violent content. Effects were largest for depictions of altruism, primarily because such content tended to involve explicit modeling of desired behaviors. Strong negative effects occurred in the few studies where children watched aggressive prosocial content.

51.

It's my belief that the APA has been politicized into something of a "social justice" organization, so I'd counsel taking their conclusions on any subject related to sociocultural issues with several grains of salt.

I'd also suggest that the drop in violent crime rates beginning in the 1990s was due to an increase in incarceration rates and sentence lengths of violent criminals in large cities, of which Giuliani's New York City is the exemplar.

These things said, I'm surprised that an academic site hasn't made more of the social/cultural aspect of this question.

Videogames are a growing segment of the social and cultural broadcasting to which all of us, including children, are constantly exposed. To those who feel that Western culture is generally good and worth preserving, violent games are a concern -- not because these games are sims that teach some explicit skill, but because they contribute implicitly (along with many other things) to a coarsening of our shared culture. It's closely related to the concern that kids are engaging in sexual activity earlier and earlier because they now swim in a world of movies and TV and magazines all whispering, "it's OK, this is the norm, why aren't you doing it?"

Politicians like to single out particularly in-your-face examples of violent or sexual media because that's more effective than pointing vaguely into the air and saying, "Bad things are out there." More cynically, it's also helpful for getting camera time during election season, especially when some of your indignation arises from staffers telling you it would make a good campaign issue. But this doesn't mean there's not sometimes a larger and realistic concern behind the posturing.

So I'd respond to the original question by saying that there's a difference between explicit teaching and implicit training. The deliberate teaching of specific subjects through educational media is not the same as norm-setting by multiple uncoordinated media.

A violent game that explicitly billed itself as a training tool for how to carjack or commit contract murders would be a different thing, but we haven't seen such games yet.

Yet.

--Flatfingers

52.
However, saying that the studies have been flawed is simply not the same thing as saying that their conclusions must therefore be false. That's bad logic.

It seems like you are trying to paint them as true, because "its bad logic to call them false". If they are flawed they have NO VALUE for drawing a conclusion in either direction.



Myth 11. If violent video games cause increases in aggression, violent crime rates in the U.S. would be increasing instead of decreasing.

Facts: Three assumptions must all be true for this myth to be valid: (a) exposure to violent media (including video games) is increasing; (b) youth violent crime rates are decreasing; (c) video game violence is the only (or the primary) factor contributing to societal violence. The first assumption is probably true. The second is not true, as reported by the 2001 Report of the Surgeon General on Youth Violence (Figure 2-7, p. 25). The third is clearly untrue. Media violence is only one of many factors that contribute to societal violence and is certainly not the most important one. Media violence researchers have repeatedly noted this.

Very amusing. So we are to take a 2001 report for a factual basis for claims about increase or decrease in violences across the past four years?

Not that the original "myth" is a logically or mathematically correct statement. All that is really required is for the effects of exposure to video games to outweight other factors decreasing violence. (Assuming violence is at a stable or deceasing rate). You can't really draw a conclusion if violence is increasing.


Sloppy logic, and bad assertions are one of the worst parts of emotionally charged discussions like this one.

53.

Well, I'm done with the analytical part of this item, such as it's been. It's interesting to me that a number of people -- industry veterans, hangers-on, players, etc. -- are apparently unwilling to do anything other than disparage the data referenced (without discussing specific methodological or other flaws) in order to preserve a pre-conceived notion: that video games couldn't possibly have negative effects.

Of course, as Richard has pointed out, if they can't have negative effects, they can't really have positive effects either. Oh well.

While I don't agree with the entirely hopeful conclusion that computer games are psychologically neutral (one based on no facts, data, or counter-arguments, just spurious induction and anecdote) , it is interesting to me that there has been such a strong knee-jerk reaction to this question.

There's no way of knowing if the reaction here is at all indicative of the reaction in the computer game industry in general. But in considering how this topic is received (and how we as professionals respond to others' valid concerns about our products) it is significant to me that this discussion has turned into the rhetorical equivalent of people sticking their fingers in their ears and going "la la la la la la" to keep out anything that might introduce troubling new knowledge.

If nothing else, not engaging on issues such as this (by dismissing them as unfounded from the start) removes us as an industry from the discussion of potential regulation when (not if) it comes. If we're seen as not being willing or able to take responsibility for our products, others -- whether governments, consumer groups, or some combination -- will do so for us.

54.

Aryoch>Considering the CONSTANT bombardment of violence people receive from TV, movies, and games, if they truly had the power to make people more violent they actually WOULD MAKE PEOPLE MORE VIOLENT.

"Educational" TV shows exist which purport to teach people facts and methods, and they do to an extent succeed. A TV handyman-style programme called "How to make a bomb from stuff you can find in your garden shed" might indeed instruct most of its viewers sufficiently well that they really could make bombs, and some of them could be expected actually to use their new-found knowledge to kill people.

Educational games that purport to teach facts and methods may also do this (although educators seem to have a depressing need to "test" that the required knowledge has been imparted, thereby removing any sense of fun that might have been prevailing). Most regular games don't have such an agenda, though, therefore if facts do seep in by osmosis they're not necessarily useful or coherent. The player may not believe them anyway.

Where it gets tricky (or trickier) is in the behind-the-scenes stuff. Some of the big advocates of computer games as teaching tools (eg. James Gee) say their real value in education is their ability to teach techniques such as problem-solving. This is a much deeper thing than the "syntactic" level of learning facts.

Coming back to your comment, then, if games had the power to make people more violent, they would make people more violent. The same "deep learning" that underpins the behavioural changes inherent in teaching violence also, however, underpin the behavioural changes inherent in teaching other things (eg. social responsibility). Assuming that games don't, in fact, make people more violent, does that mean that they also don't teach people any of the deeper systems for which claims are made?

Perhaps there is a distinction between what is learned, and that makes the difference? They can inpart facts, they can impart logic skills, but they can't impart attitudes. Maybe that's how the contradiction is resolved?

Richard

55.

Just as a follow-up to this thread, there's a character in the peurile but hilarious UK magazine Viz called Rex Box, whose shtick is "the boy whose behaviour is influenced by video games". It kinds puts the discussion into perspective...

Also, given that this magazine is fairly street-led in its attitudes, it was refreshing to see a regular character (Spoilt Bastard) say the following this issue: "If you want to go to bed at midnight, that's up to you, but I'm trying to get to level 100 on Runescape thank you very much".

Richard

56.

I can't believe it, my co-worker just bought a car for $53807. Isn't that crazy!

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