Well, folks, this is it. Our last “class.” Of course, you still have the Final Exam, and I hope to be opening that on Canvas soon (you’ll definitely get an e-mail). You’ll have until Tuesday, 12/22 (one week from today), at 11:00 pm. Everything in fair game from the semester, but stuff since Test 2 and the Midterm Exam will be worth more points. The exam will be between 80-120 questions, and you’ll have two and a half hours (150 minutes) to complete it once you start.
Don’t forget you have a final Weekly Discussion Post to do by Friday, 12/18, at 11:00 pm. It’s worth 40 points, so make sure you do it.
Violence in Video Games and Real-World Violence
These next two articles call into question the link between violent video game exposure and real-world violence. In fact, they really conclude that there’s no evidence playing violent video games leads to real-world aggression. Although they don’t offer too many alternative explanations, these articles seem to conclude that there are too many other factors leading to violent behavior (e.g., familial situations) to isolate any one, single cause—video games included.
If we were in a face-to-face class, I’d ask what does a cultural studies lens bring to this topic? How might we read these articles to find a different perspective on the topic of violent video games?
Ferguson, Christopher J. “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”
This article (and the following) calls into question the link between violent video game exposure and real-world violence. In fact, Ferguson really concludes that there’s no evidence playing violent video games leads to real-world aggression. Although it doesn’t offer too many alternative explanations, it suggests there are too many other factors leading to violent behavior (e.g., familial situations) to isolate any one, single cause—video games included.
- p. 309: “reframe the violent video game debate in reference to potential costs and benefits of this medium”
- p. 310: “It is not hard to ‘link’ video game playing with violent acts if one wishes to do so, as one video game playing prevalence study indicated that 98.7% of adolescents play video games to some degree…. can an almost universal behavior truly predict a rare behavior”
- p. 310: “most studies do not consider violent crime specifically”
- p. 310: “any correlational relationship between violent video games and violent criminal activity may simply be a byproduct of family violence”
- p. 311: aggressive thoughts vs. aggressive behaviors
- p. 314: “Video games may…be associated with increased visuospatial cognition.”
- Ferguson is trying to point research to a more fruitful area of analysis concerning video games because, as he notes, claims regarding the “the relationship between violent games and aggressive behavior” aren’t accurate.
- p. 314: “[I]t may be worth examining whether there are special populations for whom video games violence may pose a particular risk.”
- But Ferguson doesn’t believe most are at risk, and VGs aren’t making them at risk–they started out at risk.
- p. 315: “Although violent games are not likely a cause of violent behavior in such individuals [at risk for being violent], it may be possible that violent games may moderate existing violence predilections”
Ferguson brings up a lot of holes in studies that claim consuming violent media leads to committing real world violence. He is a co-author, along with psychology professor Patrick Markey, of the book Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games Is Wrong (2017), which goes into much more detail on why it’s ridiculous to claim playing violent video games leads to committing real world violence.
If you haven’t watched the video on what a Noise Blast test is, please do so. Yes, it’ll be on the Final Exam.
Daniel Greenberg’s “Playing Games” (2014)
Greenberg’s short article is really a letter to the editor. He is a video game designer who opposes anti-video game rhetoric and calls for censorship. Someone might say, “hey, this guy is too biased to weigh in on this discussion; he’s got a stake in it.” Here’s why a blanket, universal statement that claims anyone a part of an industry must be lying to protect the industry. Sure, tobacco companies claimed for years that cigarettes weren’t harmful. However, there was empirical evidence to the contrary! Greenberg might be a video game developer and most likely wants the industry to thrive, but there’s no empirical evidence suggesting playing violent video games leads to real world violence. Comparing the tobacco industries lies to the video game industries observations and claiming it’s the same hypocrisy or cover up is a false analogy.
Let’s look at some of Greenberg’s statements:
- The report “perpetuates the scapegoating of video games through logical fallacies, guilt by association, inaccurate paraphrases, false equivalencies and the blatant omission of the reasoning of one of its own members.”
- Paraphrasing paragraphs 4-5: Violent people watch violent shows, yet more people watch violent media than commit violent acts…the commission doesn’t explain this.
- See the graphs on Dec. 10th’s page.
- “the Supreme Court [notes] that the effects produced by video games are ‘both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.’
- But does the Supreme Court actually have the expertise to claim that there are effects–big or small–of consuming violent media?
- “Scapegoating the work of game developers isn’t going to help.”
- Ch. 3 of my video game book is “The Video Game as Political Scapegoat: Anxieties, Contradictions, and Hyperbole.”
- In a nut shell, it discusses how children’s media (and sometimes children themselves) are scapegoated–made to be the cause of all problems of a topic–because it’s easier to point to a single cause than to delve deeply into the myriad causes of something.
- “Because [the commissioners] omitted facts and erred so often on the side of the anti-video game crowd, we reluctantly conclude that they failed at their task when it comes to video games.”
This commissioner report Greenberg punches holes in deserves this refutation. I will say that it’s actually hard to believe that no evidence exists to support the claim that consuming violent media leads to committing real world violence. After all, seeing celebrity fashion makes people want to buy similar clothes; watching commercials where celebrities (or just beautiful people) pitch products makes people buy those products; and watching animated shows makes some children want to buy dolls, action figures, and other related toys. So why is it so hard to think that watching violent media doesn’t make a person want to commit violence? I don’t have a definitive answer, but my research shows that violence in society has way more to do with factors other than violent entertainment.
Important Takeaway on Definitions
There is some evidence that consuming violent media increase aggression, which is what the noise blast test (above) demonstrates. Here’s what you need to takeaway from this: aggression vs violence. Different disciplines define terms differently; furthermore, a general definition of a word may be very different from a particular discipline’s understanding of a word. With my own eyes, I’ve seen people scream and yell while playing games (video and otherwise) or watching sports (in a bar, at home, or in the arena). I consider yelling–regardless of intention–to be aggression when directed to a person. Saying “I’m going to $%^&#$% kill you” is aggressive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to actually kill the person. However, remembering Anderson’s definition that aggression is an act and not an intention, a gamer has to immediately act out and attempt to harm somebody. Surprisingly, this definition doesn’t even account for breaking stuff, punching walls, or trash talk…again, I would call those activities aggressive; in fact, I’d call breaking stuff and punching walls violent behavior.
In my broader research on debunking the myth that consuming violent media leads to enacting real world violence, I came across a Bushman and Anderson article that claims “watching one violent TV program or film increases aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but these effects usually dissipate within an hour or so” (p. 481). They juxtapose this with a discussion on cigarettes, claiming
“One cigarette has little impact on lung cancer. However, repeated exposure to tobacco smoke, for example, smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 15 years, seriously increases the likelihood of a person contracting lung cancer (and other diseases)” (p. 481).
They made this claim in 2001–nearly two decades ago. Consider the technological advancements in video games over that time.
Rhetorically, they discuss smoking and violent media together (juxtaposing) in order to force a connection that consuming violent media over time will build up aggression that leads to real world violence just as smoking builds up the carcinogens in your lungs (and other organs) and causes cancer down the road. It’s similar to plaque building up on your teeth leading to tooth decay (or loss) or plaque building up in your arteries leading to heart diseases. Unfortunately, this is a false analogy. If it were true–aggression from violent media builds up over time–than we should see more violence in society, but, as we know, video game sales increased, and violent crime decreased. Their link is specious…it is bogus.
Wrap up on Violent Video Games
We’ve only read 5 articles (2 peer-reviewed ones and 3 popular ones) on video games and violence, so we haven’t really delved deeply enough into the conversation to claim we have a well-researched view of ALL the literature out there. For a thorough examination, read Chapter 2 of Video Games and American Culture: How Ideology Influences Virtual Worlds. That pretty much ends all discussion on video games and violence. However, our goal with these video game readings is to start to think critically about the topic.
Reflect on this a bit and consider the following questions:
- What do you think about the effort researchers have placed on establishing a link between consuming violent media and committing real world violence?
- What might be a preliminary reason to you that the technology of video games is seen as an indicator for aggressive and violent behavior?
- Have you ever been aggressive while playing video games? (Be honest. Remember, according to Anderson, yelling, screaming, and breaking stuff isn’t aggressive…unless you’re breaking a game controller over someone’s head.)
I don’t know the exact answer (assuming an EXACT answer can be found), but the anti-violent video game researchers appear to have an agenda, and it isn’t necessarily a bad agenda. These psychologists, criminologists, and related professionals are trying to find ways to reduce violence in society. In the early 1990s, violent crime was pretty high, and violent video games were very popular. Since then, games have become more immersive with more graphic depictions of violence, yet the violent crime rate has dropped. It’s just too convenient to scapegoat an entertainment practice that nearly 70% of American children and 64% of American adults do regularly according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).
Violence and Video Games
The information below is some of the early research I found on video games. Some of it is dated, but it’s still relevant. You don’t have to read anything between these two dividers. If you’re interested in more information on video games, enjoy. If you’re done, just jump on down to “Next Class…”
- Video game sales rose as violent crime dropped
- “Violent Crime Arrest Rates Among Persons Ages 10-24 Years, by Sex and Year, United States, 1995–2011”
For males: 850.8/10,000 to 423.1/10,000—just over a 50% drop
For females: 136.6/10,000 to 99.7/10,000—over a 33% drop
- Violent video games from 1995
- Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller
- Command & Conquer
- Mortal Kombat 3
- Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
- Video game sales:
2016–$23.5 Billion (was 2010 was $17.1 Billion)
- 97% of children play video games (Pew Research Center)
- 74% of gamers are over 18 (ESA, 2015); average age is 38 (ESA, 2016)
- “Violent Crime Arrest Rates Among Persons Ages 10-24 Years, by Sex and Year, United States, 1995–2011”
- Craig Anderson (2003) debunks 11 myths…cites himself 9 times
- Noise blast test (slow loading)
- This video is disturbing for some, so don’t watch if you’re not ready for graphic depictions of violence.
- This video doesn’t get too graphic until 1:30 into it.
There is no next class! That’s it for reading this semester. You still have your last Weekly Discussion Post due by Friday, 12/18, at 11:00 pm. It’s worth 40 points, so make sure you do it. The Final Exam will be up on Canvas soon.
Take care and be safe this Winter Break. I hope to see you in Fall 2021 face to face.
Bushman, Brad J. and Anderson, Craig A. “Media Violence and the American Public Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation,” American Psychologist 56, no. 6/7 (June/July 2001): 477-489.
- *Original source is from this book chapter: Bushman, B. J., & Huesmann, L. R. (2001). Effects of Televised Violence on Aggression. In D. Singer & J. Singer (Eds.), Handbook of Children and the Media (pp. 223-254) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.