Plan for the Day
- Ch. 9 “Video Games and Risks”
- Closer Look at Active Media Studies
- Closer Look at Active Player Studies
- Reinforcing Cultural Studies
- No Class Meeting on 3/17 but…
- Midterm Exam
- Video Game Essay Workshop (3/17)
- Mask Mandate Ends 3/7
- You won’t be required to wear a mask when we return from Spring Break
- I will continue to wear one through this semester
Spring Break!!! Take next week off…from coming to class and not from engaging in intellectual endeavors.
The Myth that Video Games Lead to Real-World Violence
Ch. 2 of Video Games and American Culture debunks the specious claim that playing video games leads to enacting real world violence. Although researchers find credible evidence that playing violent video games increases in player “aggression” during gameplay, our textbook points out that there’s more to it, and the studies don’t control for variables well. However, competition leads to heightened arousal, which I’d classify (in some cases) as aggression. Also, watching competitive sports heightens aggression. Here’s the kicker, as we’ll discuss tonight, the big names in the video-games-lead-to-violence club limit the definition of “aggression” to physical attacks–not verbal assaults or feelings of rage. Below is a list of violent people who never played video games:
- Adolf Hitler (sorry…Godwin’s Law)
- Bonnie & Clyde
- Joseph Stalin
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- Jack the Ripper
- Vladimir Putin
- Well, the jury’s out on Putin
- But he has a game on Steam…Putin Life
Ch. 9 “Video Games and Risks”
Although we could apply these theories to game play and do ethnographic research, I tend to focus on the bigger picture of video games as entertainment and, of course, entertainment is a cultural product. Such a focus will miss or gloss over the fine details, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. What’s ineffective (and the authors of Understanding Video Games would agree) is thinking one’s conclusions from a particular theoretical lens are universal. You may be able to make generalizations, but you’ll run into problems claiming absolutes because, as the paradox goes, there are no absolutes…
Active Media Perspective: “A school of thought that believes that media actively influence a mostly passive recipient, the player” (p. 284)
- p. 285: “Active Media researchers refer to as ‘the effect tradition,’ that is, an almost automatic relationship between playing violent video games and becoming more violent….video games are conceived as having a direct, objective, and measurable effect on players.”
- “Before subjects start playing, their level of aggression is measured—different methods may be used, from a standard multiple-choice psychological questionnaire to a physiological test that involves taking swabs of saliva to find the amount of cortisol in the player’s body.”
- p. 291: “The more a participant played violent games, the more likely it was that he or she had engaged in criminal activities.”
- p. 291: “The study measured the game use of youngsters on a scale from 1 to 7 (1 = never, 7 = daily).”
- Let’s pause and consider length of gameplay.
- How might binge playing affect these study results?
- p. 293: “adolescents who played video games with more violent content were more hostile, got into more arguments with teachers, and were more involved in physical fights compared to their contemporaries who didn’t play violent video games to the same extent.”
- “When you look only at the relationship between violent video games and violence, underlying variables may actually account for the apparent link.”
- p. 295: “even if you can measure indirect effects of aggressions in children after playing violent video games this does not translate into real-life behavior, a point that was again stressed by Fergusson [sic-Ferguson] along with colleagues in Society for Media Psychology and Technology under APA.”
- pp. 295-296: “Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman offer a straightforward and potent conclusion: ‘Violent video games increase aggressive behavior in children and young adults.”
- Check Works Cited for link to Anderson & Bushman’s 2001 article.
- p. 296: publication bias–when the outcome of a study influences whether or not the study gets published.
Active User Perspective: “A school of thought that stresses the active interpretation and filtering players exhibit when playing video games” (p. 284)
- p. 285: “…video games do not have the same effect on everybody but are mediated by a variety of factors such as playing context, genre expectations, and the individual player’s interpretation.”
- p. 286: “When incidences of aggression are found, they are analyzed in the specific context in which they arose; researchers hesitate to generalize actions or behaviors to other situations because they believe that each player perceives each game differently…”
- p. 297: “If violent video games were so bad wouldn’t our society have collapsed with the rapid rise of violent television and video games during the last 20 years?”
- p. 298: “Even if there is a correlation, and some effect size, it seems that the link to actually observable aggression from playing video games is weak.”
- p. 301: “[Ferguson] has also documented a tendency for studies showing greater effects of videos games on aggression to get published more frequently.”
- “it may be that someone consistently becomes more aggressive from playing video games, but that doesn’t mean that they become aggressive enough for this to actually lead to malign or pathological behavior.”
- p. 302: “players are competent and selective, not just passive recipients of information. In other words, agency belongs to the player; the player, and not the medium, is in charge.”
Closer Look at Active Media Studies
If you’re on campus or logged onto your Atkins Library account, you’ll be able to watch this video:
- Game Over: Gender, Race & Violence in Video Games (2000)
- This webpage used to have an example of a study using a “noise blast test.”
- Violent media: “depict characters intentionally harming other characters who presumably wish to avoid being harmed” (Anderson, et. al., p. 1068, para 2)
- Aggression: “behavior that is intended to harm another person who is motivated to avoid that harm….it is not an emotion, thought, or intention” (Anderson, et. al., p. 1068, para 2)
- Violence: “the most extreme form of physical aggression, specifically physical aggression that is likely to cause serious physical injury” (Anderson, et. al., p. 1068, para 2)
The above definitions all come from Anderson et. al. “Longitudinal Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression…”.
- p. 300: “…measures of aggression: aggressive thoughts, hitting a doll, playing patterns, verbal aggression, aggressive behavior, physical fights, or the more obscure willingness to donate money to charity.”
- Geen’s “working definition of aggression: actions that do harm or the intention to do harm.”
- Social Relations, p. 309
- “…social learning theoretical perspective: children may imitate in real life what they see in video games.”
- “A consequence of this may be that players perceive the world as a more hostile and dangerous place. They may also transfer behaviors from the game to the real world, leading to what can be labeled as crime.”
- I mean, who could possibly believe that the world is a hostile, dangerous place…
- Addiction, p. 311
- “pathological gamers were twice as likely to suffer from attention disorder, although one can only speculate about any causal relationship.”
- “[Another] study found that greater amounts of gaming, lower social competence, and greater impulsivity seem to act as risk factors for becoming pathological gamers. It also found that the outcomes of pathological gaming were depression, anxiety, social phobias, and lower school performance. The study suggested that the relationship between pathological gaming and psychological disorders may be reciprocal, that is, they reinforce each other.”
Full disclosure: I’m not a social scientist and prefer textual analysis over interviews and empirical research. However, I remember the warning from my statistics classes decades ago: If you look for something, you’ll probably find it. Consider that in regard to the Big Data push in academia.
Question to Lead Off
As you reflect on video game research, consider what you’ve been told about violent video games (or violent media in general) and the effects they supposedly have on viewers—adults and children. I wonder what even motivates these studies. After all, if researchers can never control for the influence they have on the subjects they observe, how might a hypothesis, such as, “Violent video game exposure likely leads to real-world aggression,” bias the study?
Pause on that question for a moment, and think about all the factors that need to be controlled for in order to make a causal link between violent video game exposure leading to real-world violence (not just aggression defined above but the most severe form of aggression). Below is a graph on the rate of crime (violent ) in the United States:
If the video game Mortal Kombat came out in 1992, and crime has plummeted…well, let’s read a bit more. I certainly don’t want to bias you for or against this topic.
Closer Look at Active Player Studies
There is some evidence that consuming violent media increases 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 even though it’s not directed towards an individual.
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–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.
Interestingly, this technique of juxtaposing two (or more) ideas together to foist a connection or bring up something the speaker wants you to keep in mind, is a classic advertising practice. What do car commercials, beer commercials, and other commercials really try to sell?
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 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 67% of American children and 76% of American adults do regularly according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA, 2021).
A Note on Definitions
Remember, academics love to supply their own definitions, which are often (mostly) specific to their own research, but I’ll bet have a broader definition for aggression that includes the following non-physical actions against others:
- Verbal harassment
- Punching walls/Breaking objects
- Amassing troops on the Ukrainian border…
- Anything we missed?
Violence in Video Games and Real-World Violence
These next article calls 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 single cause—video games included.
- 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?
- Let’s take a look at the emotions in these gamers.
By the way, did you hear that a prosecutor during Kylie Rittenhouse’s trial tried to make a link between Call of Duty and Rittenhouse’s actions.
Christopher J. Ferguson’s “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. Let’s think of the other possible factors that might explain why violence exists in society. Also, we should do our own survey on playing violent video games (or consuming violent media) and real world violence.
- 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.
Entertainment Software Association 2021 Report
This section was supposed to be for a longer discussion on who researchers gather empirical data. We may return to it later in the semester.
- Page 2 explains how the data were gathered through online surveys
- Notice the list of ESA members on page 19
- What is the visual rhetoric of the report?
- Consider the images, quotations, and “Forward” on page 3
- As promised, here’s a link to a PEW Survey that identifies the number of people in the sample size
- Click “How did we do this”
- If you’re interested in another survey…“Marriage and Cohabitation in the U.S.”
- Scroll to the bottom and click “Methodology” for how the survey was done
- Makes you wonder about the definition of “premarital”
- “Rising Share of U.S. Adults Are Living Without a Spouse or Partner”
- Check out the section “unpartnered adults have worse economic outcomes than partnered adults”
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
Video Game Videos
- Noise blast test (well, this link doesn’t have the video anymore, but it still has the article)
- The below two aren’t required viewing and may be disturbing
- Who doesn’t love a nice fatality? (Watch to 2:30)
- This next 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 time stamp 1:30
Spring Break!!! You won’t have any reading or a Weekly Discussion Post for 3/17, but you will have a Midterm Exam, and you’ll need to have a draft of your Video Game essay on google Docs for your classmate by 5:00pm on Friday, 3/18. Then, you’ll have until Monday, 3/21 by 5:00 pm to comment on that classmate’s essay.
Anderson, Craig A., Akira Sakamoto, Douglas A. Gentile, Nobuko Ihori, Akiko Shibuya, Shintaro Yukawa, Mayumi Naito, Kumiko Kobayashi. (2008). “Longitudinal Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression in Japan and the United States.” Pediatrics, vol. 122, no. 5, 2008: e1067-e1072. <full text>
Bushman, Brad J. and Anderson, Craig A. “Media Violence and the American Public Scientific Facts Versus Media Misinformation,” American Psychologist vol. 56, no. 6/7, 2001: 477-489. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.56.6-7.477.>
- *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.
Ferguson, Christopher J. “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: A Meta-analytic Review of Positive and Negative Effects of Violent Video Games.” Psychiatry Quarterly, vol. 78, 2007: 309—316. DOI 10.1007/s11126-007-9056-9