Thursday, February 21, 2013

Violent Video Games

When a tragedy occurs like Columbine or the recent event at Sandy Hook Elementary there is often a knee jerk response to blame the video game industry for these actions.  The thought appears to be somehow playing these violent games incited these boys into committing terrible acts and if they weren't playing these violent video games then they wouldn't have done what they did.  At least they would be less likely to.  

Christopher J. Ferguson, chair of the psychology and communication department at Texas A&M International University and author of the novel "Suicide Kings" took a look at this idea in a recent CNN op-ed: 
"Speculation continues to swirl around the potential involvement of violent video games in Adam Lanza's rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. The official investigation has yet to release its report, but consistent accounts indicate Lanza was an enthusiastic player of violent games."

This is the topic in the eBook Violent Games Violent Children? - Does the research support the conclusion that violent video games make children violent?


In 1977 Marie Winn wrote an awesome book called the Plug-In Drug.  My copy is dog-eared with faded pages and it still has that wonderful smell of a really loved old paperback book.  The entire book is thoughtful and well written.  It is, in my opinion, a must read for all parents.  The book lays out a good argument for making sure that, as a family, we control the television viewing in our home and not let the television control us.

There is an interesting chapter on TV violence.  It describes the Surgeon Generals report in 1972 titled "Report on Television and Social Behavior."  The Surgeon General's report calls on an FBI report showing that youth violence increased 1600 percent from 1952 to 1972.  To the author's credit she doesn't just jump on the "AHA! It must be the televisions fault!" bandwagon but includes interesting conversations that were going on at the time about the subject.  Since the report focused on Television and social behavior it didn't seem to mention outside forces such as the geo-political structure of the times including the Cuban Missile crisis, the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War.  As a child of the 60's my personal experience was that kids were way more violent because of their concern about war than they were because of what they were watching on Mod Squad or Mission Impossible.  Many kids "in the day" arrested for violent behavior were protesting the war and they were doing that because it seemed like the thing to do at the time.   I was a little too young at the time to fully understand everything that was going on but there were alot of kids getting arrested for participating in protests because it was a sunny day and a bunch of kids from the college were going out to protest so they went along too.  So while the number of a 1600% seems dramatic it also has to be mentioned that those were dramatic times.  Not just on television.

There are great things that can happen for a family when they take control of their media viewing and for this reason alone (the positive aspect of the topic) it is worth reading this book.  It is like reading a book about eating a healthy diet.  Eating healthy food makes your body stronger and having a diet of healthy media habits can only be a positive thing too. I don't have a copy of her updated edition published in 2002 which includes computers but I am looking forward to getting a copy soon and reviewing that one as well.

The interactivity of computers and video games changes the dynamic considerably. The assumptions that were made in 1972 that there must be some correlation between the fictional violence and actual violence SHOULD be even more compounded when you add in the fact that when a kid is playing a video game they are holding the controller and controlling the actions of the characters.


If that were the case then we would expect to see an even more dramatic rise in youth violence between the periods of 1992 and 2012 than we did in the Surgeon Generals report in 1972.  Video Game devices for home use became widely available in 90's and became even more popular at the turn of the century. But the exact opposite seems to be true.  In a study from the University of Virginia it showed a steady decrease in youth violence from 1994 to 2007.  Using the same thinking then asserted by the 1972 study it is only logical to suggest that video games actually make kids less violent.

cum hoc non propter hoc
Correlation does not imply causation

There is no easy answer to why someone acts out aggressively to people they don't even know.  One thing is for sure; if we simply blame the video game industry, pat ourselves on the back and walk away then we are doing a great disservice to our children, the people who have been victims of violence or potentially will be future victims of violence, and we are not getting any closer to solving the problem.