Why The Violent Game Debate Actually Isn't Over

Ninja Metrics CEO Dmitri Williams offers a counterpoint on the violent games topic - the issue runs much deeper in our society, he says

Editor's note: The following editorial was submitted as a direct counterpoint to this week's article from Brendan Sinclair.

The video game debate isn't over yet, and there's a good chance it never will be. It's definitely down from the hysteria of times past, but the forces that keep it in play aren't going away. Let's walk through this from a couple of angles: legal/political and cultural. Proviso: This is purely from the American experience.

The Legal Front

On the legal side, the Supreme Court decision really did change things, but it was also more or less inevitable. Every court battle had started with a state law being challenged on free speech grounds and struck down. I played a role in some of these events and I think I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when things changed. It certainly wasn't in Congress. As a wet-behind-the-ears young professor, I testified before the US Senate. I was there to explain the science to the committee (TLDR version: we have three good data points, people, and we don't know squat), and my experience there taught me that the science was largely irrelevant. Senators blasted into the committee room, grandstanded, then left, ignoring the testimony. A few listened, but most had their axe to grind and our testimony was pro forma.

No, things changed in the courts, and specifically in Chicago. I was an expert witness in the case of Blagojevich v. ESA. Rod Blagojevich, for any who've forgotten, was the later-disgraced Gov. of Illinois. His anti-game law was challenged, as they all were, and the case was in federal court. I was hired by the ESA, ostensibly to "defend" the industry, although in my view my job was to explain the science to date, including my own. I'd just published the first long-term study on gaming and violence and found no link. This was an intellectual hand grenade that severely annoyed many of my colleagues, but the data tells the story, not me.

"And right there, poof, went the case against violent games. The rest--the California law, the Supreme Court case, etc.--was just the long, slow death rattle"

In any case, I was testifying across from Craig Anderson, possibly one of the nicest people in academia, and also an ardent opponent of games. Prof. Anderson believed, and still does, that exposure to games makes players more likely to commit violent acts. And whether you like his science or logic or not, he has a lot of people in mainstream academia who agree with him. Pooh pooh this camp at your peril.

That day I offered my testimony (which didn't matter much), and then Prof. Anderson took the stand. He explained the theories of mere exposure and schema activation. Non-nerd translation: if you see something, you'll think about it. If you think about it, you're more likely to do it. Now that's not an insane theory at all. It's quite reasonable, actually. It's just a question of degree. And on the stand Prof. Anderson explained that seeing a picture of a gun would in fact make anyone more likely to commit gun violence.

I was watching the judge in the case during this and he gave the slightest of double takes at this. Why? Because he knew in a flash that what Prof. Anderson was saying could lead to government control of any objectionable imagery. If seeing a gun is bad, then you have to ban all gun images, right? Thought police. And right there, poof, went the case against violent games. The rest--the California law, the Supreme Court case, etc.--was just the long, slow death rattle.

So it's over, right? No, not really.

Culture Wars

Culture Wars are perpetual because the forces that cause them are almost entirely unavoidable in society. Although the technology has changed, the socioeconomics aren't radically different today than in ancient Rome, where they had their own cultural battles. Then, like now, they were driven by race and class tensions more than by the particulars of the debate. This is an important moment to recognize the difference between the symptom and the disease. We may argue over the impact of video games or TV or Google Glass, but what we're really arguing over are our roles, inequality, poverty, and a host of other things. The tech is just a proxy for a larger issue, and the trick is to understand why.

Here's an example: What should we worry about and make policy around to make our lives safer? Chances are, the things that occur to you will not be scientifically driven. Instead, we tend to pick the things that make us feel good, or reinforce our opinions. For example, I read a slew of comments after Brendan's original article about gun control. Well, although I happen to agree with many of them, guns kill far fewer children than swimming pools. Where's the outrage over pool safety? Where's the legislation? If you want to line up what the risks are in society, there should be outrage over driver's education and salt in foods. But since those don't push any cultural buttons, they get no press or attention--unlike say guns or games.

OK, so why games? First, it's not about games at all. It's about women, and their roles in society. Take a look at the households and household incomes in the U.S. over the past 40 years. We Americans have less and less free time, more work, and really no economic gains to show for it. What's happened is that women have been "able" to enter the workforce, but that's slowly become "have to enter the workforce" to maintain the same standard of living within a family. As a result, women spend more and more time outside of the home, and correspondingly less and less time in it. This means less time with their own children, and it often unfairly puts them in the crosshairs of cultural conservatives.

As a society, we feel pretty crappy about how we treat our kids, and women often take the flak. Children are farmed out to teachers and daycare, and over the past 30 years, increasingly to electronic media. TVs, cable, VCRs, video games, phones, iPads, etc., etc. are seen--often rightly so--as electronic babysitters. This gives parents and pundits three choices: 1) Decry the economic disparity and support working families (especially working and single mothers) through policy. So far, that hasn't happened, and it doesn't seem likely in the US any time soon. 2) Make a choice to have a lower standard of living and have a parent spend more time with the children. This is pretty tough, too, especially for those at lower incomes. Or 3) Use any means at our disposal to entertain and occupy our kids, but resent the situation. In this case, the electronic media become our objects of hate rather than the system, or ourselves. For cultural conservatives who think that women should be in the home, electronic media are a particularly easy target.

"The games industry has gone from being edited by people suspicious of it or hostile to it to those who grew up with it. But that doesn't mean games are going to get a free pass"

If you think this is a bit crazy, consider that video games didn't start out as a cultural hot potato. Originally, pre-1981, they were cool, hip and even in nightclubs and bars. I did research on this once, looking at all of the press coverage on gaming, and it makes a hard 180-degree turn in 1981. Suddenly games articles are about kids, shame, guilt and even imputed crime. Articles in 1980 talked about lawyers playing on their lunch breaks, and in 1982 the interviewees said "please don't use my name." Adult game play essentially went into the closet.

What happened? Reagan happened, and brought with him a huge cultural shift to conservatism, family values and a tragically unfair vilification of single female parents. Welfare queens were the villains of the day, and women who didn't fit their traditional roles were bad news. Those who stuck their kids in front of the boob tube or a 2600 were more irresponsible still. So games, along with the VCR, were merely chess pieces in this larger cultural battle. They became tightly associated with irresponsibility. Then, when Nintendo made games a phoenix from the ashes of Atari in the late 80s, they made their marketing 100% child-oriented. There's the cultural nail in the coffin. From that point on, games were infantilized, and it's taken us an entire generation to grow up past that baggage

30 years later and those Nintendo kids (oh, this Atari kid feels old. Where's my C-64? Get off my lawn!) are now parents. More importantly, the gatekeepers of culture have all had a generational passing of the torch. News editors are some of the most powerful people in the world at setting the cultural agenda. And the games industry has gone from being edited by people suspicious of it or hostile to it to those who grew up with it.

But that doesn't mean games are going to get a free pass. What it means (as Brendan Sinclair rightly points out) is that games aren't going to be the first target any longer. Reporters don't take Jack Thompson seriously. Well, most of them don't. Still, let's take a look at the cultural climate. The US may have become a more multiethnic and interesting place since the '80s, but gay tolerance aside, it's not as if cultural conservatives have disappeared. If anything, the conservative movement today is as robust and loud as it was in the 1980s.

Fox News is consistently the highest-rated broadcast news network. Tea Party candidates now have national policy-making positions. The Republican Party has been taken over by its loud and angry minority, and a culturally conservative wave is underway. If you're a left-leaning, educated developer and you think this cultural war is over, think again. Conservatives are celebrating Duck Dynasty as a return to morality. Bill O'Reilly sells books like hotcakes. Sarah Palin is a serious candidate for office.

Newtown was an important moment in the national consciousness. It was too horrible to pin down on gaming, and the reporters have all now played enough Call of Duty (and not killed anyone) to know better. But America's deeply ambivalent reactions to technology aren't going anywhere. The larger forces that drive it--massive economic disparity, deep class tensions, thick guilt over parenting--are as present as ever, and getting worse.

All that remains to be seen is how it'll manifest itself next. Maybe games will get lucky and pass the whipping-boy job on to a new technology.

I offer this prediction: When Oculus launches, it'll be greeted with a mix of nerd enthusiasm and distrust. And that distrust will come in the form of three predictable fears: how is it going to medically harm us, what good thing is it going to replace, and what bad cultural impact is it going to have? It was this way for Nickelodeon movie technology, movies, jazz, radio, rock, rap, games and the Internet. Same as it ever was, people.

If you want to defuse these things, think ahead and be proactive. Otherwise, brace yourself. The fundamentals haven't changed.

Dmitri Williams (PhD, University of Michigan) is the CEO, Sensei, and Co-Founder of Ninja Metrics, Inc. Dmitri is a 15-year veteran of games and community research, has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed articles on gamer psychology and large-scale data analysis, has been featured on CNN, Fox, the Economist, the New York Times, and most major news outlets, and he has testified as an expert on video games and gamers before the U.S. Senate.

Related stories

ESA opposes potential DMCA rule change aimed at preserving abandoned online games

"Preservation of online video games is now critical,” says Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment

By Haydn Taylor

Hawaii proposes landmark legislation against loot boxes

UPDATE: State representative who previously declared legislation a "slippery slope" affirms support for efforts toward regulating loot boxes; expects more states to follow Hawaii's lead

By Haydn Taylor

Latest comments (24)

Sense and the long view at last, thank you Dmitri
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jamie Madigan Psychologist 4 years ago
Great article, thanks!
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Edward Buffery Head of LQA (UK), Testronic4 years ago
This was a refreshing read of a lesser-discussed angle of the longstanding debate. While the role of cultural conservatives looking for scapegoats in new technologies is not a new concept, it's great to read about it with such specific examples, and the changing role of women in society being so directly linked is new to me, though it certainly makes sense. Looking forward to seeing what comments will appear under this one ;)
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (24)
Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up4 years ago
I said this on the other thread about it being the debate being dead (as a bit of fun), but this is probably a better place for it in a serious way....

First off, any sensible person knows video games are not responsible for some one going crazy with a gun.

If you apply game theory (the prisoners dilemma) to the US gun problem then you can see it's foundation in human behaviour and why it can't be fixed with the current set of rules. It also demostrates why you ultimately need strong restrictions on guns and weapons in a society, if the aim is to achieve "a peaceful outcome"'s_dilemma

Basically, in this example and if applied to this issue, If no one "co-operates" or trusts anyone else enough not to have a gun, they will most likely "defect" from the idea of a gun free society and potentially go out and get a gun themselves, or at least believe to some degree that this is the best way forward for self preservation in such a place. Given the current state of affairs and retards who promote this idea in the media, who can blame them.

The greater outcome of this selfish action however is that everyone recieves "the sentence" or the culture of fear they have created, and the problem perpetuates. The only way to change the outcome is to change the rules. Human behaviour simply cannot change until you change the rules governing weapons and clean the place up. In turn you will build trust.

For the freedom fighters who say they need their guns, there is no greater freedom than the freedom from fear.

Obviously the million dollar question is, how do you get to that place from such a messed up state of affairs.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sandy Lobban on 9th January 2014 5:07pm

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Charles Herold Wii Games Guide, about.com4 years ago
I thought Sinclair's article was pretty nonsensical; I'm glad to see such a well thought out response.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 years ago
European women share exactly the same roles.
Whilst I can't talk about women in European Mainland, I can certainly see similarities between the situation Dmitri outlines above, and the UK.
In this case, the electronic media become our objects of hate rather than the system, or ourselves.
I can see being directly relatable to Internet censorship in the UK. Were this a more equal society, both men and women could spend more time at home, being their children's parents, rather than tacitly allowing the State to watch over them whilst they go to work. Demonise the internet, so as to not feel guilty that the State is censoring our lives. If people weren't so damned tired from working for a pittance, there'd be more of an outcry. Probably.

Excellent article, btw. :)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 9th January 2014 5:11pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up4 years ago
@Morville Already retracted on that. I agree kind of ;)
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 4 years ago
Pretty good article. I might offer up a couple of thoughts.

First, I would disagree the "conservative movement" is robust in its current form. It's narrow minded, ideologically blinkered, intellectually stunted, and close to complete moral bankruptcy. And this is coming from somebody who would identify as conservative given an A/B choice. It wasn't always this way. The vocal minority has completely hijacked the conversation and taken things in a direction which to me puts them beyond the pale and unworthy of being called conservative. "Fascist" wouldn't be accurate (and has become trite, in any event), but "zealot" is a pretty decent descriptor.

Second, conservatives are no more inherently "evil" than liberals are inherently "good." Nor are they a perfectly unified group, any more than any other group which has a national, religious, or ideological identity. It's less of a monolithic mass and more a collection of nodes, some of which are bigger and/or louder than others. Sarah Palin's not a serious candidate for office in many conservative circles because of the complete "freak show" element she drags around with her. She's unelectable because she's a complete flake. As for Bill O'Reilly, considering that he didn't really hit the public eye in a big way until he was hosting the tabloid show Inside Edition, there's more television huckster than conservative thinker to him. As far as Duck Dynasty, that's hucksterism on a massive scale deliberately focused on freak shows. Yes, I'm old enough to remember when TLC was The Learning Channel, and when it actually tried to fulfill that mission.

Third, if you look at how much has happened since the end of the Reagan Administration, you see an absolutely dizzying amount of change in the tech sector, particularly around computers. What was once the province of academia and high finance is now ubiquitous. Even in the last 5 years, changes are happening so fast that it'd be crazy to think everybody was happy about it. It's less about the changes and more about the rate of change, the sense of "stop the world, I want to get off!" that some people are experiencing. It's not that these people are stupid, it's that they're very uncertain about what the future holds for them, and anything that helps give even the slightest bit of certainty is helpful to them on a personal level, even if it's potentially harmful on a collective level. When you're riding the big scary roller coaster, are you really thinking about the people in the other cars when you're trying not to lose your lunch?

I'll counter your prediction with another one: Oculus will probably go by with a minimum of fuss. It's when you get a fusion of Oculus and consumer-grade haptic feedback systems that you'll start seeing the Moral Panic Brigade ride again.
3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
I could try to make a smart argument for either side. Then I remembered this trailer:
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 4 years ago
I'm sure I saw that horse move. You should beat it some more. Although that might attract attention to you.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios4 years ago
Excellent overview of the cultural context of games - and enlightening, even as someone who lived through it :)
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mariusz Szlanta Producer, SEGA Europe4 years ago
Great article.

Having said that I think it's too early to point to Oculus. It definitely has potential but exists in Shrodinger bubble now - to state whether it is the next great thing, more people must open the box and that moment is still months if not years away.

Recent comments coming from one of Oculus' top dogs about graphics no longer that important (yawn) suggests it's not.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance4 years ago
I find it very telling that both this article and the article it responds to both blame conservatives for the issues. It's either the conservatives at the NRA or it's the Tea Party! Give me a break.

Let's take a moment to remember those inconvenient little hearings held by Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl about "violent video games and their effect on society," which lead to the formation of the ESRB. What, both those guys were Democrats? And the Republicans opposed them? Huh, that's inconvenient. OMG, Rod Blagojevich (referenced above) was also a liberal Democrat? Ye Gods.

All this to say that your description of "left-leaning, educated developers" (as if the right-leaning developers are somehow drooling on their keyboards) is somewhat insulting. This is two articles in a row that have blamed the current problem on conservatives. I was hoping for a "real" response to the previous article's inane generalizations about gun owners, but here the blame is only slightly shifted.

I personally think both Democrats and Republicans have become larger-than-life caricatures of their former selves and forgot that compromise is part of ther political process. I agree with you about what Fox News has become but I think it's systemic of what CNN has become - both parties reacting to one another by drawing strongly in their previously leaning directions and vacating the common ground between them. This is the current problem between the Democrats and Republicans as well, and it's not one-sided - the Tea Party stands out because they gave their movement away from the center A NAME.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I'm always fascinated by this subject and debate. We are a weird creature , we humans.
In real life catching a football is fun, and it is in games as well, so is shooting a puck, dunking a basketball, driving real fast, flying a plane, jumping, swimming, collecting stuff, solving riddles, and on and on and on.

So what is perplexing is that in real life there really isnt anything much worse than physical violence. Its awful, there is simply no debating this. It is so bad it can actually tear at your soul. The mere thought of it even years later can still really effect you in horrible ways. Physical violence in real life is HORRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRIBLE. ( and for those who have never been subject to an event of it, be thankful and take our word for this) so with this understanding that violence is truly an awful action, why is it we humans find it so enjoyable in our games?

WTF is wrong with us? (I include myself in this, Im not above enjoying some mayhem in GTA etc) so why is this? How can we move beyond this, because in all honesty, we really shouldnt be enjoying something so horrible.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 10th January 2014 7:04pm

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 years ago
@ Steve

This is drifting away from the general point of the article (which I'm happy with, but just noting). As such, I'll keep this a little shorter than I would normally.

I think it's easier to focus on what the Republican party does simply because they are against what many of us find "right", and also because their power is felt longer. The Republican party is (generally speaking), anti-abortion, (somewhat) anti-women, anti-high tax for the rich, anti-gay marriage, etc.. The fact that these opnions can be felt in the Supreme Court is even more worrying. So, yes, whilst the Democrats do end up censoring song lyrics and being anti-video games, they are less overwhelmingly "scary" than the Republicans.

I do agree that the common ground is disappearing fast, and that it's not useful. But at least you don't live in the UK, where liberal sentiment or common ground between parties has essentially evaporated.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
I think we're all "crazy" in assorted ways, period. "Good crazy" in the way that people who create great works from thin air, out of necessity, strife, silly thoughts and ideas/ideals that taken on their own merits, would get one shunned into some hermitville somewhere because innovation is always threatened more by those who don't like change than those who will benefit from it.

"Bad crazy" is when those same (and darker) thoughts turn into actions that end up harming themselves and others. Enjoying a violent game, film, song or book doesn't mean those who do are or will become violent. It's only those who take in any media and/or allow their internal urges to take them forward down those paths to darkness who should be worried about as the media itself really isn't the problem at the end of the day.

We seem to want to regulate the wrong things most of the time and allow freedom for people to do what they want to the point that "well, they're not hurting anyone, so let them be" becomes a mantra when in fact, that's exactly the type of behavior that needs more careful observation. Acting out as a child, may of us played with weapons of some sort and most of that many have never decided one day to take up real arms with intent to harm. Plenty of people who have been in and seen actual violent situations never want to have them happen again (as Todd notes, it does tear at one's soul or whatever that thing is we have that hurts when we see or experience a traumatic event).

I think one issue is we need more adults in the room who don't fall back on old fears and scare tactics while creating new bogeymen to crawl under the covers over. It's very difficult to have a discussion with people who still fall back on those old fears long debunked s a first response to everything and need to be cajoled, assured and generally brought up to speed before a real discussion begins. That gets old every time and it's getting tiring because lately, more and more basics need to be explained as the opposition gets less intelligent...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 10th January 2014 8:44pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Edward Buffery Head of LQA (UK), Testronic4 years ago
Also to Todd's point, while I have no doubt that being the victim of physical trauma is a terrible thing, that doesn't mean that all aspects of physically aggressive behaviour are negative or somehow immoral. I come from a very pacifist background and am lucky to say that no-one has ever struck out at me with the intention to seriously hurt me, nor vice versa. Having said that, I've enjoyed going to classes in karate, boxing, kickboxing, kung fu and tae-kwon-do, and I love watching martial arts films and the UFC. I've also had a tooth broken and a rib cracked during sparring sessions with classmates, and felt no anger or ill-will to them whatsoever, neither at the time it happened nor later, because neither of them were intending to connect as hard as they did and they were playing fair. Context is everything. I also enjoy a wide variety of game genres, sometimes including multiplayer games that involve shooting or fighting with other people, and I remember laughing a lot the first time I played a game that allowed you to 'gib' your opponents with a rocket launcher.

A huge number of species enjoy playfighting as they grow up, it teaches youngsters how to fend for themselves, how to cope with pain in a relatively mild and controlled manner, and to figure out and control their own strength. Humans are in the privileged position where many of us never have to completely grow out of the playfighting phase (much like kittens don't once neutered). To me, violent games, like sparring with a friend, are an extension of the instinctive urge to playfight, where we can experiment with being as violent as we want yet with the safety that we're never going to hurt anyone for real. Clearly I would never run around in a game shooting people with a machine gun if there was even a remote chance that it would cause real injuries to other players.

Granted, there are a small number of people who see violent games as a fantasy that they would like to carry out in real life (or at least they think they would...), but that's not a normal state of mind and I seriously doubt that removing video games from their lives will 'fix' their mental health issues. As is often mentioned, releasing unspent aggression through harmless channels like sports, working out or playing games is actually a great way to cool down and reduce the chance of popping a fuse for real. I wouldn't be surprised if taking away violent games from people with mental health issues could cause them to be violent in real life even sooner.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
while I have no doubt that being the victim of physical trauma is a terrible thing,
You dont have to be a victim for violence to tear you apart on the inside. Just witnessing it can, Performing an act of violence on another can. It's why people who go to war do not come back the same person.

As for comparing sports to violence, its not the same, not even close. Sports have rules, real violence doesnt. Would you watch a martial art fight if they really allowed each other to pull out eyes, pull off ears and to fight to the death? of course you wouldnt.

Again my point is, why do we find violence... fun? Its sad, and it kinda goes to show how far we still have to go as a species.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Yvonne Neuland Studying Game Development, Full Sail University4 years ago
I agree with the author's statement that the debate about violence in video games is not over.

The logic behind his argument, however, is rather flawed.

First of all, the argument is not going to go away because it is completely based on irrational emotional arguments. It does not matter that it is irrational, because the people who believe that video games cause violence are driven by fear.

Fear prevents human beings from considering things in a logical manner, and other human beings take advantage of that fear to push their own agendas.

The political arguments that the author makes are also irrational. The politicians who initiated legislation after the Sandy Hook school shooting, and after the Adam Lanza shooting, were Democrats. Senator Jay Rockefeller and Vice President Joe Biden were the two politicians primarily advocating against violent video games, and both of them are Democrats.

Democrats are liberals, Republicans are conservatives. So he is either unaware of the actual politics of the situation, or simply wanted to rant about how much he hates Fox News. Possibly both, it isn't clear.

The argument that the problem is women is also irrational. I would agree that children need to be supervised, and that parenting trends in the U.S. have become increasingly negligent. It takes both a man and a woman to create a baby, however, and men are equally capable of staying home and taking care of their children. The fault lies with parents of both sexes. If you do not want to take responsibility for the needs of a child, you should not have any. Blaming women more than men for failing to take that responsibility is sexist.

The real cause of most of these violent events is the American school system. The education system is frequently a subject of political debate, but most of the arguments usually center around things like teachers unions and standardized testing.

The political polarization in the country has resulted in a lot of opinions about who is right and who is wrong, and reality doesn't need to be considered to argue those opinions.

This leaves no one paying attention to what is actually going on in the schools. School is, quite frankly, torture for most of the kids attending them. I don't think you could design a system more likely to cause violence than the current one if you actually tried. There is almost no actual education that goes on, but there is a great deal of violence, bullying, and crime. The lack of supervision by both teachers and parents allows the students to behave in a fashion rather similar to the one in Lord of Flies. When you allow one group of kids to torture another group for years on end, you shouldn't be surprised that some of them react in horribly violent ways.

In order to address the problem in an effective way, people would have to take responsibility for their own role in the situation, and acknowledge that political ideologies need to be set aside. They are not willing to do that. Violent video games are a convenient scapegoat, particularly because the violence in them is politically incorrect, and makes for a good talking point.

As for the "science" behind the affects of violent video games on children, it is nothing but propaganda.

Everytime the issue of violence in videogames is brought up, arguments are made asserting that there have been studies proving that violent video games increase violent behavior in children. Possible methodological flaws are mentioned, then dismissed off-handedly with the assumption that those methodological flaws are nothing more than picky semantic details. They are not. I will explain why.

Psychology is a science, with the primary objectives of describing, predicting and controlling behavior and mental processes. Psychological research is conducted using the scientific method, just like all of the other sciences.

The scientific method requires that scientific research use a method of inquiry that is based on empirical and measurable evidence. It also requires that the evidence be gathered and tested in an objective manner, preventing biased interpretations of the data. A scientific hypothesis MUST be falsifiable, meaning that one can identify a possible outcome of an experiment that conflicts with predictions deduced from the hypothesis. Otherwise, it cannot be meaningfully tested.

Researchers test hypotheses by conducting experiments. The purpose of an experiment is to determine whether observations of the real world agree with, or conflict, with the hypothesis (the predictions made prior to conducting the experiment). If they agree, the hypothesis is supported. Otherwise, the hypothesis is questioned. Agreement does NOT mean that the hypothesis is true. Future experiments may reveal problems, or produce results that indicate the exact opposite of the original experiments.Generally speaking, scientists to try to falsify hypotheses, not prove them. To minimize the effects of confirmation bias, they deliberately try to prove that the hypothesis is false.

Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

NOTE: Confirmation bias is often described as a result of automatic, unintentional strategies rather than deliberate deception. Researchers who exhibit confirmation bias are not deliberately lying, they just don't realize that they are unintentionally skewing the data to match their assumptions. They see what they expect to see, even if it isn't there.

Scientific analysis of an experiments data requires that there be predictions of the hypothesis compared to those of the null hypothesis (the hypothesis that your hypothesis is wrong), to determine which is better able to explain the data. If the evidence has falsified the hypothesis, a new hypothesis is required; if the experiment supports the hypothesis but the evidence is not strong enough for high confidence, other predictions from the hypothesis must be tested. Once a hypothesis is strongly supported by evidence, a new question can be asked to provide further insight on the same topic. Evidence from other scientists and experience are frequently incorporated at any stage in the process. Depending on the complexity of the experiment, many iterations may be required to gather sufficient evidence to answer a question with confidence, or to build up many answers to highly specific questions in order to answer a single broader question.

Scientific results must be replicable. If you cannot conduct the experiment multiple times and get the same answer, then the answer was an anomaly caused by an unrelated variable that was not accounted for in the experiment. Large numbers of successful confirmations are not convincing if they arise from experiments that avoid all the factors that might disprove them, or that risk disproving them. Experiments should be designed to minimize possible errors, especially through the use of appropriate scientific controls.

Scientific findings always remain subject to falsification if new experimental observation incompatible with it is found.

No theory can ever be considered proven. You can support a theory, but you cannot prove one.

Psychology research designs are divided into a threefold classification by asking some key questions.

First, does the design use random assignment to groups? (NOTE: Random assignment is NOT the same thing as random selection of a sample from a population.) If random assignment is used, the design is considered a randomized experiment or true experiment.

If random assignment is not used, then you ask a second question: Does the design use either multiple groups or multiple waves of measurement? If the answer is yes, we would label it a quasi-experimental design.

If no, we would call it a non-experimental design.

This threefold classification is important for describing the design with respect to internal validity.

A randomized experiment generally is the strongest of the three designs when your interest is in establishing a cause-effect relationship.

A non-experiment cannot determine a causal link between two variables, because it has low internal validity.

When you want to determine whether a variable causes some outcome or outcomes to occur, then you are interested in having strong internal validity. Essentially, you want to assess the proposition:

If X, then Y

Unfortunately, it's not enough just to show that when a variable occurs the expected outcome also happens. That's because there may be lots of reasons, other than the factor you are testing, for why you observed the outcome. To really show that there is a causal relationship, you have to simultaneously address the two propositions:

If X, then Y


If not X, then not Y

So, in order to prove whether or not video games cause violent behavior, you would need to design a study that allowed you to determine the following:

If Kids are exposed to violent videogames, then violent behavior occurs


If Kids are NOT exposed to violent videogames, then violent behavior DOES NOT occur

If you are able to provide evidence for both of these propositions, then you've in effect isolated the violent video games from all of the other potential causes of the outcome. You've shown that when children are exposed to violent video games, violent behavior occurs and when they are not present, violent behavior does not occur. That would prove that violent video games cause violence.

Obviously, you can never achieve this hypothetical situation. You cannot simultaneously both expose a child to video games and not expose a child to video games. You also cannot isolate the violent video games as the only difference between children, so even if you could, you cannot definitely say that the violent video games was the only cause, or even the most important cause. Maybe certain experiences that occurred prior to the video game caused a predisposition in some children that was not present in others. Maybe there is a violence gene some kids have.

This is the catch-22 that prevents researchers from proving that violent video games cause violence.


It does not even imply it.

It is not possible to prove that any variable causes certain human behaviors, because 1) a statistical relationship between the two is NOT proof that one caused the other, and 2) Psychology studies cannot meet the criteria of the scientific method in order to do a true experiment that would prove one variable caused another. It is not possible to prove OR disprove whether or not video games cause violent behavior.

The research does not work like that.

Politicians are well aware of this, and they are also well aware that the vast majority of American citizens are not aware of it. Thus, it is a tactic to achieve a political agenda. Namely, they want to get around your first amendment rights to free speech. Probably so that they can sell it back to you for a price. The video game industry is one of the few industries making money. Leveraging the emotional turmoil of people following crisis like school shootings is a political maneuver intended to get people to comply with legislation they would not otherwise comply with.

The debate will not go away, because politicians will find another opportunity to exploit human emotions for their own manipulative purposes.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Yvonne Neuland on 11th January 2014 9:31pm

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Yvonne Neuland Studying Game Development, Full Sail University4 years ago
With cloning you could, assuming the cloning methodology was perfect and you were able to create an environment where all the inputs the clones experience from their five senses were totally identical from one controlled experiment to the next with exception to the conditions you were isolating based on the questions you were trying to answer. Tall order and most likely impossible, but if possible we could harden up all the soft sciences (psychology, sociology, economics) in ten years. Until then all we have are imperfect models.
It might be theoretically possible to do this, but that would not make it ethical. Even if you could do it, you shouldn't. Deliberately experimenting on human beings, particularly children, is not a viable option.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
David Canela Game & Audio Designer 4 years ago
Good article, except for one bit:
Comparing gun (weapons, i.e. tools for killing -> very good at it) deaths to traffic accidents saying one is a hot topic and the other unfairly gets a pass etc. is comparing apples and oranges. It completely ignores the fact that while traffic comes with big risks, it also has huge benefits to society. It's about the social risk/benefit ratio, not just the absolute risks...
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany4 years ago
Fact is that in recent years we saw a lot of complaining regarding violence in videogames (like movies in the past) most of them as a reaction to shootings perpetrated by young people.

When it comes to tying it with videogames is when most of the people blaming games misses what, in my opinion, is the most important point that I generally divide in 3 steps:

a) Violent videogames are sold worldwide.
b) 95% of those shootings take place the states.
c) The US has the most permissive firearms policy of all democratic countries.

BUT in Europe you don't see this happening. Not only because of lack of weapons around, (if we were to do the same, we would use knives, axes or whatever) but because when it happens we tend to focus into finding out "why" and not "who is to blame for this". And because when doing that we don't have a influential NRA political agenda moving the strings behind some media stations.

Because of that, when society blames videogames over other more logical options it makes me wonder: Is people ignoring the elephant in the dining room or have they been influenced by the above mentioned agenda?

My mind is open for any logical answer at this point.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 13th January 2014 10:13am

2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 4 years ago
1) Violence in video games reduces violence in society because it acts as a catharsis.

2) Violence in video games is far less pernicious than violence in books and films. That is because in games the player can act against the violence. In passive media the consumer is subject to the violence, a victim.

3) Video games are still infantile and constrained in their portrayal of the human condition. We really do need to grow up.

4) The book Grand Theft Childhood was the result of US Government funded research into game violence. It is essential reading for everyone engaged in this debate.

5) Culturally the immense amount of violence in our entertainment emanated primarily from Hollywood and a US society that glorified violence whilst highly censoring sex and politics. The House Un-American Activities Committee has a lot to answer for, even today, in our distorted popular culture.

6) Video games are just another form of popular culture. Like ballet, comic books, television, novels, the cinema, TV, radio, opera etc.
We need to put our debate within this context.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 4 years ago

Actually, Switzerland has more liberal policies than the US regarding firearms ownership. Legal ownership of anything with full automatic fire in the US requires lots of paperwork, massive fees, and constant intrusion by the ATF. In Switzerland, you're expected to have a fully automatic firearm in the home. I would presume that they get the same games the US does with proper localization, though for all I know, they get the German localized versions which have violence heavily censored.

"Why?" is a perfectly natural question to ask, and it's foolish to believe that nobody asks it. Unfortunately, there's not always a singularly definitive answer to that question, or one that can be easily accepted. "Who is to blame?" is the next best question that can be asked, and even then the people asking it can't always accept the answer. Sometimes, we're exposed to the banality of evil and it's so insufficient to properly explain to us what happened, we keep looking for the answer even though we've already gotten it. We're a little crazy like that. All of us, not just Americans, but Europeans, Asians, Africans, Australians, all 7 billion of us.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.