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Comment: Science shouldn't be a kicktoy in the industry's PR battles

One common factor to every major conflict in human history is that they have always featured a flagrant abuse of science, with the latest advancements in our understanding of the world being turned not to improving the lives of those around us, but to gaining an upper hand in battle. You can undoubtedly think of many examples of this offhand; but what's interesting to note is that the tendency of people to abuse science to fit their own ends is something that exists in conflicts on a far smaller scale than wars or battles.

This week, for example, the ESA fired its latest shot across the bows of the anti-videogames lobby in the United States, with the release of a document listing a host of studies into the effects of videogames and violent media on young people, all of which concluded that the games did no harm and may even have beneficial effects. It's a stark contrast to the constant claims of people like anti-videogames campaigner Jack Thompson, who will tell you at the slightest provocation that there is a proven link between videogame violence and real-life violence.

Regardless of whether the ESA has presented its arguments more logically than Thompson, or whether it's our gut feeling that games and violence cannot be linked as directly as the anti-games lobby might like, the fact remains that this is a flagrant abuse of science. On both sides, it is an attempt to slap the label of "science" onto what is essentially a political dispute - a trend which has been notable in many such disputes in recent years, but remains nonetheless distasteful.

Lobby groups happily cherry-pick research which supports their position and ignore research which disagrees with them, or worse yet, will commission research from unscrupulous commercial companies that will tailor their results to say pretty much whatever their employers want them to say. This isn't how science works; science, as many people working in the games industry know full well, is a slow and methodical process of research, theorising and peer review, which aims to establish facts rather than simply agreeing with whatever is politically expedient.

A casual glance through the wealth of research which has been conducted on the matter of violent media and childhood aggression or other such personality traits reveals one thing with stark clarity - we don't know enough. The research conflicts in many areas, and no consensus emerges. While this means that there is no provable or direct link between violent games and violent behaviour, it would be utterly foolish to pretend that it follows that no such link exists.

The debate over violent games will rage on for some time, but ultimately, the industry desperately needs to refocus its arguments on the rights of parents to choose the media their children consume and on efforts to educate and inform parents about the content of games they are buying. Starting to argue this case on the grounds of science is a foolish and distasteful move for both parties to the debate, as the ground here is not so much shaky as simply non-existent. The research is non-conclusive and incomplete, the facts are totally unknown, and to make a suggestion otherwise is to cynically attempt to capitalise on the sad ignorance of many people about what "science" is really about.

Author

Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.

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