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New research denies link between videogame and real life violence

As the political and media spotlight glares at the games industry, the Entertainment Software Association has released information from a number of independent studies on the psychological impact of videogames.

As the political and media spotlight is turned once more on the games industry, the Entertainment Software Association has released a compilation of information from a number of selected independent studies on the psychological impact of videogames.

Responding to the assertions of anti-videogames campaigners such as outspoken attorney Jack Thompson, the industry body has selected results from a series of controlled experiments and gaming studies which revealed no link between aggression in the virtual world and violent tendencies in real life. In fact, several of the studies revealed positive psychological benefits from playing videogames.

Of course, the ESA has only presented studies which support its position, and there are certainly other studies out there which show heightened aggression and other worrying traits in children who play violent games. However, even if this is pure PR masquerading as science, it's still interesting to look through the research presented by the ESA as a counter-point to the claims of some anti-videogames activists that the link with real-life violence is "proven" - an equally media-friendly flagrant abuse of the scientific facts.

A study conducted in June 2005 by Williams, Dmitri & Skoric, Marko, entitled "Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game" set out to determine the effects, if any, of engaging in a violent Massively Multiplayer Online Game. They wrote: "A longitudinal study of an online violent video game with a control group tested for changes in aggressive cognitions and behaviours. The findings did not support the assertion that a violent game will cause substantial increases in real-world aggression."

The National Swedish Public Health Institute studied "Health Effects of Video and Computer Game Playing - A Systematic Review of Scientific Studies" and found "no support for links between computer game playing and aggressive feelings, thoughts or behaviour. Further study revealed "strong support for computer game playing having positive effects on spatial abilities and reaction time."

"Spatial abilities are traditionally considered one of the most important parts of our intelligence," the authors noted.

The American Behaviour Scientist study: "The good, the bad, or the ugly? A multilevel perspective on electronic game effects" revealed that "there is reason to believe that interaction with electronic games actually might offer some positive benefits. The researchers added "we should be mindful of the possibility that available literature is biased by the historical reticence of some journals to publish null findings."

Finally, Hallet, Mark, M.D., et al conducted a study into the therapeutic benefits of videogames, entitled "Virtual Reality - Induced Cortical Reorganization and Associated Locomotor Recovery in Chronic Stroke: An Experimenter-Blind Randomized Study." Dr. Mark Hallet, co-author of the study and chief of the human motor control section with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, discovered that playing virtual reality games such as snowboarding or swimming with sharks actually helped stroke patients recover strength in their legs and improve their ability to walk.

The ESA are currently seeking a legal ruling to overturn the Violent Videogames Bill signed into law by California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The California lawsuit is the latest in a run of legal battles against increased regulation of the videogames industry which the ESA has instigated on behalf of the publishers it represents.