Connecticut Game Burning May Be A Step Backwards, Says Expert
Southington, Connecticut’s “Violent Video Games Return Program” may do more harm than good, according to one of the leading world experts on the impact of violent media on children. The program has families turn in violent video games in exchange for gift vouchers for non-violent entertainment; the games are then to be destroyed and possibly burned.
Christopher J. Ferguson, the chair of the Texas A&M International University’s department of psychology and communication, believes the game burning may divert people’s attention away from the root of the problem. In an email to the officials behind the Violent Video Games Return Program, he wrote:
“Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware you are trying to do what you think is best. But there is real risk in focusing people’s attention on the wrong thing, as well as contributing to historical patterns of ‘moral panic’ that tend to surround new media (often despite evidence media is not harmful, even if it may be offensive).”
Ferguson offered his expertise and help to the effort, explaining that he has found no link between bullying and violent video games. He wrote:
“I’m very appreciative of the sincerity of your group, but at the same time I’ve been concerned about some of your public statements linking video games to bullying and youth aggression which do not accurately reflect the science. I’ve done a number of peer-reviewed articles myself on the topic, and have found no evidence linking video game violence to bullying or any other forms of youth aggression or violence. Past research has been mixed, at best, and often weakened by substantial methodological flaws. (…) And during the video game epoch, youth violence and bullying declined, not rose.”
Speaking with Polygon, Ferguson explained how this form of misplaced blame has occurred for thousands of years. He said:
“It’s classic moral panic. Whenever we have a traumatic event like this historically, going all of the way back to the Greeks, people tend to blame the media. It makes us feel like we know what happened and that we can fix it. It’s very easy to get society to focus on the media as a bogeyman.
“It’s what happened after Columbine. I think they are upset and they want to do something.”
Ferguson’s greater concern is that this moral panic could distract from bigger issues. He said:
“I do worry this is going to represent a step backwards in our understanding of youth violence, rather than a step forward. It’s going to do kind of what Columbine did. It kind of distracted us from real issues and not do anything helpful.”