Will We Ever Convince People That Games Are Not The Problem?

In the wake of tragedies like the Sandy Hook massacre and too many school shootings before it, people seek something to blame. It’s the nature of the human mind — we question the world we inhabit and ascribe answers to those questions to the best of our ability.

“Why did this happen?”

But our answers to these questions are often wrong, whether it’s because of a failure in the collection or interpretation of relevant data. For instance, when it was observed that corpses seemed to have long fingernails, some drew the conclusion that nails continue to grow after death. In fact, it’s the surrounding tissue that has dried out and shrunk, giving fingernails a longer appearance.

With school shootings, we see people jumping to the conclusion that violent video games are to blame. It’s a superficially sound argument to those unaware of the relevant data, and no sufficiently strong explanation has arisen to properly answer the question. However, countless studies and expert opinions have failed to find any meaningful connection between games and violence. Those who have found a connection have often been rebutted. The cycle continues to repeat itself: a tragedy occurs, games are blamed, studies are conducted, no connection is found, and we start anew. Will we ever break the cycle?

Just how many studies have been conducted, anyway? Hundreds. Psychologist Jonathan Freedman published a 2007 meta-analysis that reviewed over 200 published studies and found that the “vast and overwhelming majority” of those studies did not establish a causal link between violent games and aggression. A 2007 Swinburne University of Technology study found that only children already predisposed to violence were affected by violent games. A long-term outcome study published in 2010 by Christopher J. Ferguson, the chair of the Texas A&M International University’s department of psychology and communication and one of the leading world experts on the impact of violent media on children, found no long-term relationship between violent video games and youth violence or bullying.

Of course, some studies have suggested that a connection does exist between violent games and youth violence. Dr. Craig A. Anderson found in 2003 that “[s]ome studies have yielded nonsignificant video game effects, just as some smoking studies failed to find a significant link to lung cancer. But when one combines all relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques it shows that violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased pro-social (helping) behavior.”

However, such meta-analyses have come under fire. Christopher J. Ferguson published a 2010 article ruling out a relationship between video game violence and serious aggression. He concluded: “Taken together these meta-analyses range from those which argue against meaningful effects to those which find weak effects. Thus the debate on video game violence has been reduced to whether video game violence produces no effects…or almost no effects.”

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16 Comments on Will We Ever Convince People That Games Are Not The Problem?

R.J.

On March 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm

About all I can tell that games are guilty of is being a form of entertainment that has risen in prominence over recent years. Some thought that comics were going to make kids settle problems with violence, or that rock n’ roll was going to turn kids into druggies that constantly have sex. For whatever reason, people perceive new forms of entertainment as a threat, even though the same thing was probably said by previous generations about whatever form of entertainment they like. People used to be convinced that slasher movies were going to turn kids into homicidal maniacs, and yet that didn’t happen, and unfortunately it took years of that not happening before most people realized there was nothing to worry about.

Kevin

On March 7, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Well at the end of the day, it might die down against targetting video games in particular, but it’ll probably never die down as a whole. After all, as long as its a conveinent way of continuing to be ignorant while pretending you give a , people will do it.

Fletcher

On March 7, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Just wait until we create virtual reality. Then people will forget all about video games and start pointing fingers at that as the cause of violence. Basically what R.J. said.

Matt

On March 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

In culture today nobody wants judge anybody for anything, so when tragedies happen nobody blames the actual person responsible anymore, its always something elses fault like games, guns, movies or getting fired at work.

Michael

On March 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Thats simple.
Who do you blame for our species being violent?
Who do you blame for all the wars this world has endured before videogames?
Who do you blame for kids obtaining mature rated content whether its movies, music, porn, music, cigarettes and beer?

Well I have a solution. Blame parents. If a parent is negligent enough not to keep there kids on check and not have there weapons secure they should be held accountable for the actions of what there child does and this includes prison time.

Period.

Mozer

On March 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm

There’s only one explanation as to why bad things happen. It’s an age old saying.

Happens.

There you have it. I feel bad for the people that have lost loved ones in tragedies like the recent school shootings, but they aren’t the only ones who have lost loved ones in their lives. It doesn’t matter whether you lose someone in a shooting, a car accident, or 9/11 if you want to go that far. The bottom line is, happens, their case isn’t special, MOVE ON.

Lee

On March 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm

First of all games will always be blamed for violence in children unitl some other form of entertainment takes rise. My money is on Robot Combat League. Secondly video games are a easy scapegoat just like witches. Lastly if video games did anything it kept me from becoming violent.

folklore

On March 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm

@Lee.
They have done around the same thing for me. Video games provide such a nice release of tension built up after a work day. Don’t they already have robot combat shows on TV? I know they used to have at least one floating around on cable.

As for the violence. I point at one word HUMANITY. Violence just like peace is sadly part of human nature. Most people just have a good control on that side of themselves. Those who are affected by violent games are going to be just as effected by other violent media.

R.J.

On March 7, 2013 at 8:19 pm

@Fletcher

VR, or whatever we see as the next step toward it, is basically what I was thinking about. The sad part is that the same blame game keeps being played and only gets passed on to the new guy. It’s bizarre to think that people wouldn’t realize that if there wasn’t a link between older forms of entertainment and whatever societal ill was the hot topic of the day, that link probably doesn’t exist now, and it probably won’t exist in the future.

jms

On March 7, 2013 at 9:35 pm

@ Michael …hell yeah The main problem is bad parenting. If parents stop buying junior games hes not old enough to play then there would be no blame for violent behavior and video games. I seen first hand how a mom used video games to babysit her kids. Those kids turned into arses… they mimicked what they played in a violent way. She finally woke up and changed her ways and only bought g rated games and only allowed 2 hours a week of gametime. Things changed big time. Only cause of better parenting.

gasmaskangel

On March 7, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Personally, and call me old fashioned if you like, I blame the sociopathic monster who walks into a school and starts murdering children.

But you have to try to figure out what creates murderers like the Sandy Hook shooter, and here is my personal theory. In our culture we forget about the victim almost immediately. Everyone has heard of Charles Manson, and they know he led a cult that murdered some people, but a significantly lower number will remember that one of those killed was Sharon Tate, that she was married to Roman Polanski, or that she starred in The Fearless Vampire Killers. We have spent countless hours in documentaries, true crime novels and on the web dissecting Manson’s mind, but precious little remembering the names or lives of his victims.

If you are a disturbed individual and you are fed up with how the world seems to tread on you and your own over all insignificance in the larger picture of life, then being able to guarantee that you will be remembered forever, that years from now people will make movies about you, and wonder what was going through your mind, then shooting up a school or drowning your toddler must seem like a worthwhile price to pay, I mean after all those kids would probably grow up to be just like your coworkers, and by god you hate them so you’re not really doing anything wrong, just showing the world that you matter, hell to people equally as self centered and pointlessly cruel you’ll probably be seen as a hero.

It’s a sickness that I’m afraid comes with a press that loves sensationalism and horror. Combine that with easy access to firearms and a poor mental health system and you’ve got a recipe for some really awful monsters, mercifully they are rare, though not nearly rare enough.

It’s not easy to admit that your culture as a whole has a problem. For most people it’s easier to point at one solitary facet of it that they personally don’t engage in or understand, then to climb onto the soap box and proclaim the villainy of rock and roll or comic books or movies or video games and claim that and that alone is responsible for whatever horror has been perpetrated, and in all the shouting, the sanctimony, the impassioned defense of free speech and the desire of our culture to dig into the mind of the killer and find out what made him tick, we forget names like Charlotte Bacon, Danial Barden, Rachel D’Avino, Olivia Engle, Josephine Gray, Dylan Hockley, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Nancy Lawnza, Jessie Lewis, Ana Marquez Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Anne Marie Murphy, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt, and by remembering the horror, the controversy and above all the killer we silently tell every selfish, contemptible, horrible bastard with cable news or internet access that they to can be remembered, that they to can leave an indelible blood stain on the world with their deeds, that decades later pop psychologists will make terrible exploitative films about their exploits.

I don’t know what conclusions to draw from all of this. I’m not a smart man, no matter how much I wish I was. All I know is that I’ve spent my entire life watching terrible horror flicks, listening to heavy metal and playing violent video games and I’ve yet to murder anyone, because I believe that whatever it is in a person that makes them decide that other people are an expendable resource if they personally aren’t happy with their life isn’t in me, and if whatever that nameless, savage seed of human evil is exists, then it sure as hell wasn’t planted by playing Doom.

folklore

On March 7, 2013 at 10:28 pm

@Gasmaskangel
Excellent points. I believe that morgan freeman, will smith, or some celebrity that i can’t remember said something similar. The quote is probably buried in the bowls of the internet. Either way there are a fair amount of people who share a similar view point. Kind of odd how it has changed over time from honoring the victim to focusing on the villain.

Ham

On March 8, 2013 at 4:03 am

To add to gasmaskangel’s excellent post – during the Christopher Dorner spree/holdout, one policeman who was interviewed made it a point not to talk about Dorner directly, as he said he feared that he was being unjustly glorified by the media. Almost immediately after his interview, there were huge blaring montages about Dorner, as well as a frankly revolting segment on either CNN or Fox News (what’s the difference?) in which a hot woman was talking about which guns were the best while testing them at a firing range. This was during a spree in which many innocents, including the child of one of Dorner’s former colleagues, were brutally murdered, and just weeks after the school shooting in Connecticut. Someone on Newsnight (a British show) a few years ago after a killing spree in a college in Germany said, or words to this effect, “I’ve done so many interviews after sprees now, I always say the same thing, and I’m always ignored. If you don’t want this to happen again, don’t open reports with the sound of police sirens, don’t show the killer’s face, don’t try to give character histories or psychological profiles of the killer. Instead, make it as banal as possible, because virtually every one of these sprees has been immediately followed by a copycat weeks later.” He was ignored again.

America is a complete and utter basket case. It has good people but its politics are horrendous, same as in the UK. It opposes nationwide healthcare coverage as ‘evil’ in spite of the fact that it will actually cost less per capita (as proven by the NHS, which sadly looks like being privatised soon for the benefit of a minority of already stinking rich bastards) and that private healthcare is already half-subsidised by the government through taxation. It opposes abortion due to the “sanctity of life,” yet it supports the death penalty even for teenagers not old enough to vote. It targets videogames as being the source of America’s ills in the same breath as saying mentally ill people should have access to firearms. It has an extremely biased press, almost to the point of parody. It has the largest inequality gap in the western world despite having over 20% of the world’s total wealth. It’s almost as indoctrinated by religion as the cult of personality banana republic dictatorships it claims to liberate from similar oppression. It has the NRA which, despite only representing less than 1% of the country’s population, has massive influence over United States law.

As long as all of these remain true, nothing will change. Videogames are just the flavour-of-the-month target because it prevents people from having to analyse themselves and their own paradigms. But videogames are no less to blame than Elvis, Marilyn Manson, Harry Potter, Judas Priest, Dungeons and Dragons, Teletubbies, or any of the other things that have in the past been deemed culpable for society’s ills. The society itself isn’t working. This has been evident from the outside for years, but nobody on the inside seems eager to do anything about it.

MarkyMark

On March 8, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Games are not the problem, this I agree with. Unfortunately, like most public discussions, both sides get bogged down in their ridiculuous talking points that no progress is made (see public discussion surrounding abortion and gun control in the USA for example)

The fact is that it can be shown that exposure to ever increasing gratuitiously violent media does have an effect on people and therefore society.

In one study two groups of children were exposed to media. One group was shown non-violent imagery and the other, moderately violent. When the scientists observed the way they played afterwards, the group that had been shown violent imagery were more likely to act out violent and aggressive acts.

The argument is that violence in the media desensitizes us to violent acts is not only common sense, but it can be proven.

I think as gamers, we should defend our medium as being no more culpable than cinema, comics, television. But as human beings we should recognise that what we surround ourselves and our children with does have an effect on us as a society.

Zach

On March 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
I think this quote also works like this:
“Video Games don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Sir Walrus

On March 12, 2013 at 3:22 pm

The problem with the ‘blame the games’ argument is that even if a game was the reason for it, it isn’t the games fault, or the developers for making it. Anyone should be allowed to play the games, as long as they have the mental maturity to determine a game and pixelated charachters, from human life. IF, and it’s not, IF, the reason were the games, it isn’t the games fault, it would be the players for taking that seriously, or letting it affect them. A game is entertainment, not influence. The player, or whoever allowed them to play that, when they didn’t have a firm enough understanding of right and wrong, should be at fault. NOT the game.