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article imageOp-Ed: Violent video games trigger aggression? New proof, new arguments

By Paul Wallis     Aug 14, 2015 in Entertainment
Sydney - The long-running, remarkably futile argument about the ability of aggressive video games to trigger aggression has entered a new, controversial, stage. A new study indicates that these games do promote aggression, but the logic is looking pretty shallow.
One of the questions to be raised here is whether all this rather self-righteous research is taking the subject seriously, or in enough depth. In a heavily qualified statement, the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Violent Media has stated that “Violent video game play is linked to increased aggression in players but insufficient evidence exists about whether the link extends to criminal violence or delinquency.”
This study needs a bit of analysis and understanding itself. The APA release says that:
"Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence," said Mark Appelbaum, PhD, task force chair. "However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field."
"No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently," the report states. "Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor."
The report (uncorrected PDF download, bottom of the page on this link) is based on six components:
1. Is this research applicable to children?
2. Does this research address the developmental trajectory of potential effects or the possible course of vulnerability to potential negative effects?
3. Do outcomes for males and females differ?
4. What is the role of other known risk factors for aggression in moderating or mediating the effects of violent video game use?
5. What is the role of other game characteristics?
6. User needs
The research was based on analyzing published materials on the subject according to a set of basic precepts. Unfortunately for psychological science, behaviorism is sometimes a sedentary science. So-called typical behaviors are statistics, not necessarily involving anyone taking the trouble to find out to what issues the behaviors are related.
In the section about Aggressive affects (sic, they mean “effects”) 12 out of 13 studies indicated what they call negative outcomes, increased aggro, and emotional desensitization. Someone losing a game of Assassin’s Creed may be in a bad mood, but that, theoretically, could also be a negative outcome. Lack of empathy was another negative.
Now the questions:
If 18-year-old males are the main subjects, do testosterone levels rate a mention? There’s no use of the word in the report.
Does the cultural environment matter? According to the report, the cultural side hasn’t been “adequately addressed.”
What about kids? The report says that research on kids under 14 “decreased sharply.” In other words, the research hasn’t really been stringent.
Gender differences? Also inadequate.
Almost hysterically funny for gamers, this finding will result in a refinement of the ratings for games. As if anyone cared.
The definition of aggression in outcomes? To its credit, the report notes that many areas of research were off target, and focused purely on violence, or in terms of the sciences involved, like epidemiology and criminology. The psychological version of aggression focuses on the intent to do violence to others. The definition of actual violence also didn’t make the grade. The report overall delivers a lot of information on the shortcomings of previous research.
I’m not about to launch in to a spirited rant about the rights of anyone to be inflicted with the cookie cutter violence of First Person Shooter (FPS) games or the increasing banality of Real Time Strategy (RTS) games, the video game equivalent of chess. The point is that this study is way too limited in its frame of reference.
(In fairness, the report basically demolishes a lot of previous research as being wide of bases for accurate analysis using measures outlined in Appendix B. I haven’t seen any particular effort to meet these basic measures in the many critiques of violent games I’ve read, either.)
The gaming world
The fact is that the gaming world has moved on, a very long way, from the purely violent. There are artistic games, historical games, cooperative games, modernist games, horror games, etc. in a vast profusion of styles and motifs. There are a lot of non-violent games, too. Gaming is now seen as much as an art form as anything else. It’s also an industry, like football or other contact sports, with big money involved. It’s simplistic in the extreme to assume that games are purely focused on aggression. The idea of a game is to win.
Another issue — humans are by nature potentially aggressive, and aggression is used as a survival asset. This half-baked, barely evolved species went from being prey animals to top predators in the blink of the eye of history. Even standing on two legs is a sign of aggression in primates. To assume aggression is in some way unnatural is absurd. Aggression may be dangerous, but it’s in the programming.
Sociologically, the aggression is also a natural response to an aggressive society. This society isn’t much fun for those on the receiving end, and defences need to be in place. Being a doormat may be socially acceptable, but only to those who think it’s a fit for social groups, not those trying to survive in them.
Psychologically, consider:
Human mindsets can range from the truly vacuous to the brilliant. When playing a game, the mindset has to relate to the role, and your logic also has to play the game. How logical is it to play an aggressive game with a meditation mindset? The mind has to adapt to the roles. There’s no room in Assassin’s Creed for a pacifist any more than there’s a role for politically correct knitting in football.
FPS games like Call of Duty, and RTS games like Total War and others require aggression. There’s no logic at all in being expected to empathize with what you’re shooting at.
I would have thought this issue was relevant, too — the youth market isn’t exactly an environment for “cute” gaming. You’d be considered a pretty sorry case of something if you were avoiding violent games simply because they’re violent. Your friends would want to know which planet you’re living on. The exposure to violent games is as natural as any growing-up exercise.
Even social Darwinism, that hideous and usually useless attempt at Nietzsche R Us, for a change has a point to make, albeit in a rather pedestrian way — in a competitive society/reality, what use is an uncompetitive mentality?
Gaming is a product of its environment. The source of any idea has to be part of the epidemiology, the criminology, and the psychology of its functions and outcomes.
The other gigantic issue is simpler — why isn’t anyone studying the effects of the fabulously creative games? If you only go looking for negatives, you’ll miss everything else.
I’ve noticed another, anything but negative outcome. The bonding and social relationships between gamers can include excellent relationships and friendships. That’s also being systematically being ignored, and it’s a major factor in mainstream gaming. Hardly a recommendation for the quality of research so far, is it?
This study has proven one thing beyond doubt — it’s about time some real research was done, using strict criteria, long term studies, and meaningful data. Research written merely to prove one’s own view is pointless. Find the facts, not the theories.
Put it this way — does Super Mario turn everyone who plays it in to jumping Italian plumbers? There’s a lot of work to be done, not least of which needs to be on the subject of people being unthinking slaves to their media.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about American Psychological Association Violent Media T, Call of duty, assassins creed, Total War, cooperative games
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