No, Wilbur, video games still don’t cause violence
In fine undergraduate form, Nicholas Wilbur has picked his hill to die on, viz, that video games cause violence. Wrapping himself in some research papers and a press release he has demonstrated his own inability to understand, he has decided to take me with him.
Well, Nick, let me be frank: Your latest entry into our little discussion over whether video games cause violence isn’t only the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen published on this site, it’s also an embarrassment to you and a public demonstration of your inability to understand anything even resembling the science you so proudly claim is on your side. The consensus you cite is fictional. The logic you beat your chest with is laughable. You are a hypocrite. And to top it all off, you have offered precisely nothing as a solution to the problem.
For everyone else, here is how this has played out so far:
In light of the Sandy Hook massacre and the “discussion” about video games being a causative factor, I wrote this: “No, video games don’t cause violence.” Mr. Wilbur replied with his piece, “Video games don’t kill people, ‘gamers’ do.” Sensing some ignorance that needed gentle correction, I responded with the firm but fair “Video games still don’t cause violence.” And now Nick has come back with an ad hominem pile of word vomit called “Science writer calls science ‘silly.’”
Nick’s arrogance is based on his belief that there is a scientific consensus that video games cause violent behavior. But no such consensus actually exists, which makes Nick either illiterate or a liar.
See, not one of the research papers Nick cites actually supports his point. If any scientist – even just one – had ever definitively shown that playing violent video games leads to violent behavior, we all would know his or her name. This has simply never happened.
Here is a paper published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, which finds that violent video game play has no predictive value in violent behavior. Here is an FBI profiler saying that video games do not cause violence. Here is a study by the American Psychological Association that finds violent video games to be harmless for children.
“Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behavior problems, are less violent and score better on standardized tests,” wrote Christopher J. Ferguson of Texas A&M International University, who was the guest-editor for the special issue of The Review of General Psychology.
There is such a depth of stupidity on Nick’s handling of the subject of video games and violence that it’s difficult to know where to begin. He says I am “adept” at violent video games, for instance, and cites my YouTube “Let’s Play” series of XCOM – Enemy Unknown and Magicka. I encourage you all to watch these; the Magicka series features me and our own @asiangrrlMN trying to figure out how to launch fireballs. Seriously, it’s hilarious.
As far as graphic violence goes in video games, these are both pretty tame entries. But Nick doesn’t know that, because Nick – who thinks of himself as the arbiter of what “progressive” means – never bothered finding out. Just like he never bothered actually reading the papers he cited.
But of course Nick is the kind of person who reads a press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics and takes it as gospel. This is the same American Academy of Pediatrics that, in 2010, revised its policy statement on female “circumcision” and stopped short of condemning the practice outright.
Sorry, Nick – the fact that you read a press release stating a “scientific consensus” about video games causing violence exists doesn’t mean it’s actually the case. In fact, it isn’t the case at all. Perhaps 50% of the existing research on video games finds any causal relationship between game-playing and aggression.
What Nick fails to realize is that the “science” behind video games and violence is, well, fairly squishy (to borrow a gaming term). Yes, it seems clear that playing games causes spikes in areas of the brain associated with aggression, but as I tried to point out in my last post, why is that surprising? Why is aggression a worthy proxy for actual violence?
It isn’t. “Aggression” is not the same thing as violence. We behave aggressively in certain circumstances, and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, you should be aggressive sometimes. Violence, on the other hand, is the inappropriate way to deal with situations that call for aggression. If I’m at a crowded bar, for instance, I would have to be aggressive in order to catch the bartender’s attention and order a drink. It would be wrong for me to become violent and start punching everyone who got in my way.
So even if Wilbur was right and there was a scientific consensus about games causing spikes in aggression, what does that prove? Increased aggression does not mean increased levels of violence. He obviously didn’t understand my comparison to football:
But putting someone in a headlock isn’t exactly the same as blowing people’s faces off with AR-15s in a computer game. Any analysis of sports would require acknowledging the neurological effects resulting from such physical exertion, what scientists call “exercise.” Related studies do exist, and without getting into a Lexis-Nexis battle with myself, I’ll assume that most readers accept the well-known fact that exercise causes significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and…wait for it…aggression.
This should be in a museum, because it is the absolute, preserved-in-amber definition of the logical fallacy of “special pleading.” Football, violent? No, of course not – that activity leads to stress relief and a reduction of violence. Games are bad because they have violence in them. Totally different. It never occurs to Nicholas “Captain Science” Wilbur to compare the aggression-causing effects of football to the ones he so noisily trumpets in video games.
It also never apparently occurs to Mr. Wilbur that since “everybody knows” playing football causes “significant reductions” in stress, anxiety, and aggression, that playing games might have the same effect. Someone who is actually conversant in science and logic would of course apply standards equally, but as we’ve seen, Nicholas Wilbur does not.
And Nick: “Blowing people’s faces off with AR-15s in games” is substantively different than actually blowing people’s faces off with AR-15s. I spent five years on active duty in the U.S. Army, so I’m passingly familiar with the use and operation of the M-16 and M-4 service rifles. On my final rifle qualification, I scored “expert” (hitting 39 out of 40 targets at ranges of up to 300 meters). I can inform you with some level of certainty that nothing you “learn” playing Call of Duty with a game controller is transferable to real-life weapon operation.
Being a partisan, Nick wants to give football the benefit of the doubt and deny the same to video games. None of the papers that he thinks show a definitive link between video game play and violent behavior actually demonstrate that link. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. The Supreme Court, in its opinion striking down a California law that would have banned the sale or rental of violent games to children, said this:
Even taking for granted Dr. Anderson’s conclusions that violent video games produce some effect on children’s feelings of aggression, those effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. In his testimony in a similar lawsuit, Dr. Anderson admitted that the “effect sizes” of children’s exposure to violent video games are “about the same” as that produced by their exposure to violence on television. App. 1263. And he admits that the same effects have been found when children watch cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner, id., at 1304, or when they play video games like Sonic the Hedgehog that are rated “E” (appropriate for all ages), id., at 1270, or even when they “vie[w] a picture of a gun,” id., at 1315–1316.
Nicholas’ post is self-debunking. He attempts to “take down” the graph I posted, calling it a “newspaper illustration.”
Nick, in case you’ve made it this far, let me clue you in. That “newspaper illustration” isn’t a fucking Tom Toles cartoon. It’s what’s called a “graph,” and it presents what the science community refers to as “data.” The horizontal axis – that’s the side-to-sidey line – shows how much citizens in each country spend on video games per capita. The vertical (that’s the up-and-downy line) axis shows how many gun-related murders happen in each country.
Nick, you inadvertently make my point for me in your attempted takedown:
Here’s more context: guns are illegal in South Korea.
Look! Mr. Wilbur seems to have stumbled across a potentially important variable! It’s a shame he doesn’t have the critical thinking skills required to understand what it means, though. It’s true – there are no mass shootings in South Korea (a country I lived in for a year) and guns are banned. South Koreans, as it happens, play games as much or more than citizens of any other country in the world. And yet, the level of violence - all violence - in South Korea is remarkably low.
I could go on. I could, I suppose, link the studies showing that playing video games leads to stress reduction. I could point out that as game sales have continued to rise, youth violence has declined. I could make a positive case for games as an important cultural medium. I could, like Nicholas did of me, make fun of the way he opts to spend his free time. I won’t do that, though, because unlike Nicholas, I value intellectual honesty and I make it a rule to refrain from resorting to ad hominem.
Instead I’ll just say this: Nicholas Wilbur thinks games cause violence, and he has utterly failed show that this is true. He cannot account for the facts: That more and more people spend more and more time playing games, and violent crimes continue to decrease. This is evidence. Facts. And Nicholas’ stupid theory cannot account for them.
Nicholas starts his essay off with a sophomoric description of what “progressive” means. The irony here is – and I hate to be the one to break the news to him – that Nicholas is a conservative. What Nicholas believes about games puts him shoulder to shoulder with Rep. Frank Wolf, Republican of Virginia, who is also woefully misinformed about games. It puts him in the same camp as noted scientist Glenn Beck. He’s like the hand-wringing moms who fretted about Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s. He takes on faith the idea that games cause violence, finds some papers he thinks support him, and calls it a day. And he has offered nothing by way of a solution: Does he want, say, a ratings system to help parents make good decisions about the kinds of media their children consume? We have that already. Does he want to ban the sale of violent games? The Supreme Court has roundly rejected this idea on First Amendment grounds. Does he think those damn kids should just spend more time outside? Thanks for your input, grandpa. Would you like a Werther’s Original?
You fail, Wilbur. You fail hard.
I suppose now is as good a time as any to announce my Blood Bowl league. I have four teams signed up so far. The plan is to hold a ladder tournament, and have each team seek monetary pledges. All the proceeds will go to RAINN. Let me know if you’re interested in playing or donating!