The Video Game Violence Saga Continues…
Do violent video games cause violence?
According to Ian Boudreau, no. And I would agree, even though he appears to summarize my view in a way that reflects the contrary opinion.
As I stated from the beginning of this debate, the “scientific community agrees that there is no hard evidence saying that video games ‘cause’ violence.”
That’s not to say there’s no correlative evidence linking the two, or that violent media aren’t one of many factors that contribute to increased aggression and, in some cases, inclinations toward violence. It’s only to say that violent media have a measureable effect on brain chemistry, and while there are some who deny the correlation, the scientific community as a whole continues to warn against these effects.
Mr. Boudreau recently wrote that this view “isn’t only the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen published on this site, it’s also an embarrassment to you,” (meaning me) “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.”
Sadly, Mr. Boudreau fails to prove this point about the scientific community, as seems to be the one commonality throughout his arguments on the subject, to date.
The problem, as I see it, is that while Mr. Boudreau argues against what I’ve stated, he nonetheless agrees with the findings I’ve cited—not that playing video games will make you a criminal, but that on a neurological level, exposure to media has a measurable effect.
“Yes,” he admits, “it seems clear that playing games causes spikes in areas of the brain associated with aggression…,” which, if he hadn’t noticed, has been my point since the beginning. His seems to be of the opinion that aggression isn’t a bad thing, because, using himself as a case study (again), aggression earns him the attention of the bartender…. So…moving on.
As Mr. Boudreau is well aware—because he would not be so hypocritical as to accuse me of not reading the studies I cite while neglecting to read the ones he himself cites—the researcher he quoted, one Christopher J. Ferguson, does not disagree with what I’ve argued.
“Violent video games are like peanut butter,” he has said. “They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems.”
By “harmful” he means the odds of video games causing behavioral manifestations of violence in youth, as this is what he researched, per the citation provided. As violence is now a rare phenomenon in society anyway, the hypothesis of this research is easy to embrace. For Mr. Boudreau to claim that violent video games have the same effect as exercise, in terms of relieving stress and decreasing aggression—an argument psychologists have debunked under the name “catharsis theory”—is inconsistent not only with history, but with his cited researcher’s own observation: “Naturally,” Dr. Ferguson wrote in the study, “video games are an unlikely cause of this youth violence decline.” He adds, “to conclude otherwise would be to indulge in the ecological fallacy.” (For a more detailed, and contextual, analysis of the centuries-long decrease in violence, I encourage readers to check out Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, which provides a well-rounded analysis of the multitude of factors contributing to the steady decline in violence, including but not limited to the spread of commerce, language, education and literacy, and the evolution of civilization itself.)
The study Mr. Boudreau cited by Dr. Ferguson sought and successfully achieved a rebuke of the myth that violent video games “cause” one to be violent or to commit a crime, a noble purpose that Dr. Ferguson pursues through faithfulness to the scientific method. He found that of the 302 test subjects studied, 97 percent of whom were Hispanics living in a city on the Mexican border, there was no obvious indication that the roughly 63 individuals who’d played specifically violent video games were any more or less likely to manifest violent or criminal behavior than they had been previously.
Please note that his was not a neurological study; he did not attempt to show with his 63-person sample that violent media does or does not effect brain chemistry. In fact, it appears that Dr. Ferguson agrees with such findings, as he has warned of the potentially harmful effects in individuals who suffer from social, mental, and familial problems.
Dr. Ferguson states that the results of his study “indicated that current levels of depressive symptoms were a strong predictor of serious aggression and violence across most outcome measures,” and adds to that, in dozens of related commentaries, his personal belief, with which I concur, that “for those with pre-existing high antisocial traits, video game violence may exacerbate these traits.”
As I stated already, “No one is saying that people who play violent video games will become murderers as a result.”
What the research says is that even in a non-violent individual who was raised in a good home, has no mental problems, was not bullied in school, et cetera, violent video games still raise their rates of aggression, among other things. In individuals who do not have such stable lives, the effects are more pronounced.
The difference here is not semantic. Mr. Boudreau and I agree that “Aggression is not the same thing as violence.” We agree that playing video games does not turn one into a criminal. We even agree that regardless of the behavioral manifestations of violence, there is plenty of evidence proving that violent media has an effect on brain chemistry.
As Craig A. Anderson stated recently in The New York Times,
None of these extreme acts, like a school shooting, occurs because of only one risk factor; there are many factors, including feeling socially isolated, being bullied, and so on. But if you look at the literature, I think it’s clear that violent media is one factor; it’s not the largest factor, but it’s also not the smallest.
The Times reports that “Most researchers in the field agree with Dr. Anderson,” as I’ve stated, “but not all of them,” which I’ve also disclosed. Dr. Ferguson, obviously one of the few who prefers not to publicize the effects of violent media, wrote that “it may be that only the most antisocial children will be affected by media violence exposure leading to aggressive behavior and violent crimes,” for which he provides to potential explanations. One is that antisocial children, and arguably adults, are more likely to play violent video games. The second is that while violent video games do not in themselves have a causal relationship with behavioral manifestations of violence, for those with preexisting high antisocial tendencies, as already stated, “video game violence may exacerbate these traits.”
What we are capable of doing and what we actually do are two different topics. What an undeveloped brain is capable of justifying is also quite different than what a mature, full-grown adult brain is capable of justifying. My point from the beginning has been that it is scientifically dishonest to state that “media violence doesn’t cause physical violence,” because that isn’t the argument at all. The argument is to what degree media violence effects our sensitivities and emotions on a subconscious, neurological level, and how, in some individuals, as we’ve seen, that manifests on a behavioral level.
The young, predominantly white males responsible for the mass shootings that prompted this debate to begin with obviously experienced peer pressures such as bullying and social ostracism, as well as, in some cases, familial dysfunction and cognitive malfunction. The question is, to what degree does media violence exacerbate traits in such youth that are not constant in other recreational activities?
Dr. Anderson states that, “At the very least, parents should be aware of what’s in the games their kids are playing and think of it from a socialization point of view: what kind of values, behavioral skills, and social scripts is the child learning?”
Exactly how does re-stating that view, or encouraging others to publicize what we know to be the effects of media violence, make me stupid, or an embarrassment, or an illiterate, hypocritical, and arrogant liar who’s touting shitty undergraduate fictions in an “ad hominem pile of word vomit,” as Mr. Boudreau has claimed?
Furthermore, Mr. Boudreau, how did I “slander” you, as you stated on Twitter; why ought I “regret writing” the piece; in what way are you “going to make (me) hurt for it”; and why do you want to “tear (me) five new assholes” as a result?
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