Posts tagged: violent videogames

Latest Research on Violent Videogames

Putting another log on the old fire of violent videogame controversies, Douglas Gentile’s latest study has been released online in JAMA Pediatrics.

As played out in the media, the question always is, Do violent videogames make children violent? For researchers, of course, the question is much more nuanced. For one thing, while measuring “violent” content in videogames is relatively easy, how do you measure “violence” in children? One approach that researchers like Gentile used in the past was to measure something called “violent arousal” in subjects. This is a physiological reaction to stimuli that can be easily measured in subjects. The problem with that approach, when trying to paint violent videogames with a negative brush, is that all “violent” media can gin up “violent arousal” in subjects. Physiological results are similar with “violent” music, movies, television shows, literature, etc.

Much more difficult to measure are long term attitudes and actions which may be influenced by videogames or other media. Gentile’s newest study tackles that issue, with a three year longitudinal study of 3,034 students in Singapore. Here is the abstract:

Importance Although several longitudinal studies have demonstrated an effect of violent video game play on later aggressive behavior, little is known about the psychological mediators and moderators of the effect.

Objective To determine whether cognitive and/or emotional variables mediate the effect of violent video game play on aggression and whether the effect is moderated by age, sex, prior aggressiveness, or parental monitoring.

Design, Setting, and Participants Three-year longitudinal panel study. A total of 3034 children and adolescents from 6 primary and 6 secondary schools in Singapore (73% male) were surveyed annually. Children were eligible for inclusion if they attended one of the 12 selected schools, 3 of which were boys’ schools. At the beginning of the study, participants were in third, fourth, seventh, and eighth grades, with a mean (SD) age of 11.2 (2.1) years (range, 8-17 years). Study participation was 99% in year 1.

Main Outcomes and Measures The final outcome measure was aggressive behavior, with aggressive cognitions (normative beliefs about aggression, hostile attribution bias, aggressive fantasizing) and empathy as potential mediators.

Results Longitudinal latent growth curve modeling demonstrated that the effects of violent video game play are mediated primarily by aggressive cognitions. This effect is not moderated by sex, prior aggressiveness, or parental monitoring and is only slightly moderated by age, as younger children had a larger increase in initial aggressive cognition related to initial violent game play at the beginning of the study than older children. Model fit was excellent for all models.

Conclusions and Relevance Given that more than 90% of youths play video games, understanding the psychological mechanisms by which they can influence behaviors is important for parents and pediatricians and for designing interventions to enhance or mitigate the effects.

The study has not generated a ton of reaction in the media so far, maybe because this is a horse that has been beaten so many times, to borrow a phrase. WTOP, a news radio station for the Washington, D.C. area, noted the study is “controversial,” and reporter Paula Wolfson went to the trouble of interviewing Angela Fletcher, with the Children’s National Health Network for some additional opinions on the matter. Wolfson’s report on the study is the best so far, in my opinion.

Bottom line, the issue is too complex to place in a convenient box. Exposure to any kind of “violent” media may cause a person to engage in violence at some point in the future. Or not. But, the research continues.

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Study: Videogames Don’t Lead to Violence

Patrick Kierkegaard, a doc student over at Essex University, published a paper in the International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry, examining prior studies linking videogames to violence. Kierkegaard found the studies were heavily biased against videogames, finding scientific evidence linking videogames to violence weak at best. While someone predisposed to violence may feed off a violent videogame, the same could be said about a violent book or movie or television show.

Most intriguing, Kierkegaard points out that while videogames have become ever more graphic in recent years, with hardware and software developing to the point where visualizations are increasingly realistic and titles with disturbingly violent content continue to rack up sales, the level of violence in society continues to trend downward. Here is a widely circulated quote included in the news release, picked up by Science Daily and others:

“Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s,” says Kierkegaard, “while video games have steadily increased in popularity and use. For example, in 2005, there were 1,360,088 violent crimes reported in the USA compared with 1,423,677 the year before. “With millions of sales of violent games, the world should be seeing an epidemic of violence,” he says, “Instead, violence has declined.”

References:
Inderscience Publishers (2008, May 15). Could violent video games reduce rather than increase violence? [Online]. Available: http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/05/080514213432.htm

Kierkegaard, P. (2008). Video games and aggression. International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry, 1(4). 411-417.

Will Mean Girls Get Meaner in a Mean Girls Game?

When bad news comes out about a videogame, or salacious details are leaked, many are those quick to jump on the bandwagon deriding the game. This seems to create a perpetual cycle of bad press regarding various games (and the medium in general) as they come down the pike. We saw suggestions from local politicians that Bully be banned, even before it was released. The Grand Theft Auto series has had its share of bad press, with the Hot Coffee incident being the worse. More recently, Manhunt 2 has garnered plenty of bad press for being over-the-top violent.

Now, a new game due out in January is garnering criticism for teaching girls how to behave badly. Coolest Girl in School is like Bully, with protagonists as females who must “lie, bitch and flirt [their] way to the top of the high school ladder.” As such, teachers are seen as rubes to be manipulated, rumor mongering is seen as a social tool, and sexual experimentation is rife with potential.

In an article for the CanWest News Service, Misty Harris writes that the Aussies are upset with details concerning the game (beta testing has occurred in Australia).

“The activities in the game have been shown through vast amounts of research to cause significant, long-term problems for young people,” a spokeswoman for the Australian Family Association told the Daily Telegraph this month.

But, the developers insist they’ve been unfairly tarnished:

“We have had a lot of press and, unfortunately the game has been misrepresented in some articles,” says [Holly] Owen [creative director of Champagne for the Ladies, the game’s developer] . “It is … a very tongue-in-cheek look at the perils of the quest for cool in high school. Key word: irony!”

Owen notes that although activities such as smoking or using drugs “might seem obviously cool,” they can work against a girl in the game because she could be sent to virtual rehab or have foul-smelling breath when a love interest approaches her.

Academics in the article express their doubts. Christine Daviault at Concordia U. in Montreal is quoted as saying she doubts young girls will get the irony, and are at a developmental crossroads where negative influence may hold sway. The final quote:

Anastasia Goodstein, a noted youth media consultant, believes the game’s premise might hit too close to home for some.

“Coolest Girl In School sounds a lot like high school,” Goodstein writes on her marketing blog YPulse.com. “Do girls need to play a game to remind them of high school’s depressing social hierarchy?”

On one hand, negative press about any videogame hurts the cause for educational products that seek to do good. On the other hand, any publicity is good publicity, and public outcries against games for whatever reasons ultimately lead to higher sales than otherwise realized.

References:
Harris, M. (2007, November 22). Videogame teaches teen girls to slither up social ladder. Canada.com. [Online.] Available: http://www.canada.com/topics/news/world/story.html?
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