The debate between violence committed in real life and violent acts witnessed in games and media has raged on for ages. A lot of censors have tried using tenuous connections between the two to censor and ban games based on the thinly documented research tying the two together, but the actual stats don’t seem to align with the puritans’ crusade.
A certain Dr. Christopher Ferguson seems to believe that a new breakthrough is taking place with research where the connections between real-live violence and media-depicted violence may be even more minimal than we thought. Citing the decline of youth crimes with the rise of violent game sales, Dr. Ferguson believes there may be more at play than just seeing violent acts on screen and wanting to emulate them in real life.
In a report published on the Psychiatric Times, Dr. Ferguson postulates…
“ Neither the selection of media, nor outcome behaviors are driven primarily by media content but rather by a user’s goals and motivations. […]
“Thus, a violent video game might increase frustration in one player who does not enjoy the game, but legitimately relax another after a stressful day. And a non-violent video game could do the same. Indeed, this notion that the “fit” between media and individuals in pursuit of motivational goals is more important than objectionable conforms to more recent research.”
The data that is available. for the most part, either has loose ties or inconclusive ties between violent games and real-life violence. So why do we keep seeing all of these media reports saying games cause violence? Well, one of the reasons we continue to see the media link violent video games and real life violent acts is due to what Dr. Ferguson calls organizational or institutional bias…
“Another problem commonly observed is citation bias in which researchers (or professional organizations such as the APA and AAP) cite only work that supports their personal views or organizational positions, which can make it seem that the evidence is more consistent than it actually is.”
This is extremely pertinent given that the Washington Post recently did an article titled “Video games are more addictive than ever. This is What happens when kids can’t turn them off”, sampling small examples in their presentation of games being extremely addictive and hard to shake.
This comes off a recent two-year barrage of media outlets reporting on connections between video games and sexism after spurious data and shoddy research was used to push the narrative, especially through cultural activists like Feminist Frequency (which was recently criticized by a veteran game developer). One such incident included a Survey Monkey poll that was conducted through social media in order to help convey the biased conclusion that the researchers sought to achieve, which was peddled across mainstream sites like The Guardian by authors like Keith Stuart, despite the fact that the research was neither peer reviewed nor conducted under proper scientific measures, as pointed out by EveryJoe.
Despite all of these fear-mongering and agenda-pushing narratives by the media and politically motivated researchers, the facts don’t really hold up in favor of the people looking to actively smear gaming.
The recent report cites the court’s response to the pearl-clunching about violent games and real-life violent acts, noting that the case trying to link the two was dismissed. Instead, the report comes to a common sense conclusion that violent media is likely something that affects different people in different ways and that individual treatments should be considered instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, writing…
“Consistent with newer theories of media effects, individual experiences may vary considerably. It is less that media have no effect, and more that effects are idiosyncratic and user driven rather than content driven. As such, rather than a one-size-fits-all recommendation for media, clinicians may wish to tailor their recommendations to the needs of individual patients or families.“
It definitely makes sense that not everyone is going to respond the same to the same kind of media, and more thorough and less biased approaches to research need to be conducted in order to better document the variables and the results they have on the individuals participating in the research.