On June 21st, 2018 U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, hosted a Federal Commision on School Safety, featuring a number of panels and Q&As regarding cyberbulling and social media effects on kids attending school, news media propagation of school shooters, and whether or not violent movies and video games cause people to act out violently in real life.
During the second panel titled “Youth Consumption of Violent Entertainment”, Dr. Rowell Huesmann from the Psychology and Communication Studies department at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Christopher Ferguson from from the Department of Psychology at Stetson University, duked it out over whether or not video game violence and movie violence played a role in cultivating violence in people at risk of violent behavior. It was featured during a livestream panel that was published over on the U.S. Department of Education YouTube channel, with the specific segment kicking on at the 2:45:00 mark.
Dr. Huesmann attempted to convey a link between violent media and violent behavior in youth, noting that there are a number of factors that prime those predisposed to violence to act out violently. In Dr. Heusmann’s testimony violent media such as movies and games can work as primers to push violent, aggressive, or mentally unstable people over the edge to commit violent acts.
In the written testimony from Dr. Ferguson made available on Interpersonal Research, he explains that over the course of multiple studies, they’ve found no conclusive or consistent link between consumption of violent media and violent behavior…
“Cross-national data likewise does not support a link between violent media consumption and gun violence or assaults […]. In fact, analyses suggest countries
which consume higher rates of violent media tend to be among the safest in the world even after controlling for other possible variables.”
Dr. Ferguson brought a number of graphs, references and citations with him to the table, with the live-stream’s comment section calling him the “MVP” of the Federal Commission since he basically #GamerGated the crap out of the session by relying solely on the facts and data reports instead of his own opinions or assessments.
Dr. Ferguson first cited the trends in data that show that as more violent media has been produced and consumed, youth violence and overall violence has been on a steep decline over the last 30 years.
While the causative relation hasn’t been thoroughly linked with the correlative data, it still correlates with general data trends from other studies, such as the one from the Office ofJuvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which also indicated that arrests and crimes from those aged between 10 and 17 have actually decreased significantly over the last 30 years.
During the hearing in front of Betsy DeVos, Dr. Ferguson cited nations such as South Korea as having high consumption rates of violent video game media and low overall national crime rates, which is actually rated at 13.89, far lower compared to the United States’ 55.84, according to Nation Master. Japan consumes just as much, if not more violent media than Americas and they have an even lower crime level rating than South Korea, resting at 12.8 according to the Nation Master statistics.
When the panel asked the two whether or not regulatory rating boards such as the ESRB and MPAA had an effect on the market, and Dr. Huesmann believed that the ratings did not curb the sale of violent games to underage kids, while Dr. Ferguson deferred to the ratings boards being nothing more than information vectors for parents to use as a gauge as to whether or not the material would be suitable for their child.
Dr. Ferguson also pointed out that studies have shown that school shooters have typically had very little interest in video video games, and that the media attempting to pin the issue on violent games is doing a disservice to the issue of mass shootings as well as distracting from proper preventative methods to address the issue, with Ferguson pointing out in the written testimony…
“More at hand is that moral panics over media often serve to distract society from more pressing, but less morally grandstanding issues such as poverty, mental health reform and educational disparities. Progress on these issues will be hard and require sustained attention. We can’t get distracted by culture wars over media and the agendas of moral crusaders.”
This particular passage refers to a recent push from the media and certain culture pundits to place the blame of American violence on video games. This kind of propaganda actually culminated in the White House summit that President Donald Trump called back in March, 2018 where he met with various video game publishers and anti-gaming lobbyists where both groups discussed the role (or lack thereof) that video games played in school shootings.
Despite multiple reports indicating that there is little to no link in video games desensitizing people to real violence to the point where they could commit a mass murder, along with additional studies indicating that video games don’t make people violent, President Donald Trump still came away from the meeting proclaiming that there is a link between violent video games and real life violent behavior.
Unlike the White House Summit, at least the public had access to the current Federal Commission and Dr. Ferguson came prepared with plenty of citations, graphs, facts, and research data to back up his position. Whether or not this will finally help move video games out of the cross-hairs of moral panic-peddlers remains to be seen, but at least gamers have someone within the academic circles actually fighting on their behalf, and as noted in the chat during Dr. Ferguson’s testimony, many gamers were more than thankful for his dedication and diligence in clearing the good name of games.
(Thanks for the news tip White Heat and Lyle)