White Paper – Jon Gonzoph

The Effects of Violence in Video Games

Topic Background: Controversy over the possible negative effects of violence in video games has been around almost as long as the medium itself. The first game to cause a significant outcry from the public was the arcade cabinet Death Race released in 1976. Despite the morbid name, the content was fairly pedestrian, especially by today’s standards:  an 8-bit car runs over stick figures that turn into a gravestone when hit. Referring to these figures as “Gremlins” did little to assuage the fears of the public, and the game was scathingly reported on in magazines like the National Enquirer and Newsweek. 60 Minutes even did a investigative report on the psychological dangers of video games.

The next major instance of video game controversy happened in 1993, with the release of the game Mortal Kombat. The use of digitized models for the characters meant they looked much more realistic then any previous games, and this combined with more graphic violence then had been seen in a game before did not engender it well to the press. The backlash was so bad against this game that a Congressional Hearing was held to determine whether the video game industry should be regulated. This led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, an organization designed to give details on content and restrict the sale of the more objectionable games to minors. Regardless, many other games have come under fire for being too violent, and the controversy doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

So, naturally one would assume that violence in video games had a proven negative effect on viewers. However, this would be at best unproven and at worst entirely incorrect. While there are some studies that state that video game violence has an effect on behavior, there are also others that contradict this claim. Other studies posit it is not violence that causes changes in behavior, but some other factor that other studies did not control for. There is even a subset of studies dedicated to explaining why various other studies conflict and which provide more reliable data.

Counterintuitvity Note: Why do video games get such a reputation for causing violence and ruining lives, when there is a substantial amount of data conflicting with this view?

Results from Video Game Violence: Increased Aggression – The most common finding from studies that find a negative effect from violence in video games is increased aggression. Generally, the model is to have one experimental group play a violent video game, another play a non-violent game, and then use some sort of test for measuring aggression and comparing the average results. The timeframe in the studies I’ve examined almost always ranges from a few hours to a few weeks, with only a few examining the effects of months or years of video game playing. Important questions related to this include the following:

  • How long does this increased aggression last? Most of the studies that find an increase in aggression test for it directly after playing a violent video game. One study directly refutes this, and concludes that this increased violence only lasts roughly 4 to 9 minutes. Studies that occur over larger timeframes are suspect because the amount of variables that need to be controlled for increases exponentially
  • Does playing violent video games lead to more aggression, or do more aggressive people play violent video games?
  • Does the increase in aggression actually cause different behavior? Put another way, is it a significant enough effect to cause any alarm?
  • Is this effect unique to video games? If increased aggression can be caused by any number of things, from movies to books to just everyday interaction, then is it a significant effect when a game also causes it?
  • Are all the variables in these studies controlled for? There is one study that claims that it is the competition the more violent games provide that is the cause of the aggression.

Results from Video Game Violence: Physical Violence And Other Crime – Has playing a violent video game actually contributed to any physical violence? The problem in finding even an example is that the media has repeatedly shown to be biased in this area. For example, after the Columbine shooting, the press erroneously reported that the two perpetrators had played large amounts of the game DOOM, even though this was later proven false. This also runs into the problem of finding out just how much influence the video game play actually had on any potential crime. One study did suggest that children that played violent video games were more likely to end up in jail, but I do not know if it controlled for any other variables that might have led to this result.

Results from Video Game Violence: Other – At this point, having not done any research into what separates a good study from a bad one, I can’t really speak on the reliability of their conclusions, and thus whether other effects exist. However, a few examples include: greater hand-eye coordination from violent video games — since violent video games also feature the most action, a greater willingness to donate money, and dehumanizing oneself and others after playing a competitive game.

The Role of Gender: Though most studies did not take gender into account, the few that did indicated that males are more likely to see an increase in aggression, and that females did not see any increase. This raises the question of what outside factors influence video game playing – if games do not raise aggression on their own, but rather trigger aggression in only a specific set of people, then that’s an important difference that should be controlled for.

The Role of Bias: On a completely different note, one study suggests that bias is leading researchers to either change testing methods so that they draw the conclusions they want, or just manipulate how they examine the data they’ve gathered. This study finds that there is a no link between video game play and aggression, and that playing the more action-oriented games (which is also generally those considered violent) actually improves visuospatial recognition.

Current State of the Paper: Very confused. Every time a read a new study it contradicts with another one. For example, searching for increased aggression led me to a study that completely concluded that it happened and persisted for hours after, then one that concluded that after three weeks there was no real change, then one that concluded it happens but wore off in 4 to 9 minutes, then one that concluded the effect persisted throughout 30 months, and so on.

Because of this contradiction, I’m having some trouble stating any factual claims in any areas. The first thing I’ll need to do is establish which studies can be trusted and which I can ignore, but the danger here is removing the studies that conflict with my own biases.

The general flow will probably be something like the following: An intro to the controversies surrounding video game violence (not long) – Which studies on violence in video games are good/relevant and why – What these studies show about the effects violence in video games (likely all about aggression and maybe crime, but I’ll consider other results once I know which studies are more accurate) – How different groups (gender, race, age) are effected differently (if at all)

Topics for Smaller Papers

What makes a strong study: Due to the wealth of conflicting reports, a vital topic is which studies provide more accurate or usable results. This paper would consist of taking a number of different studies and comparing their methodologies, trying to find the strengths and weakness of each. Ideally, this would give me some key points to look for in other studies that will allow me to sort through them easier.

How is aggression measured: Since increased aggression seems to be the key issue of debate, knowing how aggression is measured will be a great boon in understanding conclusions. This might be more of a side topic that I can cover in the research paper itself rather then a full sub paper, it depends on the results of my first smaller paper.

How do the effects of violent video games differ on children and adults: At this point I am unsure if there actually is a significant difference in their effect, but considering the popular refrain for the restriction of games is always along the lines of “We must protect the children,” it is an area worth looking in to. The problem will be in determining which studies on adults and children can safely be compared, as the wild divergence in results would mean that I’d need to compare similar valid studies to not have other variables interfere.

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1 Response to White Paper – Jon Gonzoph

  1. davidbdale says:

    This is EXACTLY where you should be at this stage of your research: confused by conflicting evidence.
    Grade Recorded.

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