Tag Archives: Barack Obama

What Happened to That CDC Study on Violent Video Games? Gamasutra Answers That — And More

Last year, after the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, President Barack Obama ordered the CDC to devote $10 million to studying the links between violent video games and real-life violence among teens. Except now it’s looking like the money wasn’t allocated and the studies haven’t started.

Gamasutra’s Mike Rose takes a long, deep look at what happened to that proposed research — as well as the findings of Connecticut State Investigators, who revealed that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza wasn’t all that much of a gamer, despite the hysterical headlines that came out in the days after the attack.

Probably my favorite section is on the concept of moral panics, and the moral panic currently in effect on violent games. Rose writes:

However you look at it, the mainstream media’s obsession with painting violent video games in a bad light plays a massive role in both scaring the general public, and pushing governments to consider video games some kind of threat. Who cares that it’s all based on conjecture, and past research has failed to find any link between violence in video games and real-life — the media is very much in charge, and the White House’s response last January proves this.

“We’ll get the moral panic from them when we pry it from their cold, dead hands, to paraphrase our friends in another industry,” [International Game Developers Association]’s Daniel Greenberg notes. “They will never willingly give up this moral panic, because they don’t have a lot of moral panics left. Video games are still widely available for that, so the media isn’t going to want to give that up, because if it bleeds, it leads. Even if it’s bleeding electronic pixels.”

It’s a well-done look at the state of research, politics and video games. I wish I’d written it! Please check out the whole thing.

CDC gets $10M to study link between guns, gaming


Do violent games cause kids to go on shooting sprees? Congress intends to find out. Photo by Flickr user agitprop/Andrew Kitzmiller.

In January, I wrote a letter to President Barack Obama about his orders to Congress to give the CDC $10 million for more video game studies. Now, it seems like the gears on that plan are rolling. Here’s what CNET reported last week:

The CDC has asked the Institute of Medicine to put together a committee that will look at the influence of video games and other media on real-life violence. The IOM is part of the congressionally chartered and federally funded National Academy of Sciences. In a statement Wednesday the CDC said:

In more than 50 years of research, no study has focused on firearm violence as a specific outcome of violence in media. As a result, a direct relationship between violence in media and real-life firearm violence has not been established and will require additional research.

Interesting. So they’re going to try to tease out the “the characteristics of firearm violence; risk factors; interventions and strategies; gun safety technology; and the influence of video games and other media?” That’s kind of a first, actually.

Reading this, I thought, “Well, good luck with that.”

And then I thought: They might as well. A study this massive has the potential to find some real connections between fantasy violence and real gun violence, or it has the potential to resolve, once and for all, that there are no such connections. Could it actually show the true indicators that lead youths to commit mass shootings? Maybe that’s going too far, but perhaps it will put another nail in the coffin of the idea that video games, even violent ones, play any significant role in the process.

Looks like we’ll be waiting 2-3 years for the findings.

Leaders: don’t waste money on violent-game studies

Dear President Obama,

This month, you said two things: First, that you asked Congress to allocate $10 million to the Centers for Disease Control to study the “the relationship between video games, media images and violence.” Second, that “We won’t be able to stop every violent act, but if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try.”

That’s why I’m writing to you today. I’m not an avid player of video games. I don’t work in the game industry. I’m a journalist, writer and mom who has spent the past several years reading and writing about the relationship between kids, violent video games, and real-life violence. So far, what I’ve learned is that there isn’t one.

Yes, there are hundreds of studies, particularly from researchers Craig Anderson, Brad Bushman, and Doug Gentile, suggesting there may be a link between playing violent video games and short-term aggressive behavior immediately after switching off the game. But they haven’t been able to show that video games _cause_ that behavior, or that post-game aggression translates into violent acts later on. Some people are amped up after playing a particularly intense game of football, too, but we haven’t spent millions of dollars researching whether it makes kids bring guns to school.

If you dig deep into each of these researchers’ studies, they say as much.

There are other studies that reveal the positive influences of these games. For example, two studies from Ohio State University researchers David Ewoldsen and John Velez showed that when kids play violent games cooperatively – as many do – they come out of the games feeling pretty good. Canadian researcher Jayne Gackenbach has shown that playing violent video games can help soldiers overcome nightmares induced by the traumas of war, an outcome that seems like it could apply to other gamers trying to make sense of our violent world overall.

In Somalia, video-game-play is on the rise, and many parents are glad, because it’s keeping their kids off the dangerous streets. That’s also true at home: University of Texas at Arlington researcher Michael Ward found that in towns with more video-game retailers, juveniles commit fewer violent crimes – because they’re too busy playing to get into trouble.

By far the best text on the benefits of violent games and aggressive play for kids is Gerard Jones’ book “Killing Monsters.” I interviewed Jones in 2011 for a Wired.com article on why violent video games are good for teens, written at the time the Supreme Court voted against a ban on the sale of these games to minors. He said:

“For the world of adolescents, [reality has] mostly gotten more stressful and bleaker,” he said, citing the dire economy, stressed-out parents, the increasing demands of public education and two lengthy wars in the Middle East. “This is not a cheerful time to be coming of age in America. The need for escape, the need for fantasies of potency, and the need for a community of peers is greater than it’s been in a long time.” He has said, in other moments, that we cannot expect teens to accept forms of entertainment that have been sanitized of the violence they know exists around them every day.

However, one of the most important sources of information on the relationship between violent video games and young players is the players themselves. As a nation we have spent far too much time studying the supposed affects of games on gamers, and almost no time asking gamers questions about why they enjoy them. If you ask, they will tell you that they love the escape, the chance to explore violent ideas safely and without hurting anybody, the opportunity to play the hero, and much more. I interviewed and surveyed dozens of young gamers for a book I wrote for parents – a book that, given our current cultural climate, I believe parents need more than ever, but unfortunately has found almost no support in the publishing world.

So far, Congress has been smart, vetoing just about every bill that proposes a study of violent video games and young players. To start spending money now on such studies would be a tremendous waste of money that could be put to more productive use, such as providing more mental-health support for violent teens and their struggling families. If Congress does wind up putting money into video-game studies, however, please make sure those studies look at the potential benefits of violent games, not just our preconceived notions of harm, which hundreds of studies have already failed to support.

Thank you.

New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface


Have we not come very far, or have we gone backward? This cartoon, by Danny Shanahan, appears in the Sept. 24, 2012 issue of the New Yorker.

I was under the impression that society had, to some extent, moved beyond the idea of witches and Wiccans as old, green, scary hags. Yes, the Halloween “witch” lives on — but as a relic of the imagination, not as a representation of a modern-day faith. After all, we’ve had Samantha, Phoebe, Piper, and Prue, and many other portrayals of witches and Wiccans, right? Yes, they were sensationalized and inaccurate, but at least these witches were shown to be powerful, respectful, and human.

The Sept. 24 issue of the New Yorker had a big section devoted to cartoons, especially political cartoons. This one, in particular, is shocking. It’s true that Wiccans adopted the “Yes, Wiccan” phrase — a pun on Obama’s 2008 “Yes, We Can” slogan — and put it on posters, t-shirts, and bumper stickers (though some items murkily seemed to show support for candidate Christine O’Donnell, who claimed she “dabbled in witchcraft.”)

But none of those campaign puns depicted witches like this — undead-looking skin, hands resembling claws, pointy hat, long nose, warts. This is the pagan equivalent of blackface, and it shouldn’t be running in any publication — particularly not one of the New Yorker’s standing.

Over at the Racism School site, they explain some of the reasons blackface is wrong:

* Started at a time when Black people were considered “Less than human”
* Shows Black people have no and deserve no dignity
* Used to de-humanize, belittle and make fun of those that are “Less than”
* Caused (and continues to cause) pain to Black people
* Made black people into caricatures (not human, a symbol to belittle)

Despite the changing face of Wicca in popular culture, it’s certainly not out of the woods, politically or socially. Wicca, as a religion, is still considered less than, or dangerous; its members are targets for moral panics; and the Catholic Church still publishes screeds against Wicca.

As a society, we still need to move forward. With this cartoon, the New Yorker isn’t helping.

Video games still inspiring junk-science articles


Indian students learn how to design video games. Photo courtesy Duke TIP.

It’s been a while since I saw so much junk science in a single article.

The Indian Express just published a piece arguing that video games make kids aggresive. The article quotes official-sounding people, such as Adarsh Kohli, professor of clinical psychology at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, and child psychologists in India. These experts claim a number of video-game dangers, including:

* Gaming makes children forget to eat;
* Gaming makes children become irritated if they can’t play;
* Gaming causes social withdrawal, lack of participation in family activities, and disinterest in people;
* Gaming makes children immune to trauma;
* Gaming makes children rebellious;
* Gaming causes back problems, such as cervical spondylitis;
* Gaming causes photogenic seizures (the actual term is photosensitive epilepsy, and it’s very rare);
* Gaming causes weak eyesight (interesting, since the same newspaper reported that video games can heal lazy eye).

Meanwhile, another India news outlet, Deccan Chronicle, recently published an article showing that playing video games boosts kids’ exam results. Based on research at Yardleys School in Birmingham, England, the article explains that 70 percent of regular gamers exceeded targets on standardized tests, while only 40 percent of non-gamers did so.

Granted, this may be because students who excel academically may also be drawn to play video games regularly; let’s face it, smart kids/geeks and gaming often go hand in hand.

But someone at the White House thinks video games are such a positive influence, they’re exploring ways to use them in the classroom. Many schools already do this, but new research could turn it into more of a nationwide phenomenon:

As studies began to show that no such relationship exists, research turned toward how video games can be used to positively benefit society.

“It turns out that many of those relationships just haven’t borne out in the research, and new fields have emerged around looking at how games function as a means for turning screen time into activity time,” said [Constance] Steinkuehler, [a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy]. According to Steinkuehler, federal investments in games is not a new concept, and dates back well before the Obama administration.

As science moves ahead, will articles like the first one become a thing of the past? I hope so.

How video games can help teens (and us) make sense of bin Laden’s death


In Kuma War, players face off against Osama bin Laden in a re-enactment of the Battle of Tora Bora.

As news breaks around the world of the killing of Osama bin Laden, people of all ages must struggle to make sense of the situation. One of the world’s biggest villains has been conquered, and that has psychological repercussions for those who were aware of bin Laden’s activities and philosophies.

The video-game world is already responding. This morning, a new video game called Muhajedin came online. In it, gamers can portray a suicide bomber taking orders from the late al-Qaeda leader. The game plays out these missions with plenty of satire, providing both catharsis and levity.

Meanwhile, Kuma Games is talking about creating a new Kuma War mission in which you can play the soldiers or strike team that stormed bin Laden’s compound and ended his life. In past missions, players could virtually participate in the Dec. 2001 Battle of Tora Bora, after which bin Laden and his men allegedly fled to Pakistan. Kuma War includes a variety of missions based on current and historic events, from World War II battles to recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iran.

Such games can help us process major events like bin Laden’s death, according to one expert who talked to Kotaku:

Ian Bogost, professor of digital media at Georgia Tech and co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at Play, [called such games] … “Quickly created release valves that capitalize on this event for traffic or attention. That said, perhaps some of them may give us a sense of how the operation took place.”

Kuma, he notes, tries to do that with their attempt at accurate recreations.

Bosost says that these tabloid games also give people a way to come to terms with a surprising event. … These Bin Laden games could also give some people a “welcome sense of false closure,” Bogost added. “See, Osama is dead. The ‘war on terror’ is over. See, I killed him myself on my computer.’ Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter,” Bogost said.

For many who play these games — including teens, whose instinct may be to turn to a video game while they’re processing the news — such imaginative play is an opportunity to explore current events and even what it must have been like at the scene of the raid on bin Laden’s compound. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who plays such games wishes they could kill bin Laden themselves (or, in the case of Muhajedin, wishes they could be a suicide bomber). But most of us, as we integrate such history-making events, imagine it from all angles. We may even consider ourselves part of the “winning team,” and games let us participate in those heroics in a deeper way.

In a sense, it’s similar to how scholar Joseph Campbell described the hero’s journey, and our resonance with heroic myths:

We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is fully known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero-path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we sought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will have come to the center of our existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

And, in playing such games — and emerging the hero — we can find closure and move forward with a renewed feeling of productivity. Here’s a quote from gaming cheerleader Jane McGonigal, author of the new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World:

Games support happiness … by giving us more satisfying work or concrete tasks that we can accomplish…. Studies have shown that playing a short game — having something concrete that you can accomplish — actually gives you the motivation, energy and optimism to go back and tackle real work.

Parents who are worried that their teens might pick up such games should remember that they’re already hearing plenty of the details on radio and television news, and probably discussing it at school. They’re already imagining it in their minds. Like you, they’re wondering what it must have been like. These outlets let them safely explore and reach closure in their curiosity and need to find meaning in the complexities of these events. You may want to play along with them, and then talk together about what it was like. But forbidding such games doesn’t keep kids from thinking about these issues — it only keeps them from going through their natural process of making sense of the world.