Tag Archives: Brad Bushman

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.

It’s time to listen to the moms of violent young men


Suspected Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza.

Thirteen and a half years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold brought guns to school, killing 13 classmates and faculty before turning their guns on themselves. When President Bill Clinton solemnly addressed the nation after the shootings at Columbine High School, he said, “Amidst all the turmoil and grief … perhaps now America would wake up to the dimensions of this challenge, if it could happen in a place like Littleton, and we could prevent anything like this from happening again.”

Did we wake up?

Since then, frankly, as a nation we’ve done fuck-all to stop another one from happening. And they’ve kept happening.

While we’ve been listening to the “researchers” like Craig Anderson, Doug Gentile and Brad Bushman, whose hundreds of studies have permanently embedded in our brains a correlation between video-game violence and real-life aggression, young men have kept shooting. While we’ve been listening to the nightly news blame the occult, heavy metal, and goths, young men have kept shooting.

Within hours of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, one of Fox News’ talking heads was already laying it on about video games — without knowing whether suspected shooter Adam Lanza played them. CNN and Sen. Joe Lieberman — also on Fox News — were not far behind.

In the past two days, the Daily Mail has run at least two articles linking Lanza with goth kids, as though that simple fact would have made him a killer. If anything, goth kids — who are about as non-aggressive as kids get — would have taken him in because he was different, he didn’t know how to get along, and they were able to make space in their social group for someone like him.

We don’t know, precisely, what Adam was like. The two people who probably knew him best — himself and his mother — are dead. His mother, who apparently quit her job at Sandy Hook Elementary a few years ago so she could take care of him, even though he was almost an adult. What was going on with Adam? In the coming days and weeks, we may know more. For now, all we know now is that, for whatever reason, his mother felt he needed full-time care at an age when most young men are getting ready to leave the nest.

The thing is, I think a lot of moms know — parents know — when their kids are teetering on the brink of violence. Or when they’ve gone way over the brink. One of the pieces circulating today is by mom/blogger Liza Long, who wrote a post Friday that’s now being called, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” She isn’t — but she is the mom of a violent 13-year-old whom she fears:

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

After James Holmes shot a dozen people in a Colorado movie theater this summer, didn’t his mother say she knew he’d done it? How many other moms have had that conversation with police — they felt helpless to protect their sons from those violent feelings, and they knew it was only a matter of time before their sons hurt someone else?

I know it’s tough to talk about mental health here without stigmatizing huge swaths of people who battle mental illness but aren’t dangerous to themselves or others. But we need to try. Note that most of the perpetrators in mass shootings wind up killing themselves at the end of the event. I’ve heard such massacres called elaborate forms of suicide. Something, temporarily or permanently, has gone very wrong in their minds. And in most cases, there seems to have been adequate evidence that they were capable of such violence. There were signs and plans leading up to the event. There were caring people who tried to intervene, but for whatever reason, these boys and men slipped through the cracks.

Their moms: are they asking for an end to violent video games? To goth culture? To paganism? To heavy-metal music? No, they aren’t. They’re asking for something American society is loath to provide: adequate mental-health care. Treatment. Protection, for their boys and for themselves. And for society. Caring for others, especially potentially dangerous others, is contrary to our “everyone has the freedom to make his own choices”/”everyone can pull himself up by his own bootstraps” philosophies. But at what cost?

So while the debate rages on about gun control, video games, and goths, what are we doing for moms like Liza? What are we doing to actually prevent this from happening again?

So far, nothing.

Resident Evil 4 might make you a better shooter, but it doesn’t put a loaded gun in your hand


A new study shows that playing 20 minutes of Resident Evil makes you a better marksman. Photo by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Anytime someone defends video games, or discusses the benefits they provide, often the first words out of their mouth will be, “hand-eye coordination!”

It’s said so often that it’s almost a joke at this point. But it also has real-world applications. For example, small studies have found that gaming can improve surgeons’ dexterity.

In some ways, it seems like a “duh” moment to reveal that video games improve players’ real-life shooting accuracy. After all, didn’t Anders Breivik claim that Modern Warfare helped him train for his Norway attacks?

Scientists already know that playing video games — like learning any other skill — changes brains. At Ohio State University, Brad Bushman and Jodi Whitaker showed one way brains do change after gaming.

They had 151 students played 20 minutes of a video game:
1. Resident Evil 4, some with a gun-shaped controller and some with a regular controller
2. A target-practice game (in Wii Play) with bullseye targets, some with a gun-shaped controller and some with a regular controller
3. Super Mario Galaxy, which involves no shooting.

Then they took the students out for target practice with black airsoft training pistols.

Students who played Resident Evil using the pistol controller had the most head shots, an average of 7. They also made more body shots, an average of 6.

Students who played Super Mario Galaxy had the fewest head shots — about 2 — and the fewest body shots — 4, on average.

Students who played Resident Evil with a standard controller were somewhere in between the pistol players and the SMG players.

The participants who played the most video games outside the study, particularly those who played violent shooting games, had the best marksmanship of all.

“The more frequently one plays violent shooting games, the more accurately one fires a realistic gun and aims for the head, although we can’t tell from this study which factor is the cause,” Bushman said.

Of course, what the researchers should have done is have the students shoot first, then play the games, then shoot a second time to see if their marksmanship improved. Not having that baseline data leaves out some important information.

I’d like to think that most people wouldn’t view the ability to shoot accurately as a bad thing. It’s a skill, like anything else. In and of itself, it’s not a problem.

Unfortunately, Bushman thinks it is:

“We shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss violent video games as just harmless fun in a fantasy world — they can have real-world effects,” he said. “This study suggests these games can teach people to shoot more accurately and aim at the head.”

Bushman seems to be missing some steps. Playing a video game doesn’t give you access to a gun. It doesn’t load the gun for you. And, most important, it doesn’t make you want to shoot anybody. If this study is accurate, the most it’s saying is that games could make you a better shot if those other things happened.

Gamers are going to learn plenty of skills in any video game that they’ll likely never use in reality. For example, Resident Evil 4 might also teach players how to run away from zombies, hunt birds in a forest, explore abandoned houses, and use grenades.

Even if Breivik “trained” by playing a video game, the most that game could have given him was better accuracy. It didn’t give him the paranoia or mental illness that propelled him to make bombs or shoot people in the first place. That didn’t come from Modern Warfare. That came from somewhere inside Breivik. And no video-game study can tell us how to find that.

Teens aren’t buying violent games, but people keep buying bad science


Teens have an easier time buying M-rated games at Walmart than at other stores, but it still isn’t that easy. Photo by Flickr user afcool83.

The Federal Trade Commission once again sent its minions undercover shoppers to buy video games, and here’s what they found: only 13% of minors who attempted to buy M-rated games, which are intended for adult audiences, were able to do so. The rest were turned away. By comparison, 33% of teens who tried to buy an R-rated DVD could do so, 38% of teens who tried were able to get into an R-rated movie, and 64% were able to buy albums with “parental advisory stickers.” In other words, voluntary controls on the sale of M-rated games are working well — better, in fact, than controls on R-rated films, which are illegal for teens under 17 to see without adult supervision.

Which really just leaves one question: Why do we need Leland Yee’s game-sales ban, again?

Actually, among other things the numbers suggest that many teens aren’t playing these games, but when they are, a parent or other adult is purchasing it for them. It’s anyone’s guess whether those parents are paying attention to what they’re buying, but considering they’re plunking down $60 for these things, it probably crosses their minds to look at the box. In this way, not much would change if Yee’s law passes.

As Yee awaits the decision of the Supreme Court, researchers are finding new ways to say violent video games are bad for kids. This time, they analyzed the track records of the experts who signed briefs in the Supreme Court case. Unfortunately, their findings heap bad science on top of more bad science. Let’s break it down:

First, who authored the study? Brad Bushman, a researcher whose work consistently finds that violent media is linked with aggression; Craig Anderson, another researcher whose own work links media and aggression; and attorney Deana Pollard Sacks, whose primary written work seems to focus on pornography and corporal punishment of children.

Can you guess what they found?

The results showed that 60 percent of the Gruel brief signers (who believe video game violence is harmful) have published at least one scientific study on aggression or violence in general, compared to only 17 percent of the Millett brief signers.

Moreover, when the researchers looked specifically at the subject of media violence, 37 percent of Gruel brief signers have published at least one study in that area, compared to just 13 percent of the Millett brief signers.

Wow. They found that their side made more noise than the other side. What a surprise!

Okay, let’s break it down some more. This wasn’t an analysis of every study that has been published on the topic of video games and their influence. This was an analysis of who signed a court document. Given that those who oppose violent video games are in the weaker position before the Supreme Court, it makes sense that more of them would come forward.

Second, the research showing the positive side of violent video games is much more recent. That group, if it is indeed smaller, may be smaller because it’s still catching up.

Oh, but it gets better:

Results showed that signers of the Gruel brief had published over 48 times more studies in top-tier journals than did those who signed the Millett brief.

“That’s a staggering difference,” Bushman said. “It provides strong support for the argument that video game violence is indeed harmful.”

Considering none of these studies shows that violent video games harm kids, no, it doesn’t mean that at all. At most, studies are able to show a correlation between gaming and brief increases in aggressive feelings. Most of the studies don’t even show that much conclusively. I’ll say it again: correlation is not causation. There’s just as much evidence to suggest that kids with more aggression to burn are turning to video games as an outlet. Many researchers say so in their own conclusions.

Like I said, bad science on top of bad science.

Oh, and by the way? Juvenile violent crime is decreasing. It dropped 2% between 2007 and 2008 (the most recent years for which the federal Office of Juvenile Justice has statistics), “continuing a recent decline.”

Parents, when you’re shopping for games with (or for) your kids, do you look at the rating on the box? How does that shape your decision whether to buy the game?