Tag Archives: Michael Ward

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.

Want to cut juvenile violent crime? Don’t take video games away from teens

New research suggests that the more time kids spend playing video games, even first-person shooters like Halo Reach, the less likely they are to commit violent crimes.

Violent video games make players, especially impressionable youths, more aggressive and more likely to be violent. Right? That’s what predominant video-game researchers would have you believe.

Michael Ward, in the department of economics at the University of Texas at Arlington, is conducting new research that finds just the opposite. He says the more likely kids are to play video games — violent or otherwise — the less likely they are to commit crimes. This is, he theorizes, for a fairly obvious reason:

“Video games not only cost money, but they also cost time. It takes a lot of time to beat the game, and so all those hours you’re playing the game are hours that you’re not getting into trouble,” he says.

Let’s look at the juvenile rate of violent crime for a moment. According to this data, culled from FBI sources, the juvenile crime rate has fell 36% between 1995 and 2008. The juvenile murder rate fell 62% in that time. At the same time, in 2010 67% of households played video games, and gamers played an average of 8 hours a week, according to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. Game sales went from $2.6 billion in 1996 to $9.5 billion in 2007, according to the Entertainment Software Association. It’s safe to say some of those purchased games were played by teens.

So, we have an increase in the use of video games and a decrease in juvenile crime. Are these things correlated? Absolutely. Did the increase in video game usage cause the decrease in crime? You can’t say for sure. Ward is working on that, but unfortunately his studies aren’t available online. Still, his work seems promising, at least in the short term.

Ward says for now, … cracking down on video games may not be an effective way for communities to immediately crack down on crime.