Tag Archives: research

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.

Researchers study people who like heavy metal, discover they’re not so bad after all!

windhand
Windhand onstage. Photo by Flickr user Metal Chris.

A new study led by University of Westminster psychologist Viren Swami puts metalheads under the microscope again — and finds, refreshingly, some surprising results. I’m reluctant to analyze it much because the full study is paywalled, but the jist is that they took more than 400 Brits and had them listen to “clips of 10 tracks of contemporary heavy metal,” asked them what they thought of the music, and then gave them a questionnaire meant to test them for the “Big Five” personality traits: Extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to new experiences.

There are a few additional details in this (unnecessarily sexist) writeup from Pacific Standard, including the fact that the study included 219 women and 195 men. Here’s their quick-and-dirty explanation of the findings:

Matching music preference to the Big Five personality traits, Swami was not surprised to find “openness to experience” was associated with enjoyment of heavy metal. People who embrace the new and different tend to be “drawn to forms of music that are intense, engaging and challenging,” he notes, “of which heavy metal is but one example.”

Those with a strong preference for metal “were also more likely to have lower self-esteem,” the researchers write. They speculate this style of music “allows for a purge of negative feelings,” producing a catharsis that may “help boost self-worth.”

Appreciation for metal was also associated with a higher-than-average need for uniqueness, and lower-than-average levels of religiosity. “It is possible that this association is driven by underlying attitudes towards authority, which may include religious authorities,” they write.

Trying to draw correlations between personality traits and musical preferences — particularly when studying people who are outside of that musical culture — is tricky business. I would loosely agree with the suggestion that people who are more open to new experiences would be into extreme music, but it could also be said that people who prefer things to be very structured and regimented would like metal, because the genre — prog and “math metal” in particular — offer that kind of structure. Likewise, it’s a safe guess to say that folks with lower self-esteem might be drawn to metal because its lyrics often offer messages of catharsis and empowerment. But the culture, as well as the music, offers a support network for misfits, and that can’t be ignored.

Lastly, the topic of metal and religiosity is a sticky one (and one I touch on briefly in The Columbine Effect; does it have to do with attitudes toward authority, as the researcher suggests? Others have theorized that people who belong to one of the dominant faiths are less likely to be tolerant of metal because of how the culture and iconography toys with religious criticism, pagan and Satanic themes, and blasphemy. But then again, there’s the argument that metal is a kind of religion.

It’s tough to say what the value of studies like this are. To overcome the stigma and biases against heavy metal and its fans? Others — such as filmmaker Sam Dunn — are arguably more effective. I’d rather see a deep, longitudinal study of longtime metal fans, starting when they picked up their first Black Sabbath or Metallica CD and following them until they’re in nursing homes. I’m happy that studies show not all metalheads are delinquents, but you don’t need a study for that. Just talk to fans.

“19 questions about video games, multitasking, and aging”: more videogame-study debunking

Just after I posted the last post, a friend of mine forwarded me a link to a blog post by Daniel Simons, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois. He wrote about a recent study on the effects of videogames on aging brains and breaks down, in detail, what works and what doesn’t about the study and its methodology. It’s a good counterpoint to my piece, so if you’re looking for more, check it out here: 19 questions about video games, multitasking, and aging (a HI-BAR commentary on a new Nature paper).

After kid kills caregiver and CNN blames a violent video game, it’s time to do a little math


An 8-year-old shoots his elderly caregiver. And the police blame video games? Photo by Flickr user Whistling in the Dark.

CNN ran an article today about an 8-year-old Louisiana boy who was living with an elderly caregiver until he shot her in the back of the head Thursday, killing her. They didn’t waste much time before blaming video games. Here’s a quote from the local police:

“Although a motive for the shooting is unknown at this time investigators have learned that the juvenile suspect was playing a video game on the Play Station III ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’, a realistic game that has been associated with encouraging violence and awards points to players for killing people, just minutes before the homicide occurred.”

I have so many questions, I don’t know where to begin. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Here’s my first question:

1. Why did this little boy have access to a loaded gun?

It’s a question we’re not likely to get the answer to. Admittedly, it’s entirely possible that the boy was trained to use weapons responsibly, although part of that training involves teaching people never to point a loaded gun at another person.

2. Why are we still blaming Grand Theft Auto?

It’s worth remembering that the man most responsible for trying to create connections between this video game and youth violence, Jack Thompson was disbarred in part for his conduct in cases involving the video game. There’s no science connecting this game (or any game) to real-life violence. And let’s keep in mind that CNN and the sheriffs of Louisiana are not scientists.

3. Why don’t we trust kids to separate fact from fiction?

The kids I’ve talked to in my own research, whether they’re 8 or 12 or 18, recognized a very clear line between video-game violence and real violence. The same was true of those I interviewed for Wired in 2011. Once in a while, maybe, a kid can’t tell the difference; I remember seeing one of the early Superman movies in the theater, and my brother thinking he could jump off our play structure and fly. But he was also about 2 years old, much younger than this kid. You know who can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality so well these days? “Experts.” Oh, and Pat Robertson.

Speaking of which, I’m no expert on this kid’s life, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say if he’s living in a trailer park with a 90-year-old woman who isn’t a family member, and who leaves a loaded gun around, this kid might have bigger concerns than his video-game intake. I also find it really interesting that following this event he’s now living with his parents. I will grant that there are some kids who are better off not living with their parents, but when that’s the situation, that’s a pretty heavy thing for an 8-year-old kid to deal with on a daily basis.

I’ve already seen parents calling for the end of violent video games, but what would that solve? If this were a math equation, it would go something like:

kid + GTA + gun = fatality

Now let’s take one of those things out of the equation.

kid + GTA = fatality?

Not unless you can bludgeon someone to death with a game console.

Let’s try again:

kid + gun = fatality

Maybe. There’s still a missing factor here, that unknown something that actually made this kid kill.

We need to keep looking for it.

The video game? That isn’t it.

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.

28 percent blame games for Sandy Hook. Sort of.


A memorial to Sandy Hook. Photo by Flickr user NorthEndWaterfront.com.

With all this talk of violent video games, it’s about time someone asked the real experts — random newspaper readers — whether games cause mass shootings like Sandy Hook. Thank goodness NJ.com did.

The poll headline asks, “Do you blame video games, movies for tragedies like Newtown shooting?” But the actual poll asked something different: “Will you limit violent content for your kids?”

28.4 percent said: “Yes. I returned video games on my kids’ holiday gift list and talked to them about violence.”

A sensible 57.7 percent said: “No. There is no link between entertainment and kids behavior.”

And another 14 percent said: “I don’t think movies are to blame, but I will try anything to end violence,” which is about like saying “yes,” considering that the end result is the same: people getting rid of video games because of the shooting, even though there’s no link between the two.

People are entitled to get rid of things in their own homes they think are harmful if they want to, but it’s too bad they’re going on misguided science and gut instincts, rather than actual facts.

Don’t even get me started on the drive to destroy violent games in Connecticut. Actually, do; I’ll have more on that plan later this week.