Yesterday morning, Fox network’s, Fox & Friends - an opinion talk show, discussed the ongoing debacle surrounding mass shootings and the theorized link between, and influence derived from, video games. The consensus claiming that a link does exist. While evidence supports a possible connection, video games remain innocent from the cause of violence, like mass shootings and other criminal acts; with the real issue sitting right under our very noses.
“Brand new research suggests there is a terrifying link between video games and violent behavior,” said F&F host, Gretchen Carlson, segwaying a dialogue with contributor, Dr. Kieth Ablow. As reported by Media Matters, the actual research cited in the segment is from 2010 and its author, according to the report, states that, “video games cannot be the cause of mass shooting incidents.”
The actual link:
Contrary to the aforementioned quote, Ablow suggests based on “research” that, “there is a link between violent video games and violence in the real world.” According to an ISU study in 2010, there is a link between the two, but not nearly as detrimental or as suggestive as Ablow insinuates.
“Exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts,” says Iowa State University Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson. “Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect.”
The study, which was conducted by a team of eight researchers, also found that the effects of violent video game exposure, “are not huge,” as pointed out by Craig Anderson. “Not on the order of joining a gang vs not joining a gang,” he explains. “But these effects are also not trivial in size. It is one risk factor for future aggression and other sort of negative outcomes. And it’s a risk factor that’s easy for an individual parent to deal with. At least, easier than changing most other known risk factors for aggression and violence, such as poverty or one’s genetic structure.”
Despite the research found in the ISU study, many other studies still claim that no such relationship exists. Such as the 2013 findings published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma - cited by Media Matters’s Timothy Johnson, which states, “media use was not associated with either increased or decreased risk of adult criminality,” and that adult criminality and arrest history was related to heritability in both males and females, among other social risk factors. Note: Data from this study was collected and analyzed over a 13-year period, with a focus on adolescent health.
Of course, the failed attempt to outlaw the sales of violent video games in 2011 also supports this notion. Evidence presented in this case failed in providing any substantial data suggesting a harmful link between violent media and real world violence. In fact, the Supreme Court found that, “most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology,” And games, like books, TV and film, fall under first amendment protection.
The unspoken problem:
Truth be told, the real issue is rooted back to parenting and the educational resources available to them. Going back to the ISU study, Dr. Anderson - despite his findings - also believes it comes down to improving resources for parents, “From a public policy standpoint, it’s time to get off the question of, ‘Are there real and serious effects?’,” he says. “It’s time to move on to a more constructive question like, ‘How do we make it easier for parents -- within the limits of culture, society and law -- to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'” An inquiry often lost in the shuffle of debate, to say the least, but easily the more important matter of the issue.
“Just like your child’s diet and the foods you have available for them to eat in the house, you should be able to control the content of the video games they have available to play in your home,” Anderson notes. “And you should be able to explain to them why certain kinds of games are not allowed in the house -- conveying your own values.”
How an ideal principle, like the one Dr. Anderson describes above, loses its pertinence in a sensitive matter of this stature is silly and unfortunate to think of. The fact remains that real world violence and video games are generally linked, like any other medium of interest, whether it be TV, film or books; all of which contain violent material. And common knowledge iterates that children, unless over the age of 18, require parental guidance and regulation to what they’re exposed to, period.
So what needs to happen going forward? Like Anderson suggests, society really does need to start asking more constructive questions. The relation between video games and real world violence debate is a tired one to say the least. Arguing repeatedly does nothing, other than continually shroud the public from the real underlying issue: Parental education and accountability.
As for games, they have ESRB rating labels, which do work. Sure, it doesn’t stop every parent, because every household is different, but all games are appropriately marked like any other retail product with warnings and disclaimers.
That said, perhaps more education and awareness is in order. As games mature and evolve in presentation and appeal, so to does the explanation behind their unique designs on alternate realities. If this is the case, then it’s up to the industry to stand up for itself and educate the public on the innocent, yet amazing, implications of interactive entertainment.