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Professor observes a large proportion of criticism of violent games come from the over 35 age demographic

Texas A&M International University professor Christopher Ferguson conducted a study and concluded there is "no significant relationship" between school shootings and playing violent video games. Highlights of the study were summarized by Gamepolitics.

Ferguson's study criticizes the methodology used by past studies that have linked violent video games to aggression. He points out for recent high profile shootings such as the Virginia Tech massacre, and the Utah Trolley Stop mall shooting no evidence of violent video game play by the perpetrator was found.  

Ferguson suggests video games are an easy target to attack for politicians, the news media, and social scientists. He also suggests self serving motivations are what drive these groups. Politicians are motivated by the need to create an appearance they are taking action against crime, for the news media negative news 'sells' better than positive news, for social scientists, it has been observed that a small group of researchers have been most vocal in promoting the anti-game message.  In comparison he states, "Actual causes of violent crime, such as family environment, genetics, poverty, and inequality, are oftentimes difficult, controversial, and intractable problems."

A very interesting observation Ferguson makes is that the majority of individuals critical of video games are above the age of 35 and have not directly experienced the game they are criticizing which some admit to. According to Ferguson, "commentators make claims betraying their unfamiliarity, such as that games like Grant Theft Auto ‘award points’ for antisocial behavior... despite that few games award points for anything anymore, instead focusing on stories." 

As an example of individuals who criticize games without verifying their claims, Ferguson points to the Cooper Lawrence, Mass Effect incident. Without playing the game Cooper Lawrence declared Mass Effect as pornography on Fox News. The resulting backlash forced Lawrence to recant her statements.

Ferguson summarized his findings stating, "The wealth of evidence... fails to establish a link between violent video games and violent crimes, including school shootings. The link has not merely been unproven; I argue that the wealth of available data simply weighs against any causal relationship."

With regards to school shootings he declares, "School shootings, although exceedingly rare, are an important issue worthy of serious consideration. However, for our understanding of this phenomenon to progress, we must move past the moral panic on video games and other media and take a hard look at the real causes of serious aggression and violence."

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By psychmike on 1/27/2009 8:22:09 AM , Rating: 2
You're right, it can be very frustrating to get a straight answer.

In materials or biological research, it's a lot easier to isolate variables and to slowly build up an argument for more complex effects.

In human research, however, it can be difficult to operationalize variables like 'exposure' or even 'violence'. When we say exposure, do we mean simply watching, participating, or enjoying violent games? When we say violence, do we mean biological correlates of sympathetic activation? Actual acts of violence? Violent thoughts? People are complicated and a lot of subtle but important individual differences may be washed out in large n studies.

When I was a starting graduate student, I used to skip to the discussion section of research articles to find THE ANSWER. These days, I spend a lot more time reading the method and results section to gleem little pieces of important information. The authors don't always set up or summerize their studies in an accurate way (even if they are very precise studies). Journalists put it through their own filter and spit out an even more simplified answer.

Considering that we live in a very technological and scientific society, I think we should all try to cultivate a basic scientific literacy so that policy makers and journalists don't end up cherry picking facts for us. Scientific American and New Scientist are eminently readable publications that get a little more into the issues.

My personal opinion (informed by science) is that violent video games may not statistically correlate with increased violence for MOST people, but this doesn't mean that it won't increase the risk of violence for impulsive, aggressive, and isolated individuals.

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