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Study shows conclusively that gun controllers train shooters; was Jack Thompson right?

Concerns about violent video games were recently stoked when Norwegian mass-murder Anders Behring Breivik revealed that he had used "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2", a wildly popular title published by Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI) to train for his killings.  The self-proclaimed Christian [source] who sought to become a "martyr", logged many hours in the game, which in one level depicts the player in the role of covert U.S. operative-cum-terrorist, murdering helpless citizens.

I. Scientific Evidence: Gun Controllers Train You For Real-Life Headshots

Now a controversial study by Jodi L. Whitaker -- an Ohio State University graduate psychology researcher -- and Brad J. Bushman -- a Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands psychology professor -- has cast further fuel on the flames claiming scientific evidence that video games are indeed training killers.

In the study "Boom, Headshot!": Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy" researchers had 151 college students shoot at mannequins, as a test of aiming accuracy.  Each student was ordered to shoot 16 bullets at the target, and some students were first prepped with 20 minutes of gaming in a violent video game.

Among the gamers, some were given standard controllers, while others were given gun-shaped controllers, popular for many shooting games like the "Silent Scope" and "House of the Dead" franchises.

headshot
Psychology researchers demonstrated gun controllers prepare gamers for real-life "headshots".
[Image Source: Bethesda]

Researchers found that while standard controllers did not significantly increase the students' "kills" on the life-sized mannequin, the gun controller did.  Students who were prepped with the gun controller hit the target 33 percent more often, on average, and hit "headshots" 99 percent more often.

While the sample size was relatively small, researchers believe the results were large enough to rule out differences in firearms experience or statistical flukes.  They argue that despite their virtual nature, firearms game controllers provide ample training for potentially deadly real-life weapons use.

The authors write:

In the violent shooting game, participants were rewarded for accurately aiming and firing at humanoid enemies who were instantly killed if shot in the head.  Players were therefore more likely to repeat this behavior outside of the video game context... Just as a person might train how to use a sword by first practicing with a wooden replica, the pistol-shaped controller served as a more realistic implement with which to hone skills that more easily transferred to aiming and firing a gun in the real world.  These results indicate the powerful potential of video games to teach or increase skills, including potentially lethal weapon use.

The study was published [abstract] in Communications Research, a peer-reviewed journal published by SAGE.

II. Video Games and Society -- Murder? "Ok." Consensual Sex?  "Bad!"

The new study offers further challenge to America's video gaming status quo, which has a strong tendency to demonize sexuality, while glorifying and condoning in-game violence.  

While putting the player in the role of a terrorist murdering citizens only earns a "Mature" rating, soft-core depictions of consensual sex between adults is a ticket to an instant "Mature" in most cases.  And if you depict hard-core sex, well, you are virtually guaranteed an "Adults Only" rating.

 
Mass Effect 2
Softcore depictions of consensual, "vanilla" intercourse between adults helped earn Mass Effect 2 a "mature" rating, the same rating given for games where the player role-plays a fantasy of being a terrorist murderer. [Image Source: Bioware]

The debate over sex and violence in video games has raged in America.  Some individuals like Jack Thompson have sought unsuccessfully to ban seemingly "immoral" titles depicting violent criminal fantasies, such as Grand Theft Auto.  Sexual depictions have been especially criticized, with some members of the media allegedly resorting to outright lies to villainize games with sexuality like Mass Effect.

Some claim that video games have destructive psychological effects, but other studies contradict this premise.  Some studies even show that gaming benefits reflexes and problem solving skills.

Over 97 percent of U.S. children play video games.  Studies found males to gravitate towards more violent video games.  Coincidentally males murder people in the U.S. at a rate nine times higher than females according to recent studies.

Many adults game as well, though the population of gaming adults -- particularly console gamers is thought to be smaller.  A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control claimed that the average 35-year-old gamer is overweight and depressed, suggesting long-term gaming may contribute to these health problems.

Sources: Communications Research, EurekAlert



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RE: Such BS....
By Reclaimer77 on 5/22/2012 11:10:18 AM , Rating: 5
Yes but the video game tie-in seems very biased and unnecessary. Because you would get the same results in real life. If you gave someone a slingshot and someone else a handgun, I damn well guarantee you the person with the handgun will be more accurate. How does that "train" you to be a better killer again?

Jack Thompson is still wrong by the way :)


RE: Such BS....
By JasonMick (blog) on 5/22/2012 11:18:47 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Yes but the video game tie-in seems very biased and unnecessary. Because you would get the same results in real life. If you gave someone a slingshot and someone else a handgun, I damn well guarantee you the person with the handgun will be more accurate. How does that "train" you to be a better killer again?

Jack Thompson is still wrong by the way :)
I agree, in the sense that even if the study is right, it shows no reason why violent videogames should be placed out of the hands of law-abiding individuals.

I think the only worthwhile conclusion of the study is that perhaps violent criminals, persons with known terrorist ties, and individuals diagnosed with psychosis should be barred from purchasing violent video game titles, as they would be barred from purchasing guns.

Most retailers already ID for age restrictions, so this wouldn't be more onerous than the current system and would have no effect on law abiding gamers and gun owners, both of which are valuable assets to the nation!


RE: Such BS....
By Reclaimer77 on 5/22/2012 11:25:05 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't base any policies on this study. However even if that did happen, it couldn't be enforced. They would just give someone the money and have them buy the game for them. Dozens of ways to get around this.

Just like gun control. It doesn't work because people motivated to kill or be criminals ALREADY seek to operate outside the law anyway, making gun control laws irrelevant to them.


RE: Such BS....
By JasonMick (blog) on 5/22/2012 11:41:34 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Just like gun control. It doesn't work because people motivated to kill or be criminals ALREADY seek to operate outside the law anyway, making gun control laws irrelevant to them.
I agree with you to some extent, but I think you miss the sole positive benefit of handgun control laws.

Gun control generally doesn't work in taking handguns out of the hands of violent individuals (that's why law-abiding citizens deserve the right to bear arms).

But it has been shown to be mildly effective in establishing intent to commit crime and create charges against dangerous individuals, as if you have a history of violent crime and are banned from owning a gun, if you get caught lurking around with one, you are likely contemplating a crime and can be arrested just for that.

While this does create some glaring civil liberties issues, you could argue it does take repeated violent offenders off the streets, as well.

The same could (in theory) be applied to say terrorists who train for real-world shootings using video game gun sims.


RE: Such BS....
By Digimonkey on 5/22/2012 1:40:27 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The same could (in theory) be applied to say terrorists who train for real-world shootings using video game gun sims.


Seems to me you'd have to ban them from playing laser tag or paint ball too.


RE: Such BS....
By tastyratz on 5/22/2012 4:17:08 PM , Rating: 5
And owning a bb gun
and going to a shooting range.
And even an elastic gun.

Practicing shooting with proper form and any form factor or weapon of choice improves your skills and ability to handle a similar device be it real or virtual.

This is no more different from removing marshmallows from the hands of the skinny because they are practicing to be fat.


RE: Such BS....
By MrBlastman on 5/22/2012 4:27:53 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
The same could (in theory) be applied to say terrorists who train for real-world shootings using video game gun sims.


Jason, have you ever shot a firearm before? Not just once or twice, but with any significance--i.e. thousands of rounds?

I can tell you from my own personal experience that while a video game handgun controller might help teach you to keep your wrist steady, it will do little beyond that on improving your aim.

Why?

Well, several factors, really. First is trigger pull--I doubt any of these controllers accurately simulate trigger pull. Trigger pull is actually the number one cause for missing a target or hitting it where you aim. Bad trigger pull ruins everything. Now, it would be possible to get close to realistic pull on these controllers--but it still wouldn't be the same as the gun you were using.

Secondly, even if you could simulate the trigger pull, doing this would be useless without actually recreation of how the sights work, be it iron or holographic. Iron sights need to be lined up via the posts on both a rifle or handgun and kept that way through a consistent trigger pullthrough. The way this technology that interacts with the television screen works makes it nearly impossible to properly estimate the impact point unless they used motion sensing technology along with it--and I highly doubt any game will do this.

Third is recoil. The controllers just don't simulate it. Beyond the first shot, you have no recoil to prevent follow up shots from hitting the target.

Fourth is double action/single action/chamber/mag reloading/cocking/charging handle etc.

There are so many factors it is absurd to expect most if not all games will simulate this.

If you want to learn to shoot, you have to shoot the real thing at real targets, and preferrably outdoors and not in some indoor range.


RE: Such BS....
By JasonMick (blog) on 5/22/2012 6:06:47 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Well, several factors, really. First is trigger pull--I doubt any of these controllers accurately simulate trigger pull. Trigger pull is actually the number one cause for missing a target or hitting it where you aim. Bad trigger pull ruins everything. Now, it would be possible to get close to realistic pull on these controllers--but it still wouldn't be the same as the gun you were using.

Secondly, even if you could simulate the trigger pull, doing this would be useless without actually recreation of how the sights work, be it iron or holographic. Iron sights need to be lined up via the posts on both a rifle or handgun and kept that way through a consistent trigger pullthrough. The way this technology that interacts with the television screen works makes it nearly impossible to properly estimate the impact point unless they used motion sensing technology along with it--and I highly doubt any game will do this.
Oh of course, I would guess the reason for improved accuracy was more the mental side of it, e.g. lining up your target accurately visually, etc. Possibly confidence too.

Obviously "handling" (don't know the precise term) the pistol makes much more difference.

I've fired pistols before, though, I've only use I'd say 5 or 6 models. In my experience the models I fired varied substantially in amount of kick, trigger sensitivity, etc.

So yes, I would agree with you, but on the same token I would say that a simulator could help, kind of like a driving simulator doesn't really simulate the pedal feedback (in most cases) and shift "feel" of a real manual, but does give you some insight into how they worked.

Is that worth a study or potential restrictions on violent felons/potential terrorists' access? IDK, that might be kind of a stretch. But it's interesting to think about, even if -- as you aptly point out -- playing games doesn't make you a great marksman without real world experience.


RE: Such BS....
By Lord 666 on 5/22/2012 7:27:04 PM , Rating: 1
To build on Blastman's point, it is also the reason why 4 out of 5 nutjobs with little firearm experience select .22 (Reagan, Lennon, Kennedy) or 9mm (Giffords). Heck even the Muslim soldier at Ft. Hood used a FN57. While the first three were target specifc, the last two were massacres. All weapons were compact with low recoil and with the last two having high capacity magazines of 31 and 30 rounds respectively.

Had the AZ whack job had firearms experience, he would have selected a .40/.45, a 12 gauge, or used a 7.62 from a distance. Thankfully for everyone he didn't.

The only link between accuracy and type of controller is eye/hand coordination.


RE: Such BS....
By TSS on 5/22/2012 5:49:55 PM , Rating: 2
This study is bogus. Not so much as the content as the person who made it. As soon as i read "vrije universiteit" psychology professor i stopped taking it seriously.

Obviously you wouldn't know, but so called "free universities" have the lowest standard in education in our country. There have been numerous scandals in the news about how they'll give out a diploma out to anybody, and multiple diploma's have been invalidated because of it.

The educational system in general sucks (schools these days get paid by the student that graduates) these vrije universiteiten suck the most by far. There nothing but the result of the socialist wet dream of absolutely everybody obtaining a university degree, an idea left over from the hippies. And i'll be darned glad the day they tear down each and every one of these universities (and i'm saying that as a socialist, going to vote socialists in the elections in 3 months, so that's saying something).

Just looking at the masters educations, there isn't a single beta (read: math) education like physics or actual science. But there are tons of social studies, psychology, management studies, economics and finance, languages, religious studies even. Just about everything where you don't need to know anything, just talk funny really.

I'll wager $100 that if you repeat the study, give one group a controller but the other one a reflective glove which a kinect can track, then make them form a pistol type sign with that hand (thumb up, index finger as the barrel, the rest of the fingers as "handle") which is to be used as the actual "gun controller", you'll still see the 33% increase in accuracy. Replace the glove with a stick, same thing.

Basically, this studies says "if you practice pointing at stuff, you will get more accurate at pointing at stuff". Then they try to pass it off as real science just to get PR, which they then use to prove their "validity". If there's any news here, it's that you can basically write off ohio state university since they are just as stupid to have collaberated with a vrije universiteit.

If you wanna have a laugh, repeat their experiment in exactly the same way, only this time turn the screen and the controller off, and tell the subjects to just imagine the whole thing in their head but move the controllers as they would as if the game where turned on. You'll get the same results and increases in accuracy as the original study.


RE: Such BS....
By LemonJoose on 5/26/2012 6:18:34 AM , Rating: 2
First, I'd like to point out that both of the authors are affiliated with Communications department at The Ohio State University which is separate from the Psychology department. Bushman apparently has a dual affiliation with another university on the Netherlands.

That said, I agree with you on the criticism that this is another study that simply proves what is already obvious -- if you train at something, the more closely the training conditions match the real-life situation, the better you'll perform.

It does not prove that violent video games will cause otherwise normal people to want to shoot at other people. A mannequin is not a real person. And banning violent videogames would not prevent those with criminal intent from training their shooting skills by other equally or even more effective means such as using real guns or the kind of Airsoft pistol that served the role of the "realistic gun" for shooting the targets in this study.

The 1st and 2nd ammendments to our Constitution are at the core of what it means to be an American, and we shouldn't tolerate misguided attempts to limit either of them.


RE: Such BS....
By Keeir on 5/22/2012 1:54:08 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
I think the only worthwhile conclusion of the study is that perhaps violent criminals, persons with known terrorist ties, and individuals diagnosed with psychosis should be barred from purchasing violent video game titles, as they would be barred from purchasing guns.


No... this just showed when you practice something, you get better at it!

There are many many ways to practice gun aiming and killing people without using games. Video games might be especially effective, but this study doesn't show that at all.

I wonder what the effect of having 10 minutes a video instruction on shooting and 10 minutes of live practice before the contest would have been? Or paintball? Or laser tag? Or using a laser pointer strapped to a mockup? Or an especially powerful water gun? There are tens if not hundreds of ways to practice your killing skills. Video Games are a convient method and MIGHT be very effective, but unless they are shown to be super effective versus existing alternatives, I wouldn't see a reason to ban them to anyone.


RE: Such BS....
By vortmax2 on 5/22/2012 2:17:08 PM , Rating: 2
I think the bigger question is this: Why are violent video games entertaining in the first place? Or: Why do we find it fun to 'fake' murdering people on a TV screen?


RE: Such BS....
By knutjb on 5/22/2012 5:06:24 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe it's from our infatuation in defining good vs. evil. There will always be evil in the world. What side do you play? Some think we can cure all bad behaviors. I don't believe we can, eg Charles Manson.

Show me any culture today that doesn't have a violence problem of some sort. I would prefer no violence but to expect it, let alone demand it is simply delusional. To limit or prevent games such as these will not change our underlying irrational behaviors.

I don't mind trying to get a better understanding of what's going on but most of the social (so called) sciences are based more on interpretation through subjective filters than repeatble objective empirical observations. This applies to both liberal and conservative groups pushing agendas.


RE: Such BS....
By WalksTheWalk on 5/23/2012 9:45:11 AM , Rating: 3
There are multiple factors to why games are the way they are today.

Part of it is that we know it's a game so the "anything goes" aspect of it is OK.

Another part is desensitization to violence. Once we get used to a certain level, say gibbing someone in DOOM, the level of violence needs to be increased to get that same level of initial rush/disgust/uniqueness to the experience. This happens over and over and you have the kind of super violent games we have today. (Super violent by yesterday's standards.) The same applies to movies. The slasher movies are old hat so to ratchet up the experience and fear factor they have moved into extreme torture.

This is also probably a cycle that will experience a backlash as society eventually begins to reject that level of violence and try to go back to a previous state of less violence.


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