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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.

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 Mint on 5/22/2012 1:26:06 PM , Rating: 2
Not that I think video game violence is bad or should be banned, but you seem to be misunderstanding the study.

Everyone is shooting the mannequins with a gun. The study was looking at how video game prep time before doing so made an impact. Prepping with a fake gun was more effective than prepping with a controller, but that's an ancillary finding. It's simply quantifying that people who play video games can become better shooters.

Thankfully it's not a particularly useful study in advancing the cause to ban violent video games, but it's interesting how much impact it can have on the real shooting activity.

Personally, I found a similar thing with driving. I loved games, and during my first go-carting experience (before I'd ever driven a real car) I was getting the top lap times.

RE: Such BS....
By Reclaimer77 on 5/22/2012 3:37:15 PM , Rating: 2
It's simply quantifying that people who play video games can become better shooters.

If this is the case, it's only because "gamers" might have better eye-hand coordination or reflexes. But shooting in an FPS and shooting a gun in real life are two entirely different experiences. Games do not prepare you for the realities of handgun shooting mechanics. In a game your grip is irrelevant, trigger pull weight is non-existent, you aren't anticipating recoil and there's no muzzle flip, you aren't aware of the trigger reset; and the list goes on.

In real life these are crucial factors and each one must be mastered through shooting literally thousands of rounds of ammo to attain competence with shooting.

RE: Such BS....
By bah12 on 5/22/2012 4:19:34 PM , Rating: 2
But shooting in an FPS and shooting a gun in real life are two entirely different experiences.
They are different, yes, but not entirely different. You would not practice all the skills to get better with a real gun, but a simulated gun would help with sight alignment. Obviously recoil control, grip, and other controls would not be improved.

As others have said all this study shows is that with practice people get better. Better practice is ... well ... better of course. So you are correct a gun range would be ideal practice, but in its absence a video game provides some level of practice. I'd argue that paintball/laser tag would be and even better (or as Mick is trying to say worse) activity. Or heck just picking up a bb gun or airsoft gun to adjust to get a feel for real projectiles.

RE: Such BS....
By Mint on 5/22/2012 10:11:44 PM , Rating: 2
If this is the case, it's only because "gamers" might have better eye-hand coordination or reflexes.
Wow, you really breezed over the article quickly, didn't you. There were three groups with randomly chosen participants. One group had a 20 min session with a gun-like controller. Another had a 20 min session with a regular controller. The final group is the control group with no prep session. Gamers are equally likely to appear in any group.
But shooting in an FPS and shooting a gun in real life are two entirely different experiences. Games do not prepare you for the realities of handgun shooting mechanics.
No doubt, just like driving games don't prepare you for a real car or even a go-cart. However, gaming does make an impact, and according to this study it improved accuracy and affected the target choice.

RE: Such BS....
By Reclaimer77 on 5/23/2012 12:03:56 AM , Rating: 2
You and Jason need to stop trying to give this "study" the benefit of the doubt. The methodology is crap, the conclusion obvious as hell, and the attempt to correlate this to some violent causation is laughable. Just...stop. This is not science, it's garbage.

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