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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 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.

"If you mod me down, I will become more insightful than you can possibly imagine." -- Slashdot

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