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Tracking the Harm Games Do 118

Posted by Soulskill
from the correlation-something-something-causation dept.
Every so often, video games are accused of causing all sorts of negative behavior in children, teens, and adults. These accusations are typically predicated on statistics that sound much more damning than they actually are. In that vein, gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun did their own tongue-in-cheek statistical analysis, complete with pretty charts and graphs. Quoting: "As part of my research I thought to compare the sales of each GTA game with what the divorce rate must have been when each came out. As you can see each new GTA game has been directly correlated with an increase in divorces. ... An often ignored statistic (and you have to ask why it’s being ignored by the games media, don’t you?) is the sheer volume of PC games being released. We’ve all noticed the British population is abandoning the church, turning instead toward shopping, DVDs and knife crime. But few have thought to check for a connection between PC sales and the numbers of people attending their local Church Of England church on a Sunday. When you look at the data there’s little doubt left that as the publishers continue to release more and more PC games each year, our nation’s faith is being increasingly eroded. And at what cost? If only a graph could tell us that."
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Tracking the Harm Games Do

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  • by gravos (912628) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @04:07AM (#33120634) Homepage

    An analyst reported that the effect was attributed to husbands drinking too much Hot Coffee.

  • Eh (Score:4, Informative)

    by copponex (13876) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @04:20AM (#33120710) Homepage

    There is actual research on the subject [umich.edu], if you are interested.

    Here's the abstract:

    Numerous studies have shown that exposure to media violence increases aggression, though the mechanisms of this effect have remained elusive. One theory posits that repeated exposure to media violence desensitizes viewers to real world violence, increasing aggression by blunting aversive reactions to violence and removing normal inhibitions against aggression. Theoretically, violence desensitization should be reflected in the amplitude of the P300 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP), which has been associated with activation of the aversive motivational system. In the current study, violent images elicited reduced P300 amplitudes among violent, as compared to nonviolent video game players. Additionally, this reduced brain response predicted increased aggressive behavior in a later task. Moreover, these effects held after controlling for individual differences in trait aggressiveness. These data are the first to link media violence exposure and aggressive behavior to brain processes hypothetically associated with desensitization.

    Doesn't seem so far fetched.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @05:06AM (#33120880)

      "Oh well this could maybe hypothetically desensitize people and cause problems, etc, etc." K, but that doesn't fit the actual data that violent crimes in the US have been trending down since around the time that videogames came out. The question shouldn't be "Can we try to find a contrived way that shows that video games might be related to perceptions of violence." The questions should be "Does playing video games make people more prone to act in a violent manner." If the answer is no, then who the fuck cares? There is no reason to be worrying about something if it isn't actually harmful.

      As I said, first thing you have to account for in any of these cases is why violent crime has trended down. Just because it has doesn't mean that videogames might not increase violence, but you sure as hell have to account for that fact. You have to show that it would be even lower if video games were not around. You need to show that people who play violent video games are more likely to commit violent crime than those that don't.

      Basically, if the only research out there is reaching extremely far to try and show minor differences in brain ERPs, then you've got nothing to go on. While that might be of academic interest, it is nothing to make any policy or law on. Only if games are actually causing more violent behavior, specifically illegal violent behavior (sports are violent but perfectly legal) is there a reason to have concern with regulating them because of it.

      • >, specifically illegal violent behavior (sports are violent but perfectly legal) is there a reason to have concern with regulating them because of it.

        This is an interesting and much overlooked point. Those who decry video games generally are in praise of sports- even very violent sports like football, wrestling, boxing and martial arts. If seeing fake violence on a screen will make you a more violent person - surely actively trying to beat somebody unconscious must have a much bigger effect - and worse

        • by tenco (773732)
          Martial arts training usually comes with lessons on how to prevent violence. All dojos i know employ a policy where students getting into brawls will get expelled.
          • >Martial arts training usually comes with lessons on how to prevent violence. All dojos i know employ a policy where students getting into brawls will get expelled.

            So do most gun training. It doesn't stop anybody freaking out over gunclubs does it ?

            The people who freak out over video games are not being rational - that's the whole point.

        • by Creepy (93888)

          The problem is video games are unfairly targeted and essentially the scapegoat, when all media is to blame, and regulation should be for all media.

          A US Secret Service study on school shootings found these influences:
          Violent Movies: 27%
          Violent Books: 24%
          Violent Video Games: 12%

          BOOKS have TWICE the impact of video games and they aren't regulated AT ALL - where's the uproar? the book burnings? the parent outrage?

          In the 1990s when violent video game sales were at an all-time high, what was at an all time low?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tenco (773732)

        "Oh well this could maybe hypothetically desensitize people and cause problems, etc, etc." K, but that doesn't fit the actual data that violent crimes in the US have been trending down since around the time that videogames came out.

        Correlation isn't causation. And violent crime != violent behaviour. Furthermore you would first have to prove that aggressive/violent behaviour incited by consumation of violent video games/media (VVG/M) causes more violent crime before demanding that studies concerned only with increased aggressive/violent behaviour through VVG/M should first explain this correlation of yours.

        • by Creepy (93888)

          True, and the studies I've seen seem to have fatal flaws.

          For instance, the comparison study
          Focus group 1 plays Wolfenstein 3D
          Focus group 2 plays Myst

          The findings: focus group 1 is more aggressive and penalizes people longer.

          The problem is that Myst is just not an adrenaline producing game - a fair comparison would be, say Myst vs Civilization or some other violent turn based strategy game. I could probably get the exact opposite result by comparing Tetris to Chess. Tetris vs Wolf 3D would h

    • by DickeyP (1651593)
      Could the same be said when comparing reactions of people with different childhood experiences? Say, an upper class suburban experience vs. a country ranch or farm experience? I don't know jack about the measurement techniques cited (amplitudes of different components), and since it's 6am here I'm not inclined to look it up. Regardless, I would expect similar results from a test in which the above subjects were shown a certain scene from Old Yeller. If studies ignore such common differences, while focusing
    • Doesn't seem so far fetched.

      Lots of things that "don't seem so far-fetched" aren't actually true. In this case, while the author cites the 'numerous studies' that support his claim, he didn't cite the 'numerous studies' that don't.

      In fact, I could argue the reverse with just as much analytic rigor as the quoted article. By providing a healthy outlet for aggression outside the confines of actual social interaction, people with tendencies toward aggression are able to find a non-destructive release for t

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "You need Adobe Flash Player 8 (or above) to view the charts. It is a free and lightweight installation from Adobe.com. Please click on Ok to install the same."

    (Emphasis mine.)

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      lightweight in more ways than one -- including security and reliability.

      • by Lisandro (799651)
        Don't forget performance. I love how a single web ad can hose a modern dual core CPU.
    • by natehoy (1608657)

      That was a typo, what they meant was "lichtweight".

      Reference for "Licht": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licht [wikipedia.org]

      The 29 hours that the opera lasts is about the time it takes to debug a system and get it working again once you've infected your system with Flash Player.

    • No bitch (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If Jack Thompson gets to be on Games instead of Idle, then so does this. It's hilarious and relevant to gamer nerd interests.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Shut up! Shut the fuck up! Do NOT say that name.

        He's like Beetlejuice.

    • by tenco (773732)
      Yes, it should.
  • by funkatron (912521) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @04:50AM (#33120814)

    Irrational numbers, art about subjects other than god, romantic novels, TV, rock and roll, disco, heavy metal, video nasties, hip hop, raves, computer games......

    Isn't this getting a bit old by now?

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      I agree that these were all silly - except perhaps the one about disco. I personally am hoping that the 70's never ever come back.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        I agree that these were all silly - except perhaps the one about disco. I personally am hoping that the 70's never ever come back.

        I'm keeping my platform shoes and Nik-Nik shirts though, just in case.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sFurbo (1361249)
      You can add schools (it can't be healthy for the children to think all day), newspapers (what, and remove the social function of the town crier, people will get socially isolated) and writing (if people could just write things down, they will get forgetful) to that list. (http://www.slate.com/id/2244198)
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @04:56AM (#33120842)
    There is also a correlation with global warming, illegal immigration and the number of natural disasters in Pakistan. We should ban all games immediately.
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Yep. Just remember the science is settled!

    • by stms (1132653)
      I think that you're looking at that backwards illegal immigration, global warming and the number of natural disasters are causing our society to create and play video games. People video games are not the answer to your problems why don't you try something more constructive like drugs or alcohol.
    • by siwelwerd (869956)
      No, global warming is caused by the decreasing number of pirates.
      • by tepples (727027)

        No, global warming is caused by the decreasing number of pirates.

        If that were true, the mass copyright infringement that the old Napster and its progeny represent would have sent Earth into another ice age.

  • by rainmouse (1784278) on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @05:10AM (#33120902)
    Does anyone else find it ironic that the loudest people who trumpet violence in the media as a source of inspiring violence in others tend to be religious groups and they are always calling for games and films that allegedly teach people aggression to be banned.
    I would graciously accept the ban of all violent films, games, music and books if they would first pave the way by banning their own hatred and violence inducing holy book.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151)

      For religion to be strong, religionists must ration sex and guide violence.

      In strongly religious (= viciously primitive) societies, those who violate sex taboos are punished with violence, sex partners are rationed by the religious hierarchy, and "enemies" are infidels to be attacked.

    • by ivogan (678639)
      It is my strong opinion that organized religion was created for social control. Marriage was created to control sexual promiscuity by vowing to commit to one person while forsaking all others with attempted enforcement through fear of public shame if one were to break their vow. Sex is treated as something for procreation, not for enjoyment. Team sports allow an outlet for the mob mentality of mindless violence. There has always been violence (since way before video games), and always will be. I agree
  • Everytime a game like GTA comes out there are less pirates in the world. Graph please!!!

    Also, I'm almost sure that every time a violent game comes out, God kills a kitty, but I would also need a graph to be sure.

    • by boxwood (1742976)

      LESS pirates? You might want to search news.google.com for "somalia".

      • LESS pirates? You might want to search news.google.com for "somalia".

        Have you checked the amount of pirate attacks after the publication of each GTA game??

        Also, since Pirate attacks are CLEARLY related to global warming, probably GTA releases are related with global warming!!

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Tuesday August 03, 2010 @06:17AM (#33121174) Homepage

    One thing that bugs me with all this study non-sense and the counter arguments is that they always have an extremely narrow field of view. It is either "they cause harm" or "they don't influence us at all", both are likely complete non-sense (even when done for humorous purpose as here).

    What about general studies that simply discuss how child behaviour has changed over the years in more general terms instead of splitting it into good vs evil? Did video games cause less reading of books? Less watching of TV? Do people visit their friends more often due to the Wii or less often due to XboxLive? Or just how many hours spend kids with video games today compared to 10 or 20 years ago? How much of their allowance goes towards video games? How much power does a kid today use? Do they have a more realistic picture of war or a more twisted one? Did Google Earth improve geography skills and what not.

    There are plenty of interesting questions that could be asked, where you could actually get at least some interesting result and people wouldn't all jump into defensive stance for their video games.

    • by JohnFluxx (413620)

      > One thing that bugs me with all this study non-sense and the counter arguments is that they always have an extremely narrow field of view. It is either "they cause harm" or "they don't influence us at all", both are likely complete non-sense (even when done for humorous purpose as here).

      The thing that bugs me is people criticizing studies without even bothering to read them.
      How is the following abstract of the study polarized in the manner that you've said? :

      "Numerous studies have shown that exposure t

      • by grumbel (592662)

        Where is the study that without a doubt shows that there is more violence among gamers then among non-gamers? Unless you have shown that there is an effect it is rather pointless to look for the cause of that yet to be shown effect.

    • by sorak (246725)

      Once this became a political issue, it became a guarantee that people would take ideological stances. I think you have a great point, but the point of whether we should be looking at the effects of exposure to violence is also worthwhile, so long as it is done scientifically, by a group with no agenda, other than the truth. (And I am naive enough to believe they exist.)

    • It's funny because it's modded insightful. it's like a tounge in a cheek within a tounge in a cheek
    • What about general studies that simply discuss how child behaviour has changed over the years in more general terms instead of splitting it into good vs evil? Did video games cause less reading of books?...

      Yeah, from my own experience with video games, I think it's not very likely that they make us more violent or less violent. They might lead to less books and less time watching TV, but I suspect that in all these cases, the most powerful effects are the most subtle. Books, for example, train you to think of reality as something that is encoded in language. TV trained us all to be passive observers in life.

      Games train us to look at reality as something which is not immediate. I don't mean temporally imm

    • Excellent, Grumbel! Well said. Often, I have discussions with older educators who lament their students' lack of reading, writing, and study as it has been traditionally thought of: writing a proper letter to a penpal, having meaningful debates face-to-face with friends, quiet studying at a desk with a lamp on, etc. Through technology (and many other elements, quick frankly), the next generation do these kinds of things, but differently. When we explain how students interact with their world that is di
    • by gl4ss (559668)
      "let's burn the new books" is something that the establishment uses when lacking any other means to combat with a problem that doesn't exist.

      it's pretty self evident that people nowadays have much larger understanding of the actual results of war and violence than a century ago - and much more "healthy" views on the subject. not many teenage boys dream of the glory of being on the eastern front fighting the evil bolshevik empire.

      and of course all culture worth anything affects people in some way, if i
  • An increase in game sales led to a decline in piracy, which indirectly contributed to global warming.

  • If Pacman had affected us as kids we'd be running around in dark rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive music.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If Pacman had affected us as kids we'd be running around in dark rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive music.

      You mean going to raves? Oh wait, we do.

  • http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/a0018251 [apa.org] (2001, 692 citations)

    http://pss.sagepub.com/content/12/5/353 [sagepub.com] (2010) [pdf] [apa.org]

    (Searching for a freely available version of this studies might pay off)

  • "Grand Theft Auto Causes Marriages To Break Down", "PC Games Lead To Decline In Church Attendance" How exactly did this guy go from correlation to causality?
  • But few have thought to check for a connection between PC sales and the numbers of people attending their local Church Of England church on a Sunday

    Hmmm. An hour of excitement and reinforcement of how awesome you are, or being told you're bad and worthless during the equivalent of an hour-long, mind-numbingly boring cut scene?

  • Escaping from the oppressive influence of religious tradition is not a bad thing.

    People no longer feel threatened enough by the dirty old men in robes to suffer through boring church services and unhappy marriages. Good on them.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      The divorce rate statistic that I would like to see compared is the divorce rate vs. domestic violence. I have a pretty good feeling they would be inverse of each other. Unfortunatly, we would never be able to see that as domestic violence was massively under recorded in the past, and is now over recorded.
  • This is actually pretty smart social science. If you wanted to, you could gather actual statistics about PC saturation in households and the divorce rate or church attendance, and you could do the same for gaming.
    Am I the only person who thinks it could actually be interesting to see what that would look like?

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