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Violent-Game Study Stirs Controversy

6 Sep, 2005 By: John Gaudiosi

Reaction to the latest report on violence and video games from the industry has been sharp and swift.

A new report from Jessica Nicoll, B.A., and Kevin M. Kieffer, Ph.D., of Saint Leo University, maintains that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior in children and adolescents, both in the short- and long-term, according to an empirical review of the past 20 years of research.

“The retail community often finds itself on the defensive side of this on-going debate about media violence, which I personally find absurd,” said Hal Halpin, president of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants' Association (IEMA). “The reality behind the vast majority of the studies to date is that young children shouldn't be playing violent ‘M'-rated video games, listening to labeled music, watching ‘TV-MA' shows, or going to ‘R'-rated movies, plain and simple. Study after study comes out that claims there is a causal relationship between playing violent games and behaving in a violent manner, but when one examines the methodology and the science behind the research, one will find it fatally flawed.”

The two researchers reviewed a number of different short-term studies that have been conducted over the past two decades focusing on violent video games and their impact on children and teenagers. There was no clarification as to the names or ratings of any of the “violent games” in any of the studies.

Kieffer said there was no comparison between games and other media, such as TV and films, in any of the studies. He also confirmed that the researchers did not examine the age of the children compared to the rating of the games played.

“We examined only video game violence, not violence in the media in general,” he said. “I am a researcher, and I simply identified ways in which the field of psychology might better fill in some of the gaps in psychological research.”

One study showed participants who played a violent game for less than 10 minutes rated themselves with aggressive traits and aggressive actions shortly after playing. In another study of more than 600 eighth and ninth graders, the children who spent more time playing violent video games were rated by their teachers as more hostile than other children in the study. The children who played more violent video games had more arguments with authority figures and were more likely to be involved in physical altercations with other students. They also performed more poorly on academic tasks.

The researchers concede that “although no one study has conclusively demonstrated a cause-and-effect relationship between exposure and behavior, based on the results presented here, it is difficult to argue that there is no relationship between violent game play and subsequent aggressive behavior.”

“Retailers interests' are consumer interests, which is why we actively support the various ratings and labeling systems for different media,” said the IEMA's Halpin. “We believe in supporting and educating parents, and allowing them to make the decision about what aspects of the media should be allowed.”

These reports go against the findings of authors John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade of the Harvard Business School Press book Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever. The two research strategists surveyed 2,500 members of the Gamer Generation (people who grew up playing games over the past two to three decades).

“We thought gamers would be like the stereotypes: loafers with deficiencies in social and cognitive skills,” Wade said. “We found quite the opposite, as the Gamer Generation includes well-adjusted, well-rounded individuals who like to explore virtual worlds in their free time, interacting with rather than just watching TV.”

The authors also argue that gamers understand the difference between cartoon violence in video games and real-life violence.

“While video game playing has gone from zero to 90 percent in certain age groups, violence in these same age groups has dropped sharply,” Beck said. “That's a pretty strong condemnation of the point.”

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