The Purported Video Games and Violence Link is A Load of Nonsense

The Slate article the post below is responding to

Before I begin, let me make something clear: one’s education most certainly has an impact on the person one is. And video games do educate, and can make people violent.

However, we’re not interested in whether people merely get “more violent” playing video games. We’re interested in whether people become stone-cold killers through these things. After all, I get “more violent” every time my car isn’t repaired correctly or the guy at Church sings too loud. Increased aggression levels are a fact of being human.

The article begins with the stronger contention, the one that can be falsifiable:

A potential video-game connection has also been dangled after past killings, to the irritation of bloggers. The reports are that shooter Lee Boyd Malvo played the video game Halo before his sniper attacks around Washington, D.C., and that Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold loved Doom. Does the link between video games and violence hold up?

Then the article commits a serious blunder, that both Left and Right commit on the Internet in increasing frequency: it argues that the sheer amount of inquiry being done and “sort of” causal connections demonstrate a link, thus allowing it to be headlined “Why video games really are linked to violence,” as opposed to “Why video games, orange juice, the fact there’s a half moon tonight, the earth being round all could lead to violence,” which is the more appropriate title for this nonsense.

The article does a very nice job of talking about the types of research – “there are studies that look for correlations between exposure to these games and real-world aggression.” Now I would submit the ability of these studies to control what sorts of kids might turn to violent games not merely as an outlet but as a justification for future behavior is very, very limited. The author does concede that “a correlational study can never prove that video-game playing causes physical aggression.”

Further, there is research that over a length of time “assesses gaming habits and belligerence in a group of children.” Such research says that yes, indeed, violent game playing tends to make kids more aggressive than their peers over a long period of time. It does not attempt to address why they started playing the games, or seriously address why some kids might indulge in violent games and come out fine. No attempt is made to address whether violence is, I dunno, a part of human existence, as is anger, and whether or not education is not merely a function of video games but environment as a whole. And of course, any interesting causal relations that might shed light on why violent video games might make us more violent is just reduced to the “fact” they make us more violent. Remember, we’re not looking for examples of aggression here in small ways. We’re looking for whether a generation of serial killers is being produced by these things.

There’s also research which tries to say that there are definite levels of aggression and that video games that are violent cause one to move up the ladder. I mean, those chemicals and charts saying your brain is aggressive have to be right, no? If someone has a short temper but is very good at controlling it, that means if the activity on the scanner says he’s angry even as he is outwardly calm and helping children cross the road, he’s really a ball of rage ready to roll and massacre people.

My point is simple: the research is seriously shoddy just in how it was conceived. And then to take that research and say, as the article does

If we had only one of the three kinds of studies, the findings wouldn’t mean much. But taken together, the body of research suggests a real connection.

The whole thing is disingenuous! Look, I know violent video games can make some kids more violent over time. Heck, it maybe makes them all more violent. But you can’t just keep trying to assert that and take whatever partial evidence you get and say that proves a correlation. In fact, the arguments turn out to be so weak that the opposite might be true! Who knows if a study will come out where kids turn out to be more peace-loving after shooting a lot of people in a game?

Here’s the interesting question: Why is it that despite the fact we live in a culture of violence that so many of us know how to treat each other well? Why does violence still shock us, and why do we look at desensitivity to it as a bad thing? The article treats all sorts of violence as the same, as if the violence a police officer engages in to defend us is the same as that of a criminal wanting to kill everyone. (The article doesn’t know what it’s talking about in terms of “education,” either: Every kid who’s played “Wolfenstein,” a game cited in the article, knows about the Second World War, a topic I didn’t cover in school until 11th grade, because one plays as an Allied soldier in that.)

And why is it that sex is still the big problem – that the issue isn’t our turn to violence in key ways, but the fact that we have more sex than ever before and no children?

Now those are interesting questions. But don’t expect them to be addressed in Slate any time soon, because in the way I’ve formulated them, there are values on the line, and they affect how violence and sexual intercourse – physical intercourse generally – are seen by us as good and for what tasks. “Violence” isn’t a bad thing, not if people want to kill you and your family for no reason. “Sex” isn’t a bad thing, not if you want a family or a loving relationship.

Somehow, in all this research, we’ve lost sight of the obvious.

4 Comments

  1. Interesting post- there is also the idea that kids might take out their violence on the screen rather than in real life- the if you are that angry go out and kick a tree view of how to get rid of anger.

    As for sex- not sure that that is the problem- wouldn’t you put that down both to economics and to contraception. I think there is an interesting issue around reproduction to do with the fact that lots of sex now- for people over the menopause who historically would not have survived- is non-reproductive- as for younger people things like bundling (sleeping together without having sex but indulging in mutual masturbation) weren’t exactly uncommon- bundling was very common in various parts of England for example. Its just with contraception full penetrative sex has become possible.

    As regards kids- as a peasant another kid means another hand on the land- as a proffessor it means costs. Extending childhood has meant that kids have become costs- as opposed to the age when from the age of 6 people were treated as minature adults.

  2. And video games do educate, and can make people violent. More violent as compared to what? We take for granted that our society, despite the view that it seems to be getting more violent, is rather tranquil. So, if they are making children more violent, then how? Or more violent as opposed to other things making them violent? It’s a relative distinction. In parts of the world children are leading other children into battle.

  3. Well the Military Uses and has used video games as training devices since way before the PC was out here. They are called simulators. A lot of soldiers and Sailors become deadly shots in these scenarios but few come back to polite society and Kill and Maim as the Anti-Military Movies make out. Like the Rambo Deranged Viet Nam vet?
    I believe that Studies are skewed to the sponsor and are generally worthless .If they aren’t what the sponsor wanted they are Buried.

    In 1959 When I was in 7th and 8th grades there was a fair amount of sex going on in the Junior High school in Baker Oregon.

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