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Opinion: Yes, we need more research, and the industry should support it
Opinion: Yes, we need more research, and the industry should support it Exclusive
January 18, 2013 | By Cheryl K. Olson




President Obama is asking Congress to fund further research into the root causes of gun violence including -- as he famously singled out -- violent video games. But is more research actually necessary? And should the video game industry support it? We asked researcher Cheryl Olson, co-author of Grand Theft Childhood and an attendee at last week's meeting with Vice President Joe Biden, to share her thoughts.

This week, President Obama called for "research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds."

"We don't benefit from ignorance," he said in a nationally televised speech. "We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence."

Aren't there enough studies already? At Vice President Biden's meeting with researchers and game industry representatives on January 11, I heard a member of the video game industry insist that research proves there's no link between video games and violence.

The Supreme Court settled this. Some researchers insist that there's evidence of a "causal link" between violent video games and aggression. So, what do we know, and where are we still in the dark? And why do those media violence researchers continue to debate and disagree?

To answer this, let me explain how I got entangled in this debate, how research works and what it shows, and what this means for game developers.

The research I've been involved in

Around 2002, a Congressman saw news about Grand Theft Auto 3, worried it was degrading our society and promoting youth violence, and ultimately made funds available to study this through the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. I wrote a proposal and won a $1.5 million grant to study the effects of violent video games on middle-school kids. At the time, all I knew about video games came from watching my son play Pokemon and StarCraft. (My expertise was in media influences on health; I'd produced videos on health and medicine before returning to grad school.)

This is typical. There's no central organization out there that decides what researchers ought to study. Somebody -- a government, foundation, corporation, or private individual -- makes funds available to study a topic, or a researcher has a study idea and goes out looking for funds.

Although science is supposed to be objective, often the funder or researcher has an agenda or point they hope to prove. Researchers get ahead in their careers by doing studies and getting the results published in academic journals. And researchers will plan studies differently depending on their background: for example, experimental psychologists do laboratory (actually office-based) studies, often on college students; the "research question" may test a theory about how people behave or think, with no immediate practical application.

As a public health researcher, I wanted to publish my findings, too. But I also wanted information that could help parents, doctors and teachers understand what's normal and what's unusual when it comes to violent video games and kids. This is known as "applied" research.

To start a video game research study like mine, you need to make a host of decisions, such as:
  • Who do I include in my study? I wanted groups of middle-schoolers, as they would represent the larger U.S. population of kids that age. It's easier to recruit college students for studies, but their brains and experiences are different from those of young teens, so I couldn't "generalize" my findings to 13-year-olds.
     
  • How do I measure their "exposure" to violent video games? I decided to ask teens to "list five games you've played a lot in the past six months," figure out their ratings, and use the M rating as a proxy for violent content. You can argue with my decisions; the best I can do is describe them clearly, so you know what my assumptions were.

    Problems with my approach include: I'm ignoring the fact that T-rated games also have violent content. I'm assuming that games with violence against aliens or orcs will have the same effects as games with violence against humans. I'm not considering how "cartoony" or realistic the violence is. The list goes on. But I can't account for all of these factors in one study; it's too complicated.

    "Exposure" would also include how much time they spend with violent video games: in a single play session, and across months and years. Can I expect a child to recall this accurately? Also, game technology is changing fast; how does that factor in? You can see how complicated this is getting!
     
  • How do I measure "aggression"? This gets to the heart of many disagreements about research findings. There is no widely agreed-upon definition of aggression. Do fleeting aggressive thoughts or feelings count? Can I generalize from some harmless "aggressive" behavior in a study, such as a brief blast of static-like noise, to assaulting someone in the real world?

    Some researchers believe this to be true. I don't. I chose to measure common behavior problems, such as getting into at least one physical fight in the past year, or bullying other kids through words or deeds. I had to rely on what kids wrote on a survey, or "self reports" of their bad behavior. Their answers were kept private, but I had no way to double-check anything they shared. Again, this is typical.
To sum up, I found that the more M-rated games were on a child's list of five, the greater the odds that he (or she) had bullied and fought. Even though these are common middle-school behaviors, it seemed that parents ought to at least keep a closer eye on a child whose favorite games were all violent ones.

But then, we did more analyses, factoring in more of the stuff we asked about in the survey (with the help of Chris Ferguson at Texas A&M International University – I had run out of grant money). When we included questions measuring aggressive personality and stressful life events, the link (or "correlation") between playing M-rated games and bad behaviors went away.

So, does this mean that a child with aggressive personality is more drawn to violent games? That a child who is coping with a lot of stressful stuff will turn to violent games to blow off steam? Possibly. More research is needed before I can say that.

Note that because of the design of my study -- a survey at a single point in time -- I can't say whether exposure to video game violence "causes" anything. I can only calculate correlations: the odds of a relationship between two things -- like playing at least one M-rated game "a lot" and getting into a fight last year -- being greater than you'd expect by chance.

The Supreme Court said that none of the research submitted by the State of California "proved that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively... Nearly all of the research is based on correlation... and most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology."

Now you have some idea of what that means. The "flaws" include generalizing from lab studies on a few college students (or surveys of a couple of hundred students in North Dakota) to all teens, from a paper-and-pencil measure of aggression to criminal assault. To make matters worse, there are myriad ways to subtly manipulate data, carelessly or on purpose, to get the results you want. For example, if your teacher volunteers your 7th grade class to fill out a survey about video game violence, and collects the survey papers herself, you kind of know what answers she's looking for.

If you'd like to know more about the messy business of video game research, click here and download the chapter at the bottom of the page.

What research means for game developers

I'd argue that there are moral and practical reasons for video game developers to support new research studies.

So far, there is no evidence that any violent video game caused or triggered any real-life murder. (There's also no evidence that training on a video game, by itself, can teach you to shoot a gun. Every school shooter studied by the FBI and Secret Service had practiced with real guns.) It's probably impossible to prove whether violent video games cause rare events such as murder, and especially mass murder. Given that playing violent video games is a statistically normal behavior for 13-year-old boys (and many girls), and that youth violence has been declining since the mid-1990s, it's hard to argue that the typical teen is harmed by them in any significant or lasting way.

However, these figures tell us nothing about atypical teens -- especially those who we know are at higher risk of violence because they see real violence in their homes or neighborhoods, and lack access to healthy outside activities and caring adults. Adding media violence to their already-violent worlds might harm these kids; or, they might use violent games as a safety valve to blow off stress and angry feelings. We owe it to them to find out. Once we do, we can work to maximize any benefits and minimize any harms.

If only out of self-interest, game developers should support research on the violent game use of juvenile offenders. If the principal fear is that violent video games promote or cue attacks against people or property, it makes sense to study the media use of juvenile offenders -- who have actually attacked people or property -- to see if their video game use differs from that of other teens. If their play patterns are the same as typical kids (or if they are exposed to less video game violence than the norm), that's powerful information for the game industry to have when the next lawsuit looms.

Joanne Savage, a crime expert at American University, wrote that "when I worked with young offenders, they spent much less time than other adolescents I have known watching television, going to movies or playing video games."

Supporting research for parent education would also be wise. At Vice President Biden's meeting last week with game industry representatives and researchers, he made two things clear. First, he'd seen no evidence linking violent video games and real-life violence. Second, many members of the public think there's a link, and game makers and sellers ignore this belief at their peril.

Don't assume that "Hey, the Supreme Court is on our side. We don't need to do anything. And we've already put out brochures." As if to highlight the ineffectiveness of industry outreach, the Vice President mentioned walking up and down the hallways of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that morning, asking top officials and aides whether they'd heard of parental controls and game ratings. All professed ignorance. I found similar misconceptions and lack of awareness among my colleagues at Harvard. People were vaguely aware of years of headlines warning of video game dangers. Most never heard about the Supreme Court case.

The parents most concerned about video game violence are probably the ones least likely to be affected. Their children have involved parents who monitor and regulate their media use. But they are also the most vocal. And they deserve research-based information to relieve unfounded fears that hurt them and their children, and to guide sensible use of video games that will minimize any harms and maximize any benefits.

Like a good scientific study, a successful outreach campaign requires clear questions and upfront planning. Important aspects include:
  • What parents currently know and believe about video games. For example, what's in a typical M-rated game? What are ratings and content descriptors? How can I control my child's access, and how do I do that? What are potential benefits and potential risks of video games, including violent content? What do I consider to be violent or inappropriate content?
     
  • The experiences and inputs that gave rise to those beliefs. Had they seen video clips of violent game content, or read magazine articles? Did other parents share stories they'd heard about some awful game effect? Had they glimpsed, or actively watched, their children's play?
     
  • What parents currently do regarding video games. How do they monitor or limit their children's play? How do they choose what games to buy, rent or borrow?
     
  • People or organizations parents turn to or might trust to inform them about video games. This suggests who industry might seek out as partners or presenters (live or via video or Web).
Answering these questions might include everything from focus group discussions to following moms around GameStop or Wal-Mart and asking them to think out loud as they pick through racks of games.

The best message the video game industry can send may be: We want to give you options. We're parents, too. We want to give you more control over what your child sees and does with video games. This might include, for example, making reduced-violence versions of games sold in other countries available as options in U.S. games.

I'm not a developer, and I don't have a clear idea of the costs or permissions involved here. But I suspect this general approach is far cheaper and simpler than battling more efforts to slap labels on game boxes (members of Congress are working on these now) and other legal kerfuffles.

Cheryl K. Olson, Sc.D., was principal investigator for a two-year, $1.5 million Harvard research project to study the effects of video games on young teens, funded by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. She coauthored a popular book based on that research, called Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do. Her videos for parents on wise use of videogames can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/ckolsonscd


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Comments


Alan Rimkeit
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My one and only question about all this proposed research is this. What do we do if they do find a link that there is in fact casual link vs a correlational one between violence and video games? What then?

Kaitlyn Kincaid
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more research most likely: how the link works, for what ages, what specific kinds of violence is increased, what specific kinds of games increase it etc...

Brian Buchner
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Age requirements will just be more rigorously enforced. Though, I doubt this will actually happen.

Jonathan Adams
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We find out why it does so, then find a way to limit that or mitigate that. You can limit it by making M-Rated games something you get carded for (ESRB has no authority, last I heard). I've been told (though I don't think the science is thorough) that there are studies suggesting that certain qualities of projected rather than reflected light induce a semi-hypnotic or meditative state, which may makes it easier for someone to lose themselves into media and to be influenced by it, so maybe we can actually mitigate things by changing the types of screens we use (and *if* that stuff is accurate, maybe hamper marketers and pundits as well).

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Christian Nutt
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It's also worth noting that it's a lot easier to find correlation than causation in studies.

Luis Guimaraes
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Nobody will do actual scientific research and find that link.

"How do I measure their 'exposure' to violent video games?"

You can't isolate human beings for the experiment purposes, and if you did, it would be the cause of behavioral shifts, because isolation itself is an external agent for the human brain. In any possible case, there is no possibility of isolated test and all data is a product of mixed external causes out of control and out of the scope of the research.

"How do I measure 'aggression'?"

Neurochemistry.

Justin Reeves
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The answer to that is what I believe their ultimate goal is. More government regulation in the industry, which in turn will create lobbyists formed by the big money developers. The government will have their hands in development in a big way, and those developers who can afford it will be able to pay "taxes" on developmental freedom, but in turn will push away independent developers, and why wouldn't they do that? The explosion of digital distribution has made it easier than ever for independent developers (which are obviously intelligent people most of the time) to spread intelligent thoughts and ideals through an interactive entertainment medium, it would be in their best interest to silence this spread of new age ideals. Why? Because in a time unstable as this, it would take only one idea, or one dream to spark a revolution. I think that this research is important but the motives behind it frighten me. I wrote an article about this, I'm not trying to spam my website on the forums but I can't stop when I start ranting about this. Here it is.
http://gamesplurge.com/2013/01/playing-with-violence/

E Whiting
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This is incredibly unlikely. There's a clear correlation between alcohol and aggressive behavior but there is no causal link.

Brian Buchner
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The fundamental problem is this : What good will more studies do, no matter how exhaustive, when people just refuse to accept them? It's not like we haven't been down this road before.

Jonathan Adams
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Outlast them, like we did with rock and roll.

Jeremy Reaban
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That's kind of a bad example, as the witch hunt types are still around (more than ever) and rock & roll has been dead for several years now...

Lewis Wakeford
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Wait for them all to die, basically.

Jonathan Adams
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Exactly. In the old, old, OLD days, people used to blame WRITING for the world's ills, because it wasn't good ol' reliable TALKING.

Jonathan Jennings
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I feel like these studies that may have a basis and may even have worthwhile results are always negated by the fact that poor parenting usually = disturbed children. i don't think you need a study to acknowledge that media in general influences children or even adults in general . considering that fact it does make sense that yes there is a possibility that media may encourage or influence violent behavior but at its basis i feel like the effect of media is either diminished or enforced by the amount of involvement parents have in the lifes of their children .

it's like when i heart that statistic about parents who eat dinner at least once a week with their kids vs. those who don't . usually the results skew towards children with more involved parents turning out better.

I guess my statement is I feel the results of this study will be pointless if we don't include or acknowledge that parental involvement plays a part in how far or how influenced by videogames and media in general children are.

I don't think anyone needs to protect videogames but i do feel like more parents need to be held accountable for how they raise and are involved in the lives of their children and EVEN THEN I don't think we'll know even close to everything on the subject.

Kujel Selsuru
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Reason, damn it we don't need reason, we must flip out irrantioally and act overly defensive. We can't use reason as that's the tool of rational and logical people. ;-)

james sadler
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I really doubt any research will be enough to curb the sensationalist nature people have towards video games. Its the same thing people preached about KISS, metal, and rock music in the past. We as a culture have become one of placing blame and fears on some tangible entity versus looking inward towards the problems. I look at it this way. I grew up watching horror movies (from classic black and white to Hellraiser) and playing an assortment of video games and I seemed to have turned out pretty well. Teaching kids the difference between the real world and the virtual one is a lot more beneficial than anything the game industry could provide. I grew up ok because I understood this I believe. I also have a friend who has raised his son pretty liberally and allowed him to make a lot of his own decisions. When his friends convinced him to rent Grand Theft Auto 3 he played it for about half an hour before taking it back to the store. He couldn't stand the profanity or violent nature. Just two examples but I have a lot of friends that grew up playing video games, and also have children that have grown up playing video games, that have turned out as well adjusted individuals.

To me it all comes down to parenting (and here comes my soapbox). I know that it is lacking in a lot of homes, but it shouldn't become the responsibility of the content maker to govern what the children of the entire country, or world, see. There are outliers in the world who do crazy, stupid, and terrible things, but their actions can almost always be found to have some base in poor parenting or mental illness which wasn't handled properly. Instead of investing millions of dollars in research that the average parent wont read or really care about, the industry should be focusing on parental outreach that teaches them how to better govern the content their child sees, and dispelling he preconceived notions many see games as having. Let the government do their research, and applaud them for doing such, but as long as the industry remains in this silent position nothing is going to change.

Dean Boytor
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I think it was strange that Obama made that comment and singled the industry. It just shows that even he is not educated on what goes on in this industry. So hopefully once the evidence is collected and presented to him he will understand that this idea is just as foolish and farfetched as we feel about the topic.

In reality, I've said a couple times that I really think parents need to be better educated on what the ESRB is trying to accomplish. By purchasing said violent game themselves and giving it to their kids is really undoing what the rating system stands for.

When I was a lot younger ( I grew up in the 90's), my parents did not like me playing anything with excessive blood and gore, like Mortal Kombat for that time. Not because they didn't want to see their child turn into a hardened criminal but they didn't want me exposed to that any more then a rated R movie.

Point is I think its just as important for parents to be educated by this experiment.

Christopher Casey
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Research is great; problems arise when the media reports on the results of said research. It's far too common for good research to be taken and exaggerated, twisted with hyperbole and outright misinformation in an effort to create something sensational. Many times contacting the original researchers in studies about violence in games will unearth far different, less certain conclusions than the widely-publicized reports on those studies are designed to suggest.

So yeah, research is great. None of this is any reason why we shouldn't be doing research, but it's hard not to anticipate the worst

Kyle Redd
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To anyone who wants restrictions on violent video games because they think playing them leads to violence, I would ask this: Do you also favor restrictions on televised sports?

There have been dozens of sports events throughout recent history that were immediately followed by (and thus were indisputably the direct cause of) assaults, riots, and murder. Superbowls, hockey playoffs, basketball finals, and most definitely soccer matches. A beloved team loses a close contest, and as a result thousands of people cause havoc in the streets, overturning cars, smashing storefronts, and getting in brawls.

There is an abundance of indisputable proof that televised sports events are *far* more likely to lead to violent behavior than any amount of video game-playing ever has or will. So now someone please explain to me why no one is talking about making new laws for this dangerous activity that is clearly causing aggressive behavior in those who participate in it.

Alan Rimkeit
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In South America they murder the football stars. I once saw a video of a goalie that lost a very important game. They "fans" rushed the field and killed him. This was in Rio, Brazil. Scary stuff.

I also can attest to another situation in Brazil during the Wold Cup in 94. Italy VS Brazil for the semi-finals. Brazil lost and Italy won the game. While we in Rome were drinking and having a party the Brazilians were rioting. Like LA riots rioting. Burning cars, smashing everything in site, and throwing Molotov cocktails. More scary stuff.

Jacob Alvarez
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I agree. Also, in those incidents it's always the fans, not the players, who perform the violent or chaotic acts. With video games, the fans are the players, so they control what happens in the game. Maybe it's the lack of control of the event that leads disgruntled sports fans to destructive behavior. If you get frustrated playing a video game, you just take it out on the game or turn it off and do something else.

Lewis Wakeford
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Sports have been around long enough and enough people enjoy them that these casualties are considered acceptable.

Leandro Ribeiro
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I know that this has nothing to do with the topic and I'm terribly sorry, but... Alan, can you please be more specific about these soccer events? I'm from Brazil and there has never been a death in any official game (unless you count heart attacks and such).

Also, Brazil got 1st place in 94 winning against Italy on the Finals (not Semi-Finals), so I'm not sure what are you talking about. There are no such things as riots when Brazil loses a world cup (a we did lose quite a few), this is ridiculous.

Please don't spread this erroneous image of us. We are not savages.

Now, back to the topic: I feel that games usually become the scapegoat when people need something to blame on violence. Parents point that kids playing too much video-games become secluded and more violent. However, what about the inverse? Isn't being secluded the very reason that make some kids resort to video-game as an escape from the "evil world" outside?

Mitchell Fujino
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Leandro, you didn't look very hard. Here's the first link from Google searching for "Brazil football deaths".
http://ibnlive.in.com/news/brazil-tops-deaths-due-to-football-vio
lence/97520-5.html.
(remove the space to follow the link, or perform your own google search)

I'm from Canada, which isn't a country known for such violence, yet we've still had major riots (with massive property damage) after hockey playoffs.

EDIT: Ah, I missed the actual post you were replying to. Yeah, singling out Brazil isn't fair, as almost every country has had similar problems with sports fans. 4.2 deaths per year isn't a huge amount, so the difference between countries is likely small. Also, this number is laughably small compared to say, vehicular deaths.

Leandro Ribeiro
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Mitchell, my argument was against the argument that said that we rush into the field and kill a goalkeeper because he didn't stop a guy from scoring against him team. This is absurd.

Now, violence between "fans" is something that do happen quite frequent, as well as in any country and any sport. Which is sad, considered that sports was something that should be used to gather people and have a good time.

Jeremy Reaban
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And if there is a link, so what then? Other than a neverending series of "research" that takes money from taxpayers (or game companies) and funnels it to people doing "research".

There is a saying that freedom isn't free. Part of the price of freedom is that bad things will happen because of that freedom, whether owning dangerous things or playing violent games or listening to violent music or novels. That doesn't mean we should give up our freedoms until finally we get to a point where everyone is housed in a government run safe house, where people are constantly monitored for any possible danger. The solution is worse than the problem.

Michael DeFazio
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Awesome, came to post this you took the words.

In the same vein (the government regulating things in an effort to "protect ourselves")
Home Pools should be outlawed (many more children die needlessly at home pools)
Cars should not be able to go faster than the speed limit (why would anyone want to break the law and go over 65/70 mph?)
Likewise any sport where cars go over the speedlimit (NASCAR, drag racing) should be outlawed and any vehicles used should be confiscated
Thousands die in/on Jetskis, 3/4 wheelers, powerboats, motorcycles, and any other craft that is not "safe"... they gotta go lets confiscate them and any unauthorized use of said crafts ends in jailtime.
Sports like Parasailing, handgliding, base jumping, etc. should all be outlawed, they serve no "real world purpose" and only get people killed...

I could guarantee if we did the above things we would save many many 1000s of lives each year.

Adam Bishop
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I think that's an overly simplistic view of safety. It's always a balancing act. We require cars to meet certain safety standards before they're allowed on the road, we require research on potential side-effects before pharmaceuticals are allowed to be prescribed, etc. An absolute view of liberty would require that there were no road safety rules, no rules about pharmaceutical safety, etc., but the vast majority of people accept that there are reasonable limits that we can place on liberty in order to meet legitimate policy goals. In Canada our Charter of Rights and Freedoms even has a section known as the Reasonable Limits Clause which states:

"The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

That's the kind of balancing act that a democratic government has to engage in.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Alan Rimkeit
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This is such a good post.

Michael Wenk
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The reason why it was put out was as a bone to the NRA. They seem hell bent on blaming "violent video games" after all..

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Thom Q
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Here's what I dont understand. I always thought the whole discussion was about the effects of violent media on adults.. Not on kids. But apparently I'm wrong. Which makes the whole discussion / finger pointing of the NRA even more dumber:

If children playing violent video games really was the reason why there are so many gun-deaths in the USA, then it's the parent's & stores fault. Or maybe even the corporation marketing mature content towards children. The problem wouldn't lie with the mature content itself..

But since the NRA is wrong on everything they believe in, i'm not to sure I even care about what they say :)

R G
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Thank you for posting this.

Common sense is so rare nowadays.

Ramon Carroll
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Finally, somebody said it, Andrew.

Michael Wenk
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The problem is the research is so general, I don't know how you can conclude anything. Self reporting may be common, but think about it, aren't the kids going to tell you what you want to hear? I mean if I get a paper that asks me to list any "aggressive" actions, and I don't have one, don't you think I'm gonna write one just to fit in?

I am all for research, and I honestly don't care if it comes from government, or industry, but it should be more specific. If this is the best we're going to get, I don't think we can ever get good data from it. And if we can't, then I ask why the hell are we spending money on it???

I say that for other reasons too. It won't matter what the results are. People are stuck in their ideologies. Even if you had perfect research showing games have zero effect on kids, some people will claim that games turned kids into homicidal zombies. And conversely, if you had perfect research showing games turned kids into homicidal zombies, you'd still have some people that claim that games had zero effect on kids.

So since our resources are limited I'd like to see the money go to actual protection rather than feel good crap that will have near zero effect on the actual problem. And no, I don't mean just protection as in more armed guard in schools, tho I certainly think that would help. I think that some gun control is in order, as well as some protection. School shootings aren't that new, hell look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_Unit
ed_States

However if the best research is what is described in this article, I don't think we should spend money on it. It would be similar to a drug study that didn't attempt to rule out the other drugs the patient was on. In other words, it is completely meaningless.

Michael Wenk
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@Jeferson

Sorry, I call BS. Lets go to the article:

"To sum up, I found that the more M-rated games were on a child's list of five, the greater the odds that he (or she) had bullied and fought. "

That kind of statement is an extreme jump to conclusion. What investigation of other factors was done? What about environment? Sample side? Where the hell is the control group???

I agree that we need research, but I think we don't need the kind of research the author of this article is pushing, nor what the president seems hell bent on. We need to understand the questions we should be asking. We need to understand what exactly the cause of this behavior is, and what exactly video games or any media has an effect. And most importantly we need to understand what markers are found in people that do mass shootings and mayhem. Imagine if we had a simple test to determine that.

Also, what could any research do? About the only thing that could decrease gun violence, assuming there is any relation between video games and violence would be regulation or banning. And guess what, doing that is actually immaterial to any research. In fact, doing something like that would be better than research because it would be empirical. Either it would work, or it wouldn't.

Kelly Kleider
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@Michael

FTA
"But then, we did more analyses...When we included questions measuring aggressive personality and stressful life events, the link (or "correlation") between playing M-rated games and bad behaviors went away."

You illustrate a more common issue....cherry picking. It is an annoying tactic where someone quotes an article out of context and makes it appear as though the article states the opposite. By the time someone has pointed out the error, the damage is done.

Maria Jayne
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I predict a lot of money and time will be spent and no conclusive evidence will be discovered either way. A very costly and wasteful way of saying "we dunno".

The most basic question that we cannot answer is why after 18 years of gaming do I have no desire to get a weapon and murder people. Unyet someone who hasn't been alive much longer than that suddenly feel the need to kill people?

I suspect we will never know and that the reasons are many and convoluted rather than simple and identifiable.

Mark DeLoura
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If you're interested in this topic (and you should be), you owe it to yourself to pick up Cheryl's book, "Grand Theft Childhood". It's quite a good read.

Morgan Ramsay
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I would also recommend "Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy" by Craig Anderson, Douglas Gentile, and Katherine Buckley.

John Trauger
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I'm happy for any unbiased research (or researchers who understand their bias and correct for it). Absent politics, I have absolute confidence that scientists will sort out questions of methodology, correlation, causation.

Add politics and you get most Global Warming research: Mercenary science intended from the get-go to defend and support a position that the people signing the checks want defended and supported.

That latter case is what has me leery about this.

Dimitri Del Castillo
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With all due respect I call bullshit on this whole topic.

Parents are ultimately accountable for their children and adults are accountable for themselves. Personal accountability has be re-established in this country lest we provoke a reactionary backlash. We can't social engineer our way out of this problem, and if we leave it up to them the country will swing back to the right wing and we'll suddenly be involved in two more wars we afford.

R G
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I feel like we just keep retreading the same topic over and over again.

Does play a lot of violent games make you aggressive? Sure. Maybe. Does it give you the skills to carry out a plan to shoot students at a school or train you to take down targets? No. Anyone that has served in the armed forces can tell you that aiming with a mouse is nowhere like aiming an actual rifle or handgun. Does it give you the means to "snap" quickly from target to target? Possibly, but that is due to reaction time, which games have been known to increase.

This is simply going to keep occurring until the desired outcome happens for whatever party is conducting the research, be it the industry, government, or media at large. It also doesn't help that the media wants to milk this topic for all its worth and promote sensationalism at large.

Everyone wants an answer for the recent shooting at Sandy Hook, and that's understandable. However, we need to accept that laws are, at the end of the day, are simply words on paper and it's a choice to obey them or not. We need to accept that free will is exercised for better or worse, and it cannot be controlled.

I support gaming, and consider it to be an art. However, there has been an undercurrent of "Games are art, we need to remove these filthy plebian gun porn games". Not all games aspire to be Chaucer or Shakespeare, nor should all games attempt to be. We need both for BOTH TO BE VALUED.

Thank you Gamasutra for publishing this; it is nice to see other points of view.

Alex Newton
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The issue of a public at large perception of violent video game players as at-risk for violent behavior, especially kids, is partly on kid gamers themselves as being easy culprits to finger, but nothing to do with actual violence.

The cognitive leap being made here by the public, I think, is based on secondary traits or signs that people might correlate with the violent, socially awkward and emotionally unstable people typically involved in these sort of sensational, revenge/infamy fantasy mass shootings, that statistically are insignificant flukes regardless, as harsh as that may sound to devastated survivors and victims' families; these deaths make headlines, most violent deaths do not.

Research on violent games in particular won't change that perception; the false correlation with a kids' behavior when engrossed in a game, and most tend to have depictions of violence, to intent or fantasy of actual violence is anecdotal, which has stronger, emotional impact on opinion than statistics; the response to statistically insignificant school shooting stories however horrific is testament to this phenomenon. "You say there's no causal link, but the only time I've been scared or worried about my kid is when he's really intensely wrapped up in a game, so I have to wonder." Easy to imagine how these perceptions persist, and there are valid concerns about gaming behavior beyond "is my kid a violent person."

What's needed in video game research is a more comprehensive look at the scope of all games, from games with little violence depicted to that with more, across competitive levels and across casual and habitual gamers. If it's found that the level of stress, frustration or aggressive expression is similar or different regardless of or depending on the violent content, then that finding is a story that will change public awareness for hyperprotective parents and activists to stop thinking or talking about kid gamers as ticking time bombs.

Talking about kid gamers as media junkies is an entirely different topic, which deserves research as well.

Alex Newton
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The glaring hypocrisy here is that most youth violence occurs in areas outside of schools in areas where schools are safer than homes, where violent games are an escape from the IRL violence that's the norm. Call of Duty keeps kids off the streets.

Like Kanye said, though, the President doesn't care about black people.

Jacob Alvarez
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"I wrote a proposal and won a $1.5 million grant to study the effects of violent video games on middle-school kids."

Why on earth would you need $1.5 million for this research? Did you buy every one of these kids an Xbox and an entire game library?

Jonathan Jennings
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.. i would like to add new from Gamestop ? lol

Thom Q
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A research like that takes $1,5 million for the same reasons some games cost $200 million

Michael Joseph
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Maybe we can fund research on violent media's affect on aggressive forum posts.

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Bobby Ebbs
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I am not against this research, but I don't think the suggested research is an appropriate response to the tragedies that occurred. Everyone wants to point the finger at each other and throw blame. They want to blame the weapon used or video games, but those things are not the root problem. The fact is that the people who created these tragedies were sick. They were not well. Video games do not make you sick (nor do weapons). If they did, we would see a world full of sick people, which we clearly do not. To study mentally healthy people does nothing to prevent tragedy. What we should be focused on is detecting people with mental instability and treating them. None of the other suggested solutions will help. Because at the end of the day, if someone wants to randomly murder innocent people, there is nothing that can be done to stop them at that point. We need to focus on finding ways to detect it and treat it before the person gets to that point. That is what we should be researching how to do! Even trying to remove the weapon used in this tragedy will do nothing because there are so many other weapons (even more devastating ones, like bombs used by Ted Kaczynski, or more gruesome ones like chainsaws) that are not that hard to get illegally or legally in the case of power tools. That being said, I support not allowing violent video game sales to kids (but not banning them from playing it if their parent allows it though). That allows the parent to make the decision what is appropriate for their children.

Bobby Ebbs
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@ Jeferson Soler - You're free to have your opinion on that. However, the reason for the second amendment (and its implications) has nothing to do with the NRA gun hobbyist and what they want in order to satisfy their hobby. The United States government was designed to be one where the people were in control of policies (by voting). The government workers were to be elected to represent people and not be a government that was solely in place to control people. To ensure that it never morphed into a police state or an evil dictatorship, the second amendment as added to the Constitution. At that time, there was no intent on a clause that people could not have as good of weapons as the government can have, as it would defeat the purpose (of allowing for people to collectively stand up to a corrupt government if it ever comes to that). They knew the risks of citizens having weapons (let's face it, guns have always been dangerous!) when they put it into the Constitution, but they thought it was too important for the country in the long-term not to include. The second amendment is so much bigger than gun hobbyists who want to protect the right to their hobby. It's part of what makes this country what it is. Or more importantly, it ensures that this country stays what it is in the long-term. The tragedies that occurred recently are very sad, but I personally still believe in the US Constitution. I think it's too important to throw away because of a few sick people. In the short term, I trust the government enough not to be worried about it morphing into something evil, but in the long-term, there is no way to know what will happen 50 years from now. And it is a real danger. Look what happened to Germany only 70 years ago. That was by far the biggest tragedy of our time, and it was committed by a government against its own unarmed citizens. It's sad how quickly people forget.

Ernest Adams
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Unfortunately, sometimes the facts go completely against our hunches. The Earth looks flat, but it's not. There's not a lot of point in conducting studies to prove that it isn't. The death penalty does not deter crime, despite the fact that it seems to rational people as if it should.

Our hunch that video games cause aggressive behavior seems likely to be right on the face of it. It doesn't seem to be true, though.

Ordani Briton
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Has anybody mentioned the fact the US Army uses a video game for recruitment purposes.
http://www.americasarmy.com/media.php
And guess who that is mostly targeted to. Mostly adolescent teens.
Maybe is the politicians that need to be looked at. They are just as insane to send soldiers to kill
children, so called collateral damage. No one has brought out this fact in the gun control/video game debate. They don't mention Fast and Furious, a gun shipping gov't operation
that lead to a border patrol agent getting shot.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/atf-fast-furious-s
g,0,3828090.storygallery

There has been plenty of studies done already on the effects of video games on children,
from well known Universities. Use those.

kevin wright
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Yeah- 'cause well known universities don't have agendas...O_o

Jean-louis Vanderperre
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It would be easy to point a finger at violence in games or any media. There are violent interactive games for sure. But what makes them dangerous is not really the violence, it is the interactivity.
It is certain that interactive media make excellent learning tools. It can be used in many interesting ways : learning to drive, fly, act in emergency situations, even in wartime or urban police action. Those who have learned partly on interactive simulators are better suited to pursue their tuition on the 'real' terrain. All that we know.
Now transpose that to games.
Some people playing games will build up their self-confidence. Whether it is flying low, taking hairspin corners with rally cars or... shooting at anything that moves in corridors. Most of game players will never cross the plane separating the interactive experience from the 'actual' reality. But some people will feel somehow a need for more. A need to test their game ability in our shared, common, reality. There are millions of gamers. But it takes only one strange soul to pick up a gun and go out and do their stuff.
Is the game industry guilty of anything ? Should it be careful in their use or display of violence ? I think the industry is not reponsible for the effects games might have in our shared real life.
It comes down to education.
It is essential to educate people to recognize what's real and what's fake. A game is a game is a game. But look at our world: the incredible hoax story involving college LB Ti Meo, the in-your-face lies of Armstrong, anything about politics I guess but I won't get into that :)... The world we live in is blurred within a virtual cloud.
We perceive the world through instant messaging (where dead girlfriends who never existed will always live), international media (where anyone with the right look and actions can pretend anything he wants until proved wrong, and that can take very long),... Games are just another element where reality becomes a blur for the hardcore dreamers, the malign psycho-liars or anyone else who needs tuition to master the tools to recognize fact from fiction.
Is education helping now ?
Note on education I mean more than school, it can be anything or any person that
tries to teach: parents, friends, coaches,...

Bob Johnson
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Let's research why a videogame researcher wants more research paid for by the videogame publishers.

kevin wright
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Bob- totally agree- while we are at it, can we have research into why researchers likes to waste our tax dollars on researching the same crap over and over/ crap like this? I would much rather my tax dollars went into pools that cure cancer, alzheimers, or even acne. This is just mere politics in the guise of profundity.

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Christopher Engler
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I think it's good for the industry to look itself in the mirror and ask if they are acting in an ethical manner when it comes to the content of their games, but I don't believe the root of our gun problem lies in gaming. I found this article on Forbes that does a good job analyzing the numbers between gun violence and video games in several countries including the U.S. It's quite telling. I hope Gamasutra doesn't mine me leading you away from their site, but this data is interesting. http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/12/24/the-numbers-beh
ind-video-games-and-gun-deaths-in-america/

Rasmus Gunnarsson
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News media has been proven to incease murderers when they exploit the stories in the way they do. Have I missed where Obama calls them out?

Rasmus Gunnarsson
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Most definately. I assumed it was also that it is one media that everyone is very comfortable with and consider important. So it is damned sad that perhaps the biggest factor of them all gets a clean slide while games who might or might not contribute in small amounts become the main focus.

Oh well. Here's the video I think everyone should see:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PezlFNTGWv4

Dan Felder
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It's really win/win.

If we show that videogames are so powerful in changing behavior that they can cause normal kids to become violent murderers, imagine the incredible power they have to cause good, moral things.

If we don't show that videogames can force behavior changes like that, then we can keep on making GTA games and enjoy it.

Michael Joseph
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We are quite obviously creatures of conditioning. With regards to conditioning people, I'm sure games can do good as well as harm. However, I think right now there's alot more garbage out there than there is quality. If that is the case, it could be possible to find scant evidence of the "good, moral things" and arrive at the mistaken conclusion that they can't do harm either (according to your suggestion.)

I really appreciate your line of reasoning though. I think it's very effective. Because if games can't do good or bad and are just these time wasting neutral things that preoccupy us on our way to the grave, then I think that makes them seem kinda lame. They're just more Roku devices.

I think many of us would rather acknowledge they can do both and then to make people aware of this. But you can't expect these sorts of concessions in the arguments from those who want to have things both ways. Goign all high brow discussion they view as a losing position for maintaining the status quo. Ironicly, I think it only makes regulation inevitable. If you're against educating the people so that they can make good choices in life, then government has to step in to make sure the exploitation isn't completely out of control.

wes bogdan
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Well i have nothing against the f.p.s genere but "extreme sensasonolisum" should be avoided like in : manhunt or bully games of questionable morals. Gta isn't bad like the aformentioned games where you either win freedom by killing people in the most grizly way possible or be the bully which is a touchy subject as well.

Borderlands has a great solution go abstract cartoony violence is more acceptable than super ultra HD quality violence will ever be and makes things more humorus.

Kelly Kleider
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They are M rated games. They are labeled as such and have the appropriate disclaimers as to their contents.

The marketplace should be the arbiter of what is acceptable in a game, not what you or I consider "moral".

If people are so offended by the content of a title, they should not buy it for their 13 year old.
They should provide rocks and an abandoned building for more Tom Sawyerly pursuits.

Casimiro Barreto
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What bothers about these "calls for study/research" is that they start by the proposition that yes, "violent this and that (video games, literature, movies, serialized TV shows, gun owning) increase violent behaviour so, there must be (more) strict laws and regulations to protect society". So, they start with prejudice.

It is possible to devise games in a fashion that they will effectively desensitize humans regarding almost any thing: violence, suffering and physical pain of self and others, humiliation, etc. Police and military have been using these games for long time. For instance, when seals have drill sessions in death houses they train to headshot terrorists without changing their psychic state. Death house is a game (not a video game) and it is extremely violent and it makes use of real weapons. But even so, it is not supposed that it will undermine moral and ethic beliefs of seals and they are not supposed to be violent against general public. The same reasoning can be applied to almost every form of expression. That's the reason for the rating systems.

So, the problem is not about rating, but about responsibility. If an adult allows a minor to have access to unsuitable material then this adult is not ready for parenthood or else he is corrupting minors. It is impressive how every time we hear from violence committed by minors, attached to it comes a history of irresponsible parenthood. Minors stockpiling weapons and ammo and parents clueless, minors walking with Nazi gangs and parents clueless, minors frying their brains out with crack or other stuff and parents clueless, minors being bullied and parents clueless... so on and so forth.

The suggestion of imposing restrictions to the production of games/books/movies/tv shows/etc as well as laws restricting freedom is not the medicine, is not the solution for problems faced by society. On the contrary: laws restricting freedom are always followed by laws further restricting freedoms till it gets to non democratic governments. And every non democratic government fails in almost everything...

Instead of looking for problems where they don't exist, it would be more productive to assert the real problems: educational programs regarding responsible parenthood, enhancements in public school, medical care for people with psychological disorders, medical care for drug addicts, programs to avoid bullying in school, programs to avoid violence against minors, etc.

C B
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I don't think violent games cause violent behavior; how come nobody ever tries to turn that around? Couldn't it be that bullies enjoy playing those games, instead of those games causing them to be bullies?

If somebody goes nuts, and the last movie they watched was Harry and the Hendersons, was that movie the problem, and should it be rated R? Rather than look at "hey, this is the last thing that guy did before he lost his mind," you should focus on, you know, why he lost his mind. M-rated games don't turn people into bullies. I play Gears of War. A lot. And yet I'm not violent. Gears is one of the goriest games out there, by far. Do you think that maybe the reason I'm not a violent person is because I KNOW IT'S A VIDEO GAME? Why can't this be obvious? If somebody goes insane "because" of a violent video game, then the game was never the problem - they had a problem long before that. Give me a break.

Michael O'Hair
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So a researcher and author who wrote a book about video game violence with an incendiary title walks into a bar, and tells everyone:

"In lieu of actual work, I'm going to research violent video games and their effects on youth minds, research which I had done previously but for some reason must repeat in order to remain gainfully employed, and you're all going to support it. And by that, I mean you're going to pay me."

...

That's the joke.

Jordan Laine
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You should never have to tell some one the joke is over.

Jonathan Lin
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It seems like most comments here are reactions to some perceived intent by the author rather than anything that the author is actually saying. If anything, the one thing she's *not* trying to do is "blame video games".

Here's part of the description for the book she wrote ('Grand Theft Childhood') from Amazon:

"What should we as parents, teachers and public policy makers be concerned about? The real risks are subtle and aren't just about gore or sex. Video games don't affect all children in the same way; some children are at significantly greater risk. (You may be surprised to learn which ones!) Grand Theft Childhood gives parents practical, research-based advice on ways to limit many of those risks. It also shows how video games -- even violent games -- can benefit children and families in unexpected ways."

This research seems rather open-minded to me, and possibly healthy for the game industry as well.


Also, from the above article:

"Supporting research for parent education would also be wise. ... many members of the public think there's a link [between violent video games and real-life violence], and game makers and sellers ignore this belief at their peril."

It's fine to debate whether such research is effective or worth the costs, but most comments don't seem to actually address her work at all, and go off on 'research' in general.

Jaques Smit
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Violent and Aggressive behaviour is largely influenced by the nurture factor and the truth is that people who commit habitual crime or criminal acts come from some sort of trauma (mostly childhood Trauma) that has influenced them to consider that resorting to criminal acts are an acceptable method of dealing with their problems.

I believe you will find that the majority of criminals sitting in high security prisons or on death row have had minimal exposure to Video Games in their life on the whole and instead have far more serious and pressing issues that should be addressed.

Video Games are not going to make a non-violent person violent, but exposure to violence may agitate the nature of someone who already is violent.

If the study is to be done that is fine, but this study should go deep into the history and mentality of the person under observation and not just look at some 6 month peep into the gaming habits of a random guy on the street.

As parents and teachers we should be stimulating our children with anything that lets their minds grow. Games have been proven to do just that. So rather than worry about whether or not clicking your mouse to stop a flashing pixel compilation before it makes you restart at a check point promotes violent behaviour, give your kids puzzle games, historic games and Strategy games which they can play for a set time per day so they can have time to go to a social activity or sports.

Stop blaming Games, Movies and Music for bad parenting.


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